The Inca road legacy.
The Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire in the 16th century was catastrophic for the Incas. Four decades after the conquest, the Inca population had fallen by 75-90%, and the Spanish were trying hard to obliterate Inca culture, religion and structures. The diseases the Spanish brought with them killed most of the population, but forced labor also caused a significant level of deaths among those that survived the diseases.
In recent times, with new perspectives written on Spanish colonial history, and deeper research into the events of the time, it’s become pretty obvious that the Spanish were the barbarians, and not the Incas, as had been previously chronicled. In fact, the entire history of Spanish conquest in the Americas could be branded the same way. They were the barbarians, they just had better technology, and their timing was, inadvertently, impeccable. In addition, history is always written by the victors, and the Spanish were the victors.
However, despite this catastrophic history, Inca culture has remained stubbornly persistent, and is still very much in evidence even today. Nearly 10 million people in Peru and surrounding countries speak Quechua, the Inca language of their Empire.
One major remnant of Inca culture is the road system they built. It was constructed without mechanical assistance, and covered the majority of the 10 million square kilometers that the Inca Empire ruled. They build over 40,000 kilometers of stone roads, as well as warehouses along those routes to store food and water. The system enabled the Inca’s to collect taxes, deploy troops rapidly, and provide communication at level rarely seen even today.
Most cities in today’s Peru are built on the coast, whereas the majority of the Inca roads were built inland. The main Inca axis was built in the foothills of the Andes, which makes their construction even more impressive. It also saved their roads from the destruction that could have resulted from modern urban development and that was important, in retrospect, to the lives the Inca descendants today.
A recent study looked at wages, nutrition, mathematics test scores and years of schooling in Peru and compared them on the basis of their proximity to the old Inca highway system. In all cases, the closer the proximity to the roads, the higher rating the people achieved, and women benefited more than men.
It should be noted that the Spanish used the Inca roads for transporting silver and they used the warehouses to create shops. This produced sustained economic activity along the Inca road system over a long period of time, which could partially explain the higher rankings for people close to the road.
The study then looked at what has happened along modern Peruvian roads compared to the old Inca routes. It found that the old roads produced better results, based on their criteria. The Inca road legacy is alive and well in today’s Peru.
It may be difficult to accurately quantify this data on a larger scale but it would be nice to think that the Inca’s massive road system is still helping their descendants six hundred years later.