The Incas and their Hand-built Roads

An exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian concludes that the ancient Incas were great environmentalists. PHOTO: BBC

An exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian concludes that the ancient Incas were great environmentalists. PHOTO: BBC

The Inca Road is one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering in the world. By the 16th Century it had helped transform a tiny kingdom into the largest empire in the Western hemisphere. And to the envy of modern engineers, substantial parts of the 24,000-mile (39,000-km) network survive today, linking hundreds of communities throughout Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Incredibly, it was constructed entirely by hand, without iron or wheeled transportation. A new exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC shows why the Incan kingdom built a lasting infrastructure.

Sustainability was the key to success. The Incas paid attention to local conditions, using local materials and working with the landscape. On steep terrain, they built steps to dissipate the water’s energy and counter erosion. At high altitudes they paved the way with local stone to protect the surface from ice and snowmelt, and when they needed supporting walls they left holes for the water to drain.

The research reveals a different side to the Incas, who are often better remembered for their notorious blood lust and predilection for human sacrifice. Their society was certainly “strict” but at its heart was a philosophy of reciprocity. The Incas gave back to nature and everybody knew their role in the community.

“The entire environment was alive. Everything from the stones to the animals to the cosmos needed some kind of interaction with a human being in prayer, connectivity or appreciation. Everything was organised and regulated by the state. You had the masters of the road, the masters of the bridges, the khipu – a knotted device that kept track of people on the road, products, organised censuses of people and news from everywhere in the empire.”

More on the Incas’ foresight here.

3 thoughts on “The Incas and their Hand-built Roads

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s