Studies show that man first arrived to Peru in the 19th century before Christ. Hunters and collectors, they had stone weapons and tools, they settled in Paccaicasa, Ayacucho, for a start, they made cave paintings in Toquepala, Tacna, (7600 b.C.) and they built their first houses in Chilca, Lima, (around the year 5800 b.C.). Human bones found allow to deduct first Peruvians had an average height of 1.60 m., just like today.
As time went by, Peruvian men developed agriculture, ceremonial centres, the art of textiles, metalworking and pottery. These advances set the grounds for the next step of their development.
Before the appearance of the Inca empire, late in the 14th century, some civilizations developed in the Peruvian territory. These civilizations showed a good domain of pottery, an indubitable adaptation to the environment and a very interesting use of natural resources. Here a detail of the main cultures.
The first Peruvian civilization, according to what is traditionally taught in the courses of Peruvian history, was Chavin. It developed in the current department of Ancash between the years 1200 and 200 b.C.
Its legacy includes the Chavin de Huantar complex, a number of admirable monolithic sculptures called "cabezas clavas" and, particularly, one called "lanzón monolítico" (monolithic spear). Chavin sculpture was precise and it showed plenty representations of feline traits in their complexes and galleries. Studies conclude that Chavin people used to have a theocratic government system.
Paracas civilization was in the current department of Ica and it developed between the years 200 b.C. and 600 A.D. Its legacy is mainly composed by their famous textiles. Their dyes, despite the time passed, still bear their pigments in formidable conditions and their designs show very demanding works for the epoch.
Moche (Mochica) civilization developed in the northern part of the coast between the years 200 b.C. and 600 A.D. They stood out in design and pottery. They also left impressive ceremonial centres, such as those known today as "Huacas del Sol y la Luna" (sun and moon temples). Moche civilization had a diverse and amazing iconography, which included feline, fish and snake-shaped traits. The majesty of the Lord of Sipan is a clear demonstration of the domain Moche people had over metalwork of ceremonial end.
Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) civilization developed in the Peruvian Andes in the 3rd century A.D. It includes part of the current territories of Peru and Bolivia, and its legacy is composed by the "Portal del Sol" (sun's porch), the use of andenes (a sort of terrace built in the side of a mountain in order to obtain extra cultivable land) and the diversification of crops according to each kind of soil and weather available.
Nazca civilization developed between the years 300 b.C. and 900 A.D. and already knew the use of aqueducts. This is why they were able to develop in a desert. With underground aqueducts, they could settle and legate beautiful polychrome pottery, which mainly represented images of birds and fish as deities. About The Nazca Lines, they are gigantic drawings of symbols that cover a surface of about 450 km2 and which can only be seen clearly from a plane. In fact, many things have been stated about them since their discovery in 1927. It has been heard about the possibility of being an agricultural calendar, a sort of horoscope and even an alien map. The truth is that no one knows what were they for. It is just another marvel that, together with Machu Picchu, lays on Peru a fascinating veil of mystery.
Wari, Chimu and Chachapoyas civilizations close this explanation of the Peruvian preincan cultures. The first one developed in the 7th century in the current department of Ayacucho, and was the first one to show an urban strategical planning of its towns. Chimu, in turn, developed in the north in the 8th century. They left the citadel of Chan Chan, showing an excellent use of metalwork. Finally, Chachapoyas civilization developed in the Peruvian rainforest in the 9th century, leaving as legacy samples of a great adaptation to their environment.
It is important to point out there have been new findings in Peru such as the citadel of Kuelap or the city of Caral. In the following years, history books will change in the country. Do not worry, because we will sum them up here again.
The Inca empire
Inca civilization appeared late in the 14th century but it soon became the largest and most important civilization in South America. In its peak of expansion it covered the current territories of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina; an expansion achieved based on their tremendous organization and capability of learning everything their predecessors would have developed.
Inca civilization was theocratic. The Inca was considered a descendant of the Inti (sun) god and, therefore, sacred. This thought was supported by the legends Incas had about the their own origin. These tell how Manco Capac or the Ayar brothers come from the south-east to found the sacred city of Cusco, capital city of the Tahuantinsuyo.
Incas achieved such expansion because they were a very organized culture. They organized themselves in small communities named ayllus; each ayllu had a head, the curaca, and they consolidated the conquest of a nearby towns quickly by the marriage of the Inca with the daughter of any given curaca or the mobilization of ayllus to the new territories either as prize or punishment. In other occasions, their armies just did the job.
Ayllus worked as a familiar and territorial units. Their members received a piece of land to work and they also paid free service to the government, in turns, and in an organized way. This service was called the mita, and it allowed the empire to keep its roads, granaries and others permanently in good conditions.
Incas carried out human sacrifices and had an organized prostitution system, too, but, in general, these are not usually mentioned.
Inca legacy is huge: They had an advanced development of engineering and they left andenes, roads and cities of renown importance. They had an advanced development of agriculture and they grew many species and variants: for example, they had more than three hundred varieties of potato and they invented the process of dehydration of food. They had a quite fair social distribution system, where every man was assigned a place to work for himself and the responsibility for working for the government some periods of time along his life. They also had a great artistic variety, as a result of the cultures of the civilizations they conquered.
When the Inca empire reached its top development Christopher Columbus was discovering America in the Caribbean coasts. The Inca empire fell by a direct Spanish conquest, as from 1532.
Peru as a Spanish colony
The encounter between Europeans and Incas meant a huge drawback for South American inhabitants. They could have resisted more; however, ignorance played against them. They confused Spanish armours with a signal of divinity and offered themselves to them. Recently-conquered towns saw Spaniards as a chance of freedom and helped them against Atahualpa's troops. A number of inhabitants died because of the diseases Spanish people brought with them.
The Vice-royalty of Peru was established in 1542, ten years after the capture and murder of the last Inca, Atahualpa. Incas were then enslaved for around three hundred years, till Peruvian independence. They were forced to work in the mines, to produce agricultural and handicraft products which were traded exclusively with Spain and under command of the king. This was the basis of the colonial economy.
Bourbon reforms brought uneasiness to the inhabitants since the beginning of the 18th century. By then, the Vice royalty of Peru extended from Panama to Argentina and Chile when rebellions began. By then, Spaniards had already brought black slaves to Peru and they had already taught Catholic religion by mixing it with local beliefs. Both intellectual and artistic production of both nations had already influenced each other.
The first important rebellion to the Spanish crown was Tupac Amaru II's, in the 18th century (months later than the French Revolution). However, Peru had to wait until Jose de San Martin declared Peruvian independence (28th July 1821) and until Simon Bolivar won the last independence battle in 1824 to consider itself a free and sovereign country. As the core of Spanish colonization in South America was in the Vice-royalty of Peru, and as it was centralized in its capital city, Lima; Peruvian independence was the last, the most difficult and the most important one in America. By Peruvian independence, the rest of South American colonies were already sovereign countries.
First republican times
Being the last to get its independence, Peru underwent many scarcities that could have really been avoided. A severe economic crisis, together with a strong will of the governments in chair to be the responsible for "reconstructing the country" gave inhabitants few opportunities to feel their country was being conducted in an organized manner. Peruvian first civilian governments took the chair in the middle of the 19th century.
When economic growth began, the native contribution and the black slavery were abolished and the country saw itself communicated by some first railways. Peru made a mistake, however. It established a federal government with Bolivia without being military prepared to hold the geopolitical impact of such decision. As a consequence, Chile declared war to Bolivia and Peru in 1879. Bolivia and Peru were defeated and fell under a severe crisis again.
After the war, Peru returns to military governments for many years. After them, civilian governments returned in which was called the "Aristocratic Republic" epoch. Peru, by then, assumed an export policy and grew; however, it fell again in a dictatorship in the first years of the 20th century. This government wanted to create a "New Homeland" and indeed made many things. But it indebted the country so much that it could not handle the 1929's depression properly. Soon afterwards, military governments returned, but now with severe political repressions. The rest of the world was recovering from WW2.
Civilian governments followed until 1968, when a socialist military dictatorship took control of the government, the oil (petroleum) and the media, and conducted an agrarian reform by expropriating the lands from the large companies and giving them to the well-intentioned but undereducated farmers. It is heard this measure really ruined the prosperous Peruvian agriculture. The country impoverished and soon afterwards terrorism groups started.
A new Peru?
The last stage of Peruvian history started in 1980. With a new constitution and civilian governments again, Peru had to face the inner violence of two terrorist organizations until they were defeated in 1992. By then, Peru had also defeated a hyperinflation problem; but the country was under a civilian-military regime which used its educational reform and its influence in the media to keep the nation distracted from what was really important at the moment. After a corruption scandal, President Alberto Fujimori saw himself forced to quit in the 2000 and the President of the Congress, Mr. Valentin Paniagua, assumed the office, as the constitution commanded. He summoned for elections and Mr. Alejandro Toledo was elected the new President until the year 2006. Today, Peruvian president is Mr. Alan Garcia.
Peruvian history is built based on three recurrent mistakes: Its governments acted in an immediate manner, without strategical planning for long terms. Its governments were deeply idealistic and it was not strange to hear people who wanted to re-found the republic. Peruvian authorities have always kept a high level of corruption, something its legal system has not been able to stop.
Just as from 2000 it can be said Peru has grown up as nation and has started establishing long term policies (its National Agreement) and a truly democratic government. Peru has already taken measures to seek an economic growth. Today, it walks looking for measures that may ensure both equity and sociocultural growth as well.
Our best wishes for the land of the Incas.
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