National Geographic : 1916 May
STAIRCASE FARMS OF THE ANCIENTS Astounding Farming Skill of Ancient Peruvians, Who Were Among the Most Industrious and Highly Organized People in History BY O. F. CooK BOTANIST OF 'THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY--YALE UNIVERSITY EXPEDITION 'To PERU IN 1915, AND OF THE BUREAU OF PLANT INDUSTRY OF TIE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE A GRICULTURE is not a lost art, but must be reckoned as one of those that reached a high develop ment in the remote past and afterward declined, and has not yet recovered its an cient prestige. The system of agriculture developed by the ancient Peruvians en abled them to support large populations in places where modern farmers would be helpless. The most specialized development of agriculture in the Western Hemisphere was attained, unquestionably, in Peru, and the culmination was reached cen turies ago, before Columbus discovered America. Still farther back there must have been a period of slow and gradual development-a period to be expressed in millenniums rather than in centuries. At a time when our ancestors in northern Europe were still utter savages, clothed only in skins, and living by hunting and fishing, settled agricultural communities must have existed in the Peruvianregion, perhaps in the same valleys that contain the marvelous remnants of the prehis toric art. The people who did the finest of the ancient work are not only gone and for gotten, but lack even the distinction of a name. Written records like those of Egypt and Assyria are lacking in Peru. and even tradition has failed to attach names of kings or nations to many of the ancient monuments. Some writers refer to the builders as Megalithic or Big-Stone people, because they used very large stones, like the fabled Cyclopes of the ancient Greeks, who built massive walls and worked in metals. Other writers re fer to the ancient Peruvians simply as pre-Incas, because their work evidently belongs to an age farther back than the Inca empire conquered by the Spaniards. As a race, it may be assumed that the Megalithic people were ancestors of the modern Quichuas, or at least of the same stock, for there is nothing to show that the human type was different in ancient times. In Peru, as in ancient Egypt, it was the custom to mummify the dead and to bury with the mummies the clothing, food, household utensils, weapons, and other objects and articles used by the living. This regard of the ancients for their dead, together with the dry, equable cli mate, have made Peru a veritable treas ure-house of archaeological material. Not only the skeletons and the other physical features of the ancient people are known, but also the nature and degree of devel opment of all of the arts that could be preserved by burial. The general result of such studies tends to show that the modern Quichuas, the Incas conquered by the Spaniards, and the pre-Inca or Megalithic people were all of the same race and practiced the same arts, includ ing the art of agriculture. The Incas had a very specialized agri culture, but their predecessors had some of the agricultural arts still more highly developed. They built larger terraces and faced them with larger stones, fitted with wonderful accuracy. The Incas also built extensively, but generally with less skill, or at least with less labor, bedding their stones and plastering their walls with clay, instead of taking the trouble to work down and fit together the huge ir regular blocks that characterize the Meg alithic period.