Articles | Volume 5, issue 3
22 Jul 2009
 | 22 Jul 2009

Putting the rise of the Inca Empire within a climatic and land management context

A. J. Chepstow-Lusty, M. R. Frogley, B. S. Bauer, M. J. Leng, K. P. Boessenkool, C. Carcaillet, A. A. Ali, and A. Gioda

Abstract. The rapid expansion of the Inca from the Cuzco area of highland Peru (ca. AD 1400–1532) produced the largest empire in the New World. Although this meteoric growth may in part be due to the adoption of innovative societal strategies, supported by a large labour force and a standing army, we argue that it would not have been possible without increased crop productivity, which was linked to more favourable climatic conditions. Here we present a multi-proxy, high-resolution 1200-year lake sediment record from Marcacocha, located 12 km north of Ollantaytambo, in the heartland of the Inca Empire. This record reveals a period of sustained aridity that began from AD 880, followed by increased warming from AD 1100 that lasted beyond the arrival of the Spanish in AD 1532. These increasingly warmer conditions would have allowed the Inca and their immediate predecessors the opportunity to exploit higher altitudes (post-AD 1150) by constructing agricultural terraces that employed glacial-fed irrigation, in combination with deliberate agroforestry techniques. There may be some important lessons to be learnt today from these strategies for sustainable rural development in the Andes in the light of future climate uncertainty.