How were the Incas physically?

The civilization of the Incas lasted from 1,200 AD. to 1,533 AD It is popularly said that the Incas were tall, that they had long horses and little beard. Different investigations, chronicles of the time and archaeological findings have given an account of what the Incas were like in the physical aspect. This, added to the nutrition, the geographical conditions and the genes inherited by their ancestors from ancient Peru, has helped to know what the Incas were like physically.

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The Incas, their origins and expansion

The Incas were an original ethnic group of peoples that inhabit Lake Titicaca in the Peruvian-Bolivian altiplano. At some point in the 13th century, they were threatened by the warlike neighbors of the Aymara kingdom, for which reason they emigrated to the valley of Cusco where, after more than two hundred years, they founded the largest empire in South America.

The Incas lived with the inhabitants of the Cusco valley, Quechua ethnic groups. The Incas learned their language, adapted their cultural beliefs and practices, but also taught and imposed their knowledge in architecture, textiles, and ceramics.

Approximately in 1438 the Incas managed to defeat their Chanca enemies. This is how the emperor Pachacutec manages to expand the territories. The Incas, initially a small ethnic group, manage to dominate much of the South American continent including present-day regions of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia.

Until then, the South American continent showed an ethnic variety, many of which were subjected to or adhered to the Inca empire. With the arrival of the Spanish, in the 16th century, the ethnic variety was even greater.

Today in Peru, for example, miscegenation has shaped a country made of ‘all bloods’. He who does not have an inga, has a mandinga!

Aspecto físico de los incas
The ancestors of the Incas and ancient Peru

The Incas were not Quechuas. Originally, they spoke the puquina language, original to the highland peoples of Lake Titicaca. That is, their ancestors had a different phenotypic trait than the ‘Cusqueño Incas’.

These features were differentiated in the Inca elite, which had a common ancestor and a lifestyle (such as food) that differed from the Inca people.

However, these ethnic features had similarities to the aboriginal peoples who inhabited ancient Peru many centuries before.

For example, the stature of the Lord of Sipán, a Mochica ruler who ruled the northern valley of Peru in AD 278. It was 1.67 meters. The Lady of Cao, a Mochica ruler who lived in AD 400, was 1.45 meters tall.

As well as the Lord of Sopán and the lady of Cao, in the cultures of ancient Peru discoveries and studies were made that show that the height of the Peruvian or Peruvian hardly exceeded 1.70 meters.

On the other hand, geography played a fundamental role in defining the physical features of an ethnic group or culture. The Mochica inhabitants endured high temperatures in the northern Peruvian valley. To better withstand the climate and geography, the ‘moches’ developed copper skin and almost no beard.

The Incas, and the peoples that inhabited the Andes Mountains, also developed copper skin and almost no beard, to withstand the ‘burning’ sun of the mountain day. Thus, the inhabitants of ancient Peru have similar characteristics with some differences in face, skin tone, eye color and more.

This is how the Incas were physically

The Inca people had an average height of 1.53 for men and 1.48 meters for women. This is corroborated by studies carried out in the population of Machu Picchu.

The Incas were also hairless. Some villagers had a few hairs on their faces. However, this was strange and by no means did they grow a bushy beard. That is why the astonishment caused in the Inca inhabitants by the presence of the Spaniards, who possessed an immense beard.

The Incas did not have long hair. This was only characteristic of the Inca elite, who, like all ruling classes, sought to differentiate themselves from the people in appearance. The common inhabitants had, yes, a strong and straight black hair very resistant to baldness.

The Inca elite, on the other hand, thanks to a better diet, reached heights that exceeded 1.70 meters (it is said that Emperor Atahualpa was 1.80 meters tall). The elite did keep their hair neither short nor long but well cared for, they did not have beards and, as a result of arduous preparation for war in the yachayhuasi (houses of knowledge for the ruling elite), an athletic physical appearance.

Aspecto físico de los incas
Were the Incas tall?

The size of the Incas can be clarified taking into account the investigations of different cultures developed even many centuries before.

The Peruvian-Argentine researcher Augusto Cardich points out that the ‘Lauricocha Man’ (ethnic group that inhabited the Andes 10 thousand years BC), had a height of 1.62 meters for men and 1.53 for women.

The researcher María Inés Barreto, in the archaeological complex of Maranga (100 AD – 650 AD), points out that the average height of men is 1.58 meters while 1.48 meters for women.

In Machu Picchu, a study prepared by John Verano, indicates that the average height of men was 1.53 meters while 1.48 meters for women.

The children and adolescents discovered in the high snow-capped mountains of South America as part of the ‘Capacocha’ sacrificial ceremony were small in size. Thus the ‘Juanita Mummy’ was 14 years old and 1.58 meters tall.

The Inca elite was taller than the people, due to their more nutrient-rich diet. Studies indicate that the Inca Atahualpa who was captured in Cajamarca in 1532, when he raised his arm in the ‘rescue room’ reached 2.28 meters. That is, his height would have been 1.80 meters or 1.85 meters.

Did the Incas have beards?

The Incas did not have abundant beards (this does not mean that they did not have any beards or mustaches) and their facial features are distinguishable thanks to DNA analysis (3D reconstruction) as well as drawings provided by the chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala. (1534 – 1615) in his famous book The new chronicle and good government.

The few Inca inhabitants who managed to develop a beard had it very short, sparse, generally on the chin. The Incas probably developed beards in a similar way to the Mochicas, who made some huaco portraits of people with beards.

The reason for the scarce beard in the Incas -and in general in the population of ancient Peru- is simply due to the genetics of the Mesoamerican man, especially in ancient times. The Spaniards, on the contrary, by genetics develop a dense beard. For this reason, in the 16th century, the Incas were surprised to appreciate the bearded Spanish man.

With miscegenation, and migration, in the following centuries, the man of Mesoamerica developed more beards.

¿Dónde está la momia de Pachacutec?
Did the Incas have long hair?

The Incas are usually represented with long, straight hair. Even so they are represented in the famous drawings made by the Peruvian chronicler Guamán Poma de Ayala. However, some chronicles point out otherwise, so the issue is debatable.

According to the famous Cusco chronicler Garcilaso: “the Inca had short hair, as if it had just been cut and that he and the nobility frequently cut their hair to always have the same appearance.”

On the other hand, the common people did not have hair like that of the Inca nobility. This was neither long nor short, almost to the edge of the ears. Of course, everyone took care of their hair with plants to keep it neat and even decorated, especially in the case of women. They made braids, adorned their hair, especially in religious festivities and rituals.

The Spanish chronicler Pedro Cieza de León says: “there could be thousands of Indians together and that by their hairstyles and clothing they could distinguish the different ethnic groups.”

Of course there were exceptions. The chronicles also point out that the Inca Atahualpa had long hair. It is said that it was because of an ear lost in a confrontation. The emperor, the son of the sun, could not show a physical defect before the people.

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