Discovering the Incas Irrigation Canals
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The Incas were expert farmers, adapting the mountain environment to their best advantage. The farming was based on the sacred crop maize, but the land was poor of retaining water.


Discovering the Incas Irrigation Canals Correspondent: Nearby is the almost perfectly preserved Inca City of Machu Picchu the Inca’s were a highly organized society who ruled the Andes in the 14th and 15th centuries. They were magnificent builders and engineers employing techniques that still dazzle modern day experts, perhaps their most significant legacy was their ability as water engineers but the Spanish Conquistadors put an abrupt end to their culture. They smashed the Inca buildings and monuments putting the people to work in golden and silver miens. The hidden city in the mountains miraculously escaped the attention of the invaders and everyone else’s lives until the earliest 20th Century but the Inca’s were only the last in the long line of Andean civilizations building on each others accumulated skills. They were expert farmers adapting the mountain environment to their best advantage. The farming was based on the sacred crop maize grown everywhere on terraces but the land was poor especially the pertaining water. They solved the problem so brilliantly that centuries later they still hold the clue to survival here. They built their stone wall terraces to avoid the inevitable loss of soil but the masters stroke of the Incas was to build a sophisticated network of irrigation canals they brought water from distant mountain streams to the terraces and turned the harsh environment into a sustaining one but with the arrival of the Spanish the canals and terraces were abandoned and the ancient systems fell into ruin. These days mountain farmers like Feliciano and Luchresia are impoverished. The ladn supports just a fraction of those were used to work here and they’re unable to make use of the system that served their ancestors so well. The ancient terraces and canals lie hidden behind centuries of neglect but in the 1970s an English archeologist Dr. Anne Kendell came here to do some research on Inca irrigation canals. She was so struck by what she discovered that it was to change the course of her life and of those living here. Anne: I came into this area to study Inca architecture in settlements and it was the canals and the terrace systems that rarely impressed me. They were everywhere, everywhere you looked. Well studies showed that hundred thousand people were being fed outside this area by the farming that was going on here at that time in the Inca period and that the population was probably very similar till today but today not a fraction of this is being produced. Correspondent: Dr. Kendell reasoned that if the Inca technology worked well enough 500 years ago why shouldn’t it work again today especially as much of their engineering work was still in place. Anne: So I thought well what am I as an archeologist doing here if I don’t go the way of rural development all this will go on linen unused. Correspondent: The technology used by the Incas to such advantage was simple enough. They didn’t use cement instead they mixed the juice from a local cactus with clay to form a waterproof but flexible lining for the canals essential in an earth quake zone. Secondary channels connected the canals on different levels using stones as speed breaks to prevent the water from having any damage in effect. With support from the European union and from the Department for International Development Dr. Kendell assembled a team of local farmers headed by a trained stone mason in less than 3 years the Pumamarca canal the think line in the middle distance was restored. Their journey into the past had opened up the terrace’s below to be cleared for the first time since the mid 16th century. Kendell knew a plan couldn’t rely indefinitely on outside help but actually was to discover a key part of the jigsaw was already in place the fauna. In Inca times this was a combined form of community and military service. Remnants of fauna still survives in these parts in which everyone does an unpaid days community work at regular intervals but the restored canals need regular maintenance now the fauna system ensures they keep on working. Today Feliciano and Luchresia are doing their regular day’s community work. Looking after the canal means clearing weeds and debris to ensure the free flow of water and checking for any cracks in the lining but these days the fauna is as much an excuse for a communal get together than it is for work. -- no party is worth the name without copious amounts of Chicha a thick brew of locally produced maize beer and it’s even stronger water distilled from it. I am crying over a beautiful girl she comes from Arequipa. Correspondent: Besides it has taken more than 3 hours to climb up from their terraces and no one feels like working too hard and soon its time to go back down. A beautiful girl who broke my heart.