The Maya and Inca were two complex groups  of great mystery and involved in religious methods that were considered to be extreme practices of human sacrifice. Several archaeological excavations suggest that at least a few human groups had made their way to the Americas by 15,000 B.C.E or earlier, although it is not clear whether they arrived by land or by water (Bentley and Ziegler, 2008).It has been a long ongoing debate with archaeologist trying to find the origins of these people and how exactly they arrived in the Americas. Both the Maya and the Inca are similar in many ways from religious practices to political ideologies. The Maya and Inca both offer lessons that can be learned and demonstrate that they were both just as organized as early Greek and Roman Empires. The Inca along with the Maya were very mysterious and sophisticated and are considered to be two complex societies of the Americas.

Societies in the Americas are not recognized or acknowledged as being organized in comparison with civilizations in the Eastern part of the world where it was believed that the first cultures were established. Educational programs have always taught children that the land of the Americas was discovered from Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci, giving little credit to the already developed complex societies. The debate of exactly when these civilizations began challenges Archaeologist on a daily basis; with newer information coming to light that places the beginning of these societies between 40,000- and 16,500 ago.

The roads in the Americas are less ventured then those in the eastern part of the world and artifacts are being unearthed at an alarming rate in a race against time and developmental construction. Cities like Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes and the multi-ethnic cities like Teotihuacan in Mexico demonstrate how conglomerate these early civilization actually were. These early civilizations were just as grand as ancient Egypt and Greece but unfortunately the history of these societies is scarce as they were a simple people who flourished off of the land with little influences from neighboring civilizations.

Around the third century the Maya preceded the Olmec civilization, who in many ways like the Maya, vanished, leaving little evidence or recorded history. Their civilization centered and stretched around what are now El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, southern Mexico, and Guatemala. The Mayan belief that the gods shed their blood to help their crops grow, fueled the practice of bloodletting and human sacrifice, which was an act honoring their gods. The Mayan priest were also scholars who helped keep track of the Mayan calendar, they were highly advanced in mathematics and astronomy also created their own writing system.

Most Maya writing survives today in the form of inscriptions on temples and monuments, because sixteenth- century Spanish conquerors and missionaries destroyed untold numbers of books in hopes of undermining native religious beliefs( Bentley and Zeigler,2008).The Mayans also contributed to the system of writing called hieroglyphs. In this system, a high level of abstraction is combined with very complexly designed, partially descriptive signs, precisely organized and at the same time unusually flexible (Prem, 1997). The Maya often encrypted messages of death and human sacrifice in their writings that demonstrate their brutal beliefs.

Within the range of societal emphases on time the lowland Maya of the Classic period (A.D.200-900 are frequently said to have been “obsessed” with time, as evidence by their reckoning of time’s passage by means of numerous calendars and painstakingly carved hieroglyphic dates on stone monuments (Cecil, 2009).They viewed time as we know it as a cyclical process and related it to what the observed astronomically. Ways of telling time changed throughout Mayan history and many calendars were used. To have such accuracy is an amazing accomplishment that derived from years of studying the stars and their alignment. Today many confuse the Mayan calendar as a time line for the end of the world but mainstream archaeology recognize it  as simply an end of their calendar.

Political science played a major role in how the Mayans worshiped and believed. The Maya’s political organization was rooted in cosmology and religion and astrology which allowed them to predict and calculate celestial events. These events were usually schedule for religious practices. The Maya believed in multiple creations of the cosmos and that the one they were living in, as marked by the initiation point on their calendrical records, began 3114 B.C (Rice, 2004).The Mayan game of death which was most likely adopted from the Olmecs consisted of a rubber ball going through a stone ring and has been associated with the alignment of the stars or planets. Many attended these games, mostly high ranked officials. The result of the leader of the losing team was death. This game was a very symbolic ritual performed by the Maya.
The Maya were able to organize into city like kingdoms which brought conflicts between these states. Tikal was considered to be one of the biggest centers politically and religiously that in its prime boasted a population of around 40,000.Similar to the Incas, the Mayas brought captives to their cities in an effort to merge societies instead of killing one another. Before the Spaniard’s arrival, many Mayan groups had already dealt with the arrival of other indigenous groups in their lands .Throughout Mayan history, rulers ensured elite status through genealogical ties to various family lines and many times tied their ancestry to the founding linage of an  archaeological site(Cecil ,2009). These sites offer historical evidence of just how important these rulers were and all that they contributed is displayed on monuments outside various temples all throughout temples in Guatemala.

Chichen Itza was one of the centers of Mayan social life. It was located in the Mayan lowlands of Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It was also a huge economic center that flourished on trade. Nearby are natural holes that provided rain water for the population. It has been suggested by many that human sacrificing contaminated these water supplies and led to decline of the Maya. Chichen Itza is distinguished from its contemporaries in the Maya world of the very late Classic by an innovative use of imagery in preference to text, on architectural forms executed on a very large scale (Joyce, 2000). This type and scale had not been previously used in other Mayan cities.


When the first Spanish conquistadors entered the new land of America they were quite overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude and organization of these complex societies. When treasure hunter and explorer Hiram Bingham III discovered  the ruins of the ancient great mountain top city of  the tourist attraction Machu Picchu in Peru many were baffled at the size and elevation of the great Inca city. Machu Picchu’s sheer size alone can provide an idea of just how advanced  the Inca actually  were. This large example of Inca architecture was used much a like a resort. It also had storage for food. The ridges were strategically cut out to grow their crops due to the slope of the mountain upon which it sits.


The Inca societies were just as complex and mysterious as the Maya and just like the Maya their history was based on archaeological evidence that was collected by the Spanish conquistadors. Established somewhere around 1100 AD, the Inca were highly advanced and involved in the art of conquering way before the Spanish conquistadors arrived. The Incas built their societies at very high elevations that were in many ways isolated from other societies. In the highlands, people depended on the cultivation of potatoes and the herding of llamas and alpacas-camel- like beast that were the only domesticated animals anywhere in the Americas before the sixteenth century (Bentley and Ziegler, 2006). These alpacas are still utilized to this day and in many cases it is all that the present people use to carry their harvest. In the coastal lowlands rivers were used to irrigate and make the land rich for growing. The makeup of the land gave the Inca an advantage from those who traveled on foot as the huge Andes Mountains blanketed their existence.
Roads allowed the Incato spread their influences over conquered peoples and to trade extensively from within. Roads also allowed a tight network so that they could keep an eye on new additions to the empire. The capital situated in present day Cuzco was the center of the empire were religion and political meetings took place. Several battles took place against the Asmara kingdoms of Bolivia who were interested in access to the fruits of the ocean, but soon the Asmara fell under Inca rule just as many other peoples in South America.

Tipón was an area that is not recognized as much as the great city of Machu Pichu. It was a retreat for the noble class and was surrounded by two adjacent streams. Taken as a whole, Tipón represents a major civil engineering achievement by prehistoric Americans who were masters of irrigation and hydraulic technology and who designed buildings, water works, and massive structures to be visually and functionally in harmony with the natural environment (Wright, 2006). The one Inca were one of the greatest pre-Columbian empires that used their knowledge of other cultures, military dominance, and superb architecture to spread it’s influence. They were able to sustain life for many years by harvest food and changing the layout of the land to supply their needs. The Incas never were able to get their hands on raw steel but encountered gold, copper, and silver quite frequently due to the mineral rich land.

At the height of Inca existence the empire is estimated to have between 4 and 37 million inhabitants who stretched from Quito, Ecuador to Santiago, Chile. The Atacama desert ,which is one the driest  places on earth made it very difficult for the Incas to stretch their empire far south but somehow they were able to do so and met resistance from the Mapuche, who were believed to have migrated to southern Chile from Polynesia. The Andes made it difficult to expand the great society east into the Amazon and what is now Argentina. Around 1465 the Inca ruler Tupac Yupanqui conquered the Peruvian north coast and also subjugated the Chimu Empire, which was allied with Cajamarca and other small entities at that time.

As the Inca sought expansion, more organization was needed and as they conquered peoples further and further from the center of the empire, that organization consisted of four sections that governed various parts of the empire. Therefore the realm was divided into four parts (suyu),which met in Cuzco as the symbolic central point: Chinchasuyu( northwestern Peru up  to Ecuador), Antisuyu(northeastern Peru, mainly  eastern slopes of the Andes and adjoining lowlands),Collasuyu southeastern highlands,Lake Titicaca, Bolivia, northwestern highlands of Argentina,northern Chile),and Cuntisuyu (southern Peru)(Prem,1997).
In Inca society skilled merchants and artisans never emerged due the control over long-distance trade. There were three classes which consisted of peasants, aristocrats, priest and elites. The cultivators were mostly peasants of common birth who lived in communities known as ayllu, similar to the Mexica’s Calpulli which were the basic units of rural society (Bentley and Zeigler, 2008). The priest and aristocrats who were usually from royal families and had a privileged lifestyle which also gave them a distinct appearance .Only the elites and high nobility were able to live in core center of the cities. The ruling elites, who were thought to have come from the sun, had complete control over the people. Incas also believed in the sun god known as Inti which dominated the religion of the Incas. Animal sacrifices were made to Inti in an effort to please the god which differentiated from the Mayan practices of human sacrifice, however the Incas did have special political events where children were sacrificed, but unlike the scale of the other Mesoamerican worlds.

There is not much written history as it was usually recorded on  materials that time or the Spanish conquest destroyed . Much of the history that has survived is from the written accounts of Jesuits and that of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa who recorded as much as possible during 1572. Sarmiento’s 1572 manuscript is composed of a 10 page letter to King Phillip II, 262 pages of text and a final Certificate of Verification that covers 11 pages (Smith, 2007). He was able to speak to the elders in Cuzco, Peru to gain basic knowledge of the past in the area. Sarmiento wanted a true depiction of the history of the Incas, challenging all who believed that the Incas were the natural owners of the Andes with his claim that the Spanish had the right to own the land.

Both the Mayan and Inca civilizations are shrouded in mystery and with the size and magnitude of their cities display just how intricate and diverse they were. They were alike in many ways with their knowledge of agricultural and architecture but were also different in their ideologies and beliefs. What is also intriguing is that choices of material for building with Maya ,Inca and all throughout the Americas. Their building techniques were on another level, however there are many who feel that the Inca were inferior at building and that they merely were occupying earlier sites.One thing I think that would help with conveying that the Inca were the inferior builders is that they only had a small window(less than 100 years) to learn and utilize the surreal techniques that the mainstream have attributed to them.There is seemingly no way they could have built all of that in such a small time frame,much less even learn how to become so skilled at it.Why did some American indigenous groups choose to build with wood when stone was always available?

















Prem, Hanns J. Kurbjuhn, Kornelia. (1997).Ancient Americas: A Brief History & Guide to Research University of Utah Press Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Sarmiento de Gamboa, Pedro Bauer, Brian S. Smith, Vania. (02/2007).History of the Incas. University of Texas Press. Austin, TX, USA.

Joyce, Rosemary A. (01/2000). Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica Mesoamerican City.University of Texas Press. Austin, TX, USA
Cecil, Leslie Pugh, Timothy W. (09, 2009) Mesoamerican Worlds: Maya Worldviews at Conquest. University Press of Colorado. Boulder, CO, USA

Bentley, Jerry H. Herbert, Ziegler F. Streets, Heather E. (2008) Traditions & Encounters A Brief Global History Mcgraw-Hill








Annotated Bibliography


Prem, Hanns J. Kurbjuhn, Kornelia. (1997).Ancient Americas :A Brief History & Guide to Research University of Utah Press Salt Lake City, UT, USA

This book describes the time periods of early American civilizations in depth. This author includes studies that show the disciplines required and problems encountered when trying to understand these complex societies.

Sarmiento de Gamboa, Pedro Bauer, Brian S. Smith, Vania. (02/2007).History of the Incas.University of Texas Press. Austin, TX, USA.

A great primary source of history through the actual accounts of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532–1592) who recorded a very detailed account of the Incas in Cuzco ,Peru just forty years after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.A treasure trove of information regarding the life of the Incas and their daily lifestyles along with their mythological beliefs.

Joyce, Rosemary A. (01/2000). Gender and Power in Prehispanic Mesoamerica Mesoamerican City.University of Texas Press. Austin, TX, USA