The History of South America

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The history of South America revolves around activities that were practiced by early civilizations. There exist plenty of information about ancient South American communities. Traditions, oral histories, and written records are some of the concepts that have been passed on from one generation to the other in the continent. Human beings are well-known for modifying their environments to address their needs. The South American Society was not an exemption because its communities had to survive. Farming was viewed as an activity that could sustain the communities by providing them with adequate food. For thousands of years, early South American civilizations delved into agriculture capitalizing on crops such as maize, beans, and squash. Agriculture and animal domestication facilitated the growth of ancient civilizations such as the Inca and Norte Chico.

Significance of Agriculture

            Agriculture led to the growth and expansion of South American civilizations over 10,000 years ago. This activity influenced communities such as the Incas to shift from their hunting and gathering practices. This approach made it easy for them to build stable and massive societies. The availability of food resources empowered the communities to develop and support empires[1]. The positive aspects of agricultural practices are well-portrayed by the Incas. The Inca people settled in the Andes Mountains, which happens to be today’s Peru region. Their influence began expanding in the 12th-century after capitalizing on farming. By the 16th-century, the Inca exercised control over a larger territory than the other South American communities. The Inca Empire comprised of over a million people, and it stretched all the way from Ecuador to Northern Chile. The focus on agriculture enhanced the communities’ cooperation. The sense of community was essential because all the people worked together to accomplish the empire’s goals and objectives. The food derived from agriculture did not belong to an individual, but rather to the whole community. This unity guaranteed the presence of adequate food and resources for everyone. The absence of personal development ideologies paved the way for Inca’s advancements in South America. Farming in the mountains also enabled the Inca to put into exercise their technologies. For example, the roads they built from Ecuador to Chile had tunnels and bridges. These developments eased the process of moving food produce from the farms to residing areas.

Farming Style

            Farming proved to be difficult in the Andes because of the sloppy terrain. As such, the South American Inca had to come up with creative solutions. The mountain’s slopes were terraced to create adequate farmland. The terracing was done in a manner that enhanced farming, while at the same time preventing soil erosion. Thus, despite being ancient people, the Inca was civilized enough to protect the environment[2]. Their main crops were potatoes and corn. One significant practice that boosted agriculture was the construction of aqueducts. Aqueducts are waterways that are constructed to move water from the source up to a distribution point at some far distance. In this case, the Incas were among the first civilizations that carried water downhill to their farms and agricultural lands.

Food Security

            In the Andes Mountains, farmers were challenged by the scarcity of flat land, high latitude, and climatic uncertainties. The Alyus, who were local leaders in the Inca community oversaw crop management to avoid low yields. For example, the vertical archipelago was used to manage food products in Andean Incan farming. Crops were grown based on climates associated with specific altitudes to increase the volume of harvests. In this case, the Inca Empire expanded its agricultural production by developing colonies that allowed people to live in different areas. The Incas also emphasized the storage of food products. Thousands of storage silos were constructed in every center of the empire along their road system. Also, hillside placements were utilized to preserve foods through the natural air and wind that ventilated the rooms. Foods were easily dried using gravel floors and drainage canals.

            The foods that were kept in these stores could only be stored for two years before spoiling because of the drainage and ventilation. Freeze-dried potatoes, dried meat, and maize are some of the crops that were stored in vast amounts. They provided adequate food for the Incan Army, as well as supporting the community’s food needs during periods of low yield or drought. Reducing agricultural risks was a significant issue in the Inca Empire. Farmers used scattered pieces of land in which they planted different crops. In this case, the failure of one crop in a particular plot could not affect the community because the others worked well[3]. The construction of Andenes for crops facilitated the expansion of agriculture in the Andes. In the desert coast, irrigation was employed to provide plants with enough water. Coca and cotton were the important crops along the coast because of the low humidity. The coastal community was highly specialized in agriculture compared to the Highlanders. Fishing was also practiced because the sea provided plenty of fish. These aspects prove that the Inca were well-established in agriculture.

Norte Chico

            Between 4,000 BCE and 1,800 BCE, the Norte Chico civilization occupied the coast of Peru. This community distanced itself from war, hence concentrating on activities such as music, religion, and agriculture. The existence of many rivers in the region led to the use of irrigation farming. Irrigation canals were developed to distribute water in diversified fields. The advent of irrigation in the Supe Valley influenced the construction of Caral. This irrigation system serves farmer up to date. The ancient inhabitants moved upriver from the coast, where they developed agriculture. This step was taken to support the growing population that required enough food production for survival[4]. The idea of settling in places suitable for agricultural farming brought forth urbanization, especially after the Caral and other small urban centers were built. The Norte Chico relied on both fish and crop farming. These practices were enhanced by the community’s proximity to Rivers Fortaleza, Supe, and Pativilca. Some of the crops that were cultivated by the Norte Chico were squash, maize, sweet potatoes, beans, and guava. Thus, their foods and agricultural practices were similar to those of the Inca.

            Apart from edible foods, the Norte Chico people also planted cotton in the coastal areas. Cotton was highly emphasized because it enabled men to make strong fishing nets. Therefore, the community got many of its resources from agriculture. The need for proteins in food fueled the extensive farming of cotton to create adequate fishing nets. Maize stood out as the backbone of Norte Chico’s food products. Other pre-Columbian civilizations later adopted it because of its stability in the region. Agriculture was practiced after this civilization lost touch with its previous ceramic culture. Food was needed for the people to thrive in the South American Society. Since ceramics could not sustain their increasing population, agriculture was seen as a viable practice. Norte Chico’s civilization sites were discovered in Aspero along the coast in 1905. The Caral, which is a bit inland was located in the late 1990s. Both the sites associate the Norte Chico with ceramics and agricultural activities.

Animal Domestication

            Apart from farming, animal domestication was another activity that the Inca undertook. There were numerous benefits that the Inca civilization derived from animals. For instance, Llamas, camels, and Alpaca were the main animals that Inca used. The Llamas came in handy in the transportation of foods from the Andes to the empire. With good roads in place, Llamas could transport food for long distances. Since the Inca did not have better modes of transport, they ended up domesticating these animals[5]. The Llamas were suitable because they could survive harsh climates in the Andes. The other domesticated animal was the Alpaca, which is a species of American camels. They were treated as the Inca’s sheep because of the enormous volumes of wool they created. The Inca used Alpaca’s yarn to make woolen clothes. Today, Alpaca farming is a common practice in Peru and the surrounding regions. Different civilizations have been using them to make different attire. The other animal that was kept by the Inca was the Vicunas. Vicunas is a camel species that is more valuable than the Alpaca. This aspect emanates because its fur is softer compared to that of the Alpaca. Out of all animals, Llamas were the most important to the Inca people. Apart from providing labor, they were also used as food.

Norte Chico was not left behind in the domestication of animals.

            Most of the artifacts that have been found at the coast of Peru entail flutes made from bird bones. There are also cornets that were derived from bones of deer and Llamas. The Norte Chico domesticated Llamas for both food and transportation of goods. Other valued animals were Dogs, goats, pigs, sheep, and horses. Dogs were useful in providing security, while the others provided milk and meat. Horses were used for labor, but not as much as the Llamas. In this case, these ancient civilizations had appropriate ways of using animals to enhance their well-being. Their idea of domesticating animals is evident in modern societies that cannot survive without them[6]. The Chavin civilization that resided in Peru’s Andean highlands also showcased traits similar to those of Inca and Norte Chico. All the communities embraced agriculture and exploited it to expand their populations.


            South America is renowned for hosting several ancient civilizations. Thousands of years ago, the Inca and Norte Choc were some of the communities that occupied Peru and Colombia. The growth of these civilizations was highly promoted by agriculture. Both the Inca and Norte Chico were good farmers who majored on maize, beans, and squash. The coastal communities also planted cotton, while at the same time engaging in fishing. The combination of farming and animal domestication enhanced these civilizations’ survival in South America. With plenty of yields from the farms, the Llamas provided the necessary transport from the Andes Mountains. Irrigation was also utilized using special techniques to spread water from rivers up to the farms. Urbanization also started in this period because the idea of working together called for people to live together. Many of the agricultural practices that were used by the Inca and Norte Chico are still being used today in Peru.


Hirst, Kris. “Llamas and Alpacas: The Domestication History of Camelids in South America.” Thoughtco. April 3,, 2018. Accessed October 12, 2018,

Londoño, Ana C. "Pattern and rate of erosion inferred from Inca agricultural terraces in arid southern Peru."Geomorphology 99, no. 1 (2008): 13-25.

Silberman, Neil Asher.The Oxford companion to archaeology. New York: Oxford University Press. 2012.

Szremski, Kasia. "Shellfish, water, and entanglements: Inter-community interaction and exchange in the Huanangue Valley, Peru."Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 47, no. 3 (2017): 83-95.

Wood, Alix. Uncovering the culture of Ancient Peru. New York: PowerKids Press, 2016.

[1] Neil Asher Silberman, The Oxford companion to archaeology, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 45-47.

[2] Ana C. Londoño, "Pattern and rate of erosion inferred from Inca agricultural terraces in arid southern Peru,"(Geomorphology 99, no. 1, 2008), 15-16.

[3] Alix Wood, Uncovering the culture of Ancient Peru, (New York: PowerKids Press, 2016), 33-35.

[4] Kasia Szremski, "Shellfish, water, and entanglements: Inter-community interaction and exchange in the Huanangue Valley, Peru,"(Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 47, no. 3, 2017), 89-91.

[5] Kris Hirst, “Llamas and Alpacas: The Domestication History of Camelids in South America,” (Thoughtco. April 3, 2018),


Alix Wood, Uncovering the culture of Ancient Peru, (New York: PowerKids Press, 2016), 33-35.

November 24, 2023


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