Ancient Arborists - The Incas

Ancient Arborists – The Incas

What Role Did Trees Play in Inca Agriculture?

In the harsh environment of the Andes, the Incas developed an intricate system of agriculture, which involved terrace farming and the strategic use of trees. They understood the importance of trees in preventing soil erosion and maintaining soil fertility, especially on the steep slopes of their mountainous terrain. They often intermingled trees with crops, an early form of agroforestry, to achieve these objectives.

How Did the Incas Use Trees in Their Architectural Wonders?

The Incas are famed for their stonework, like the formidable city of Machu Picchu, yet trees also played a significant role in their architectural endeavors. The roofs of their buildings, for example, were usually made from thatch, with wooden supports crafted from trees like the native quenua (Polylepis spp.), renowned for its hard, durable wood.

What Significance Did Trees Hold in Inca Religion and Mythology?

Trees were seen as sacred beings in Inca mythology. They believed that the life-giving properties of trees, their longevity, and their deep roots connecting the earth and sky, made them essential connectors between the physical and spiritual worlds. Special trees, known as wakas, were revered and incorporated into religious rituals and festivals.

Which Iconic Figures Were Responsible for Inca Arboriculture?

Though we lack specific names due to the absence of a written Inca language, the Inca leaders, or Sapa Incas, played a pivotal role in the expansion and governance of the empire, which would have included overseeing its vast agroforestry systems. Additionally, local community members, known as ayllu, collectively managed agricultural tasks, contributing significantly to Inca arboriculture.

Fascinating Facts about Trees in the Inca Empire
  1. The Incas harvested chachacoma (Escallonia resinosa), a tree native to the Andean region, for medicinal purposes. It was used to treat ailments like altitude sickness and rheumatism.
  2. The cantuta (Cantua buxifolia), a flowering tree, was considered sacred and is now the national flower of Peru.
  3. Some Inca terraces are still in use today, highlighting the durability and effectiveness of their agricultural methods.
Links for Further Reading:
  1. Inca Agriculture: Terrace Farming
  2. Machu Picchu: Architecture of the Sacred City
  3. Trees in Inca Mythology and Religion
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