Achievements of the Americas Holt, chapters 14-15
Potatoes Potatoes were first planted in Peru between 3000 BC and 2000 BC, and it became a staple food for the Inca people. Above 10,000 feet altitude, putting potatoes out on frosty nights turned them into a freeze-dried food called chuño ; when kept in permanently-frozen underground storehouses, chuño can be stored for years with no loss of nutritional value. Sailors returning from Peru to Spain with silver from the New World probably brought potatoes with them to eat on the trip, and they spread throughout Europe. The potato became especially important in Ireland.
Quipu The Incas had no written language, but they did have the quipu . Strings of various colors were attached to a main rope with knots. The number and position of knots and the color of each string represented a different piece of information. Messengers could carry a quipu from Quito to Cuzco in 3 days, less time than it sometimes takes by car. Archeologists are now suggesting that authors used the quipu to compose and preserve their epic poems and legends. Each knot on a cord might have designated a syllable in a word.
Brain surgery Brain surgery among the Incas was common, and surgeons successfully removed small portions of patients' skulls to treat head injuries suffered during combat. A similar procedure is performed today to relieve pressure caused by fluid buildup following severe head trauma. Around the ancient Inca capital of Cuzco, skulls dating back to AD 1000 show advanced surgical techniques. Many of the oldest skulls showed no evidence of bone healing following the operation, suggesting that the procedure was probably fatal, but by the 1400s, survival rates approached 90 percent, and infection levels were very low.
Terraces The Incas constructed terraces on the slopes of mountainsides. They cut step-like ledges into the mountains so they could be used as fields for planting crops. Using terraces also stopped the rain from washing away the soil. This technique was so successful that it is still used in the Andes Mountains.
Roads and bridges The Inca road system was the biggest and most highly advanced transportation system in the early Americas. The network was based on two north-south roads, with many smaller branches. The eastern route ran high in the mountain valleys from Quito, Ecuador to Mendoza, Argentina. The western route followed the coast. The road reached heights of over 16,000 feet above sea level. The Inca road system linked together about 25,000 miles of roadway and provided access to over 1,200,000 square miles of territory. Relay messengers, or chasquis , stationed at intervals of four to six miles, carried both messages and objects such as fresh seafood for the rulers in the mountains. Chasquis could cover an estimated 160 miles per day.
Stonework The ancient Americans were masters of making things out of stone and metal . Much of what we think of as Mesoamerican art actually served a different purpose back when the Aztecs and Maya used it. The jade mask at the top right was placed on Maya king Pacal when he was buried. The Aztec flint knife at the lower right was used for sacrifices. Inca stonework was especially impressive. They were able to construct buildings and walls like the one above in which they cut the stone so expertly that mortar was not needed to hold them together.
Chinampas are often called “floating gardens.” Because the Aztecs settled on an island in the middle of a lake, they didn’t have enough farmland to support their growing population. They decided to solve the problem by making artificial islands on which to plant crops. These islands were made out of branches, mud and dead plants which were piled high enough to rise above the surface of the water. The remnants of the chinampas, and the canals that run between them, are still popular tourist attractions in the area of Lake Xochimilco. Some are still used for farming. Chinampas
Both the Maya and the Aztecs had written language in which they wrote books, or codices (singular: codex). Some codices have religious or historical information; others tell the family histories of important people. Some Aztec codices describe the medical uses of various plants. In total, there are about 500 Aztec codices for historians to study, but only four Maya books remain. It is only in the last few years that archaeologists have learned to read the script of the ancient Maya. Writing
Chewing gum made its first appearance in the Americas as the latex of the Sapodilla tree. The Sapodilla had been used for years as food, medicine and even building material. The Aztecs called it tzictli (from the word meaning “to stick”), and this is probably the source of the Spanish word chicle —like the gum Chiclets you can buy at the store. It is even mentioned in the Florentine Codex: “For this reason the women chew chicle: because thereby they cause their saliva to flow and thereby the mouths are scented; the mouth is given a pleasing taste. With it they dispel the bad odour of their mouths, or the bad smell of their teeth.” Gum
Pyramids were the monumental structures of the Mesoamerican world—they were the centerpieces of Aztec cities like Tenochtitlán and Maya cities like Palenque. They not only displayed the wealth and power of the empire, but they were often used for astronomy and were used for religious ceremonies, including human sacrifices. Pyramids today are visited and studied by historians and tourists. The pyramid of Cholula, the largest pyramid in the world, is visited by Catholic pilgrims. Pyramids
The priests of Mesoamerica were expert astronomers. They were able to chart the movement of the planets and stars, and this knowledge allowed them to develop complex calendar systems. Astronomical knowledge allowed Mesoamericans to decide precisely when they should plant crops, perform sacrifices, and carry out other daily activities. Astronomy
Maize is a grass first grown by people in Mesoamerica during prehistoric times. After European contact with the Americas in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, explorers and traders carried maize back to Europe and introduced it to other countries through trade. Its use spread to the rest of the world. Maize is the most widely grown crop in the Americas (332 million metric tons annually in the United States alone). Corn
Chocolate was used originally in Mesoamerica both as a beverage and as an ingredient in foods. The earliest record of using chocolate dates back to before the Olmec. People of the Maya civilization grew cacao trees in their back yards, and used the cacao seeds it produced to make a frothy, bitter drink called xocoatl, which was often flavored with vanilla and chili pepper. Chocolate
PROCESSING: Which of the achievements of the early Americans means the most to you in today’s world? Which means the least? Why?