According to his discharge papers, he stood five feet, eight inches tall. He had a pale complexion, brown hair, blue eyes, two moles on his back, his sole distinguishing marks. In June 1918, he was discharged from the British Army with a disability received in the Great War–a sadly innocent term that people used before they became accustomed to slaughter on an industrial level. Read More
Who really conquered the Inca Empire? I found myself mulling over that question for the first time today, after reading a really fascinating new paper published online in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology by a team of American and Peruvian scientists. Led by Melissa Murphy, a physical anthropologist at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, the team has just pored over the skeletal remains of 258 Inca men and women, who perished from extreme violence sometime between 1470 and 1540.
First, let me very briefly summarize the conventional view of the Conquest of Peru. According to the Spanish chronicles (the only surviving written source of the invasion), Francisco Pizarro set sail from Panama in January 1531 with 3 ships and 180 men. Landing near the port of Tumbes in the midst of a civil war in the Inca realm known as Tawantinsuyu, Pizarro and his men journeyed inland. At the Inca provincial town of Cajamarca, they laid an ambush and captured the Inca king Atawallpa, whom they subsequently executed. In November 1533, Pizarro’s force occupied the Inca capital of Cuzco, bringing the empire to its knees.
I personally don’t recall hearing or reading much about indigenous Andean peoples fighting on the side of the Spanish invaders. But as the new paper by Murphy and her team points out, aboriginal people certainly seem to have played a part in the Conquest of Peru, and perhaps quite a large part.
Murphy and her colleagues examined human remains excavated from two large Inca cemeteries in the archaeological zone of Puruchuco-Huaquerones, 7 miles from the center of Lima. Many of these individuals likely died during the ill-fated siege of Lima, when Inca forces tried to expel the Spaniards in 1536. As expected, Murphy and her colleagues found ample evidence of severe injuries caused by medieval European weaponry–the top spike of a polearm, the beak of a war hammer, and possible gunshot wounds. (Intriguingly, evidence of slashing injuries from swords is missing from these victims.)
But what I found especially intriguing in this study was the evidence that team-members found for wounds inflicted by indigenous weapons, such as clubs and maces. Indeed, as the authors note, ”the majority of perimortem injuries to the cranium were likely due to blunt force trauma, probably from native weaponry like maces or clubs, with only a few of the injuries caused by Spanish weapons.”
Now of course, Spanish soldiers might well have picked up native weapons and used them expediently. But some Spanish chroniclers do refer on occasion to indigenous allies and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that they were under-representing the numbers in order to make themselves look especially courageous to readers back home.
Moreover, we know that the Incas had made a host of enemies during their own conquests, particularly on the northern coast of Peru. And these dissidents might have seen Pizarro and his men initially as liberators, before they truly understood the rapacity of the Spanish forces. Certainly, this is what happened in Mexico, when aboriginal people rallied to the banner of Hernando Cortez, eager to rise up against their oppressors, the Aztecs.
This new research by Murphy and her colleagues is the first forensic-style study of the Inca victims who fell during the Conquest of Peru. I really look forward to reading more.
Last summer while I was researching an article for National Geographic magazine in Ecuador, I had the remarkable pleasure of staying at the Hacienda Guanchala. Lying almost exactly on the equator, the Hacienda Guanchala is the oldest colonial hacienda in Ecuador. Indeed, some of its buildings date back as early as 1580, and its shadowy corridors feel haunted by all the history that has passed through them.
I arrived at the hacienda late in the day, well after dark, and after dining there I retreated to my room and lit a fire in the old stone fireplace. Someone had left several glossy Spanish language magazines there, and so I began to thumb through them: they were all devoted exclusively to the Peruvian Paso horse. I had never heard before of the Peruvian Paso, and I was too tired to dig out my Spanish-English dictionary to begin translating the articles. But I was much struck by the athletic appearance of this horse–with its massive deep chest and its powerful looking haunches.
Yesterday, I came across a fascinating blog post on the Peruvian Paso. It turns out that the Francisco Pizarro and his men brought the ancestors of this horse with them when they landed in Tumbes in early 1532 and embarked on their invasion of the Inca Empire. And they later rode and led these horses by halter through the Andes to a fateful encounter with the new Inca emperor, Atahualpa, in the provincial center of Cajamarca.
Atahualpa had just defeated the forces of his half-brother Huascar in a lengthy civil war, and he was resting with his wives, lords and elite bodyguard in the hills outside Cajamarca. He and his entourage had never before seen a horse. But in the preceding months, Inca scouts had sent them a good deal of intelligence about the Spanish invaders and the large foreign animal they rode.
Pizarro sent one of his bolder captains, Hernando de Soto, and several men out to Atahaulpa’s camp to invite him to a meeting in Cajamarca. To impress on the Inca entourage the power of horses, de Soto first led a charge on several of Atahualpa’s bodyguards, sending panic into the crowd. Then the Spanish captain reined his horse in sharply and trotted over to where Atahualpa sat on a low wooden throne. He nudged his horse so close to the divine king that the animal’s exhalations ruffled the braided royal fringe–a mark of imperial office–that hung from Atahualpa’s forehead. But the emperor betrayed no fear: he sat impassively as the animal gazed down at him.
Tragically the intelligence that Atahualpa had received about the Spaniards was badly flawed. His scouts informed him, for example, that the Spanish could not ride their horses in the dark. So Atahaulpa delayed his arrival at Cajamarca for the meeting until late afternoon the next day. But the Spanish forces and their horses were ready and waiting, quickly slaughtering the emperor’s bodyguard and taking Atahualpa himself a prisoner.
Seldom has one breed of horse witnessed so much tragedy and misery.
My apologies to subscribers who received a garbled version of this blog earlier today. Something went a little wrong in the blogging software this morning.
Archaeology magazine has just published a story I wrote on an almost completely forgotten tragedy of the Civil War. In 1863, the Union Army razed and laid waste to nearly four counties in Missouri–a year before the better known scorched-earth destruction of Atlanta, Georgia, by General William Tecumseh Sherman and his forces. Archaeologist Ann Raab, a Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, and her colleagues are now excavating sites in what is still known as “The Burnt District.” They are bringing to light a virtually unknown chapter of the Civil War–incredible work. Archaeology has posted an abstract of the article here. I will have more to say about this story in a future post.