What Have the Inca Invented?

The Incas built massive structures out of sun-baked brick and rocks.
... Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images

The Incas were from Peru and lived along the coast and in the mountains of South America between the 13th and 16th century. The Incan empire peaked between A.D. 1438 and 1471. Climate in this area is contingent upon daylight, with warmer temperatures during the day and becoming colder after the sun went down. The Incas were known for their artistry and ingenuity, particularly connected to farming, systemized civilization and building. Many of the unique innovations created by the Incas are evident because of archaeological finds, and roadways remain visible on the land they once inhabited.

1 Farm Life

Since the Incas lived in mountainous terrain, they invented a terraced farming approach to maximize their natural resources. Fields were cut out of the mountainside and angled to provide usable, flat space. Crops such as potatoes and corn were planted on gradual farmland steps to maximize rainwater and minimize erosion. The Incas dug canals to provide natural water access to each mountainside field. Terraced farming and irrigation canals are still used because of environmental advantages that encourage stronger crop growth without consuming manufactured water supplies.

2 Tied Up in Knots

The Incas are credited with creating a system called a khipus to record statistical information. As early as the Middle Horizon (A.D. 600–1000), they used a rope and a system of knots to record data such as the number of people living in a community, business exchanges and other accounting information. The Incas even imposed a labor tax and used a khipus to track debts paid and owed. Each knot represented a specific number or figure, and clumps of knots signified large sums. The khipus is likened to the beginning of the decimal system.

3 Ingenious Food

If you’ve ever eaten freeze-dried food, you can thank the Incas for this innovation. The mountainous terrain provided an ideal environment for preserving meat and vegetables. The Incas used the cold evening air to freeze food items and the daytime sun to eliminate the frozen moisture. This food preservation system created a stockpile of food for their army and for the community when weather prohibited sufficient production.

4 Hit the Road

Since the Incas did not have wagons or wheel-based transportation, they traveled their land by walking or riding llamas. To make this possible, they created 10,000 miles of roadways, some of which can still be seen. They even built bridges made of wood and stone. Some of these bridges used suspension construction and crossed large rivers. The roadways enabled a communication system that used runners to deliver messages between villages. Sometimes multiple runners would relay messages over long distances. The Incas placed markers to indicate the distance traveled, and rest stations could be found along most routes.

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years. She has numerous publications with Talico, Inc., DynaTEAM Consulting, Inc. and Kinect Education Group.