Pre-Incan Peru: Archeology and Agriculture in the Chachapoya region

Document Type


Publication Date



Peru’s prehistory, climate, and terrain are the landscape upon which one of humankind’s longest migrations occurred. When the glacial period ended, a geographic and cultural transition began when the meltwaters carved river valleys across the South American continent. Culture-rich communities of fishers, miners, artisans, and morticians populated the Peruvian coastal plain long before the first Inca. Enriching the geography and history curricula with recent pre-Incan archeological finds, this article provides new information from the Ice Age climate’s Paleo-Indians to the last millennium before the Inca, combining recent genetic and new archeological and paleo-climatic findings adding to understandings of pre-Incan Peru. While most North Americans are aware of the Incan empire, few realize that its duration lasted less than a century: the century that ended with Spanish conquest and colonization in 1535. Three recent archeological finds in northwest Peru shed light on the many pre-Incan civilizations that preceded the fifteenth century. The new finds include a 1,000-year-old mountaintop complex named Kuelap , nearly the size of the Incan Machu Picchu site, with evidence of hundreds of burials and a massacre, possibly tied to the Incan conquest of the many Peruvian city-states to form the empire. Nearby the Chachapoya (‘‘people of the clouds’’) mummies whose giant sarcophagi stood watch in a cliffside burial city, overlooking a sacred lake for hundreds of years until they were looted. Now they are safely housed in a museum that the community helped build and maintain. Finally, the entombed sacrificial remains found at Huaca Chotuna, one of the many Huacas (sacred mounds) from coastal Peruvian civilizations that show prehistoric effects of El Nino . Ritual human sacrifices, burials, and mummification were present throughout many Peruvian civilizations.


Copyright 2011 Taylor & Francis/Routledge for National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE).

Publication Title

The Geography Teacher

Published Citation

Alibrandi, M. ( 2011). Pre-Incan Peru: Archeology and Agriculture in the Chachapoya region. The Geography Teacher, 8(2) 53-71.



Peer Reviewed