Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Ancient Peruvians – Part IV

Continuing from the previous post regarding the connection between the Land of Promise and Andean Peru.

In addition to their engineering capabilities, the early Peruvians were experts in textiles. They possessed the secret of fixing the dye of all colors, flesh-color, yellow, gray, blue, green, black, etc., so firmly in the thread, or in the cloth already woven, that they never faded during the lapse of ages, even when exposed to the air or buried (in tombs). Only the cotton became slightly discolored, while the woolen fabrics preserved their primitive luster.

The early Peruvians had
Colorful dyes that they used in weaving


It is a circumstance worth remarking that chemical analyses made of pieces of cloth of all the different dyes prove that the Peruvians extracted all their colors from the vegetable and none from the mineral kingdom. In fact, the natives of the Peruvian mountains now use plants unknown to Europeans, producing from them bright and lasting colors. These Peruvians also had great skill in the art of working metals, especially gold and silver. Besides these precious metals, they had copper, tin, lead, quicksilver and zinc, the latter ranking Peru third in the world zinc reserves and second in global zinc production, amounting to half of the value of the country’s total export revenue today.

Obviously, the ancient Peruvians were quite capable and accomplished many noteworthy achievements. It is also obvious that they did not take centuries to develop their skills, but reached dominance in Peru already fully capable and immediately competent at building and the arts.

While iron was unknown to them in the time of the Incas, although some maintain that they had it in the previous ages, to which belong the ruins at Lake Titicaca. Iron ore was and still is very abundant in Peru—today, it is the 14th leading reserves in the world, with Chile the 15th. It is impossible to conceive how the Peruvians were able to cut and work stone in such a masterly way, or to construct their great roads and aqueducts without the use of iron tools. Some of the languages of the country, and perhaps all, had names for iron; in official Peruvian Quechua, it was called quillay (Khillay) and in the old Imbabura Quechua of Ecuador and Colombia, it was jirru, with the Chilean tongue panilic (Anta in Quechua means “copper”).

“It is remarkable,” observes Molina, “that iron, which has been thought unknown to the ancient Americans, has particular names in some of their tongues.” It is not easy to understand why they had names for this metal, if they never at any time had knowledge of the metal itself.

However, in the Mercurio Peruano, the first newspaper founded by Peruvian natives, who were part of the respected scholarly Academic Society that had over 600 members and published the Wesleyan Theological Journal, it is stated that, anciently, the Peruvian sovereigns “worked magnificent iron mines at Ancoriames, on the west shore of Lake Titicaca” (José Luis Cea Egaña and president of the Academic Society, Theological Journal, vol.1, Pilgrim Wesleyan Church, Peru, January 1,1791, p201)

As an example, the khillay (chillay) is Quechua for “iron,” throughout Peru. In Ecuador, Colombia and pockets of Peru Jirru, the word Imbabura Quechua, means “iron.”

Their goldsmiths and silversmiths had attained very great proficiency. They could melt the metals in furnaces, cast them in molds made of clay and gypsum, hammer their work with remarkable dexterity, inlay it, and solder it with great perfection. While Peruvians had  lead and silver, surpassing Mexico in silver production, their gold and silver work of these artists was extremely abundant in the country at the time of the Conquest, but Spanish greed had it all melted for coinage. It was with articles of this gold-work that the Inca Atahuallpa filled a room in his vain endeavor to purchase release from captivity. One of the old chroniclers mention “statuary, jars, vases, and every species of vessels, all of fine gold.” Describing one of the palaces, he said: “They had an artificial garden, the soil of which was made of small pieces of fine gold, and this was artificially sowed with different kinds of maize which were of gold, their stems, leaves, and ears. Besides this, they had more than twenty sheep (llamas), with their lambs, attended by shepherds, all made of gold.” This may be the same artificial garden which was mentioned by Francisco Lopez de Gomara, who places it on “an island near Puna.” Similar gardens of gold are mentioned by others. It is believed that a large quantity of Peruvian gold-work was thrown into Lake Titicaca to keep it from the Spanish robbers. In a description of one lot of golden articles sent to Spain in 1534 by Pizarro, there is mention of “four llamas, ten statues of women of full size, and a cistern of gold so curious that it incited the wonder of all.”

Several Spaniards wrote about the conquest of Peru, and all wrote about the Inca, and some wrote about the history of Peru before the Inca, by talking to the Indians of various cultures


Nothing is more constantly mentioned by the old Spanish chroniclers than the vast abundance of gold in Peru. It was more common than any other metal. Temples and palaces were covered with it, and it was very beautifully wrought into ornaments, temple furniture, articles for household use, and imitations of almost every object in nature. In the course of twenty-five years after the Conquest, the Spaniards sent from Peru to Spain more than four hundred million ducats worth of gold, all or nearly all of it having been taken from the subjugated Peruvians as “booty.” (800,000,000 dollars U.S.)

Their knowledge of the art of preparing useful medicines implied a study of plants. Their progress in astronomy was very accurate. They had an workable measure of the solar year and divided the year into twelve months, and they used mechanical contrivances successfully to fix the times of the solstices and equinoxes. A class of men called amautas was trained to preserve and teach whatever knowledge existed in the country. It was their business to understand the quippus, keep in memory the historical poems, give attention to the science and practice of medicine, and train their pupils in knowledge. These were not priests; they were the “learned men” of Peru, and the government allowed them every facility for study and for communicating instruction. How much they knew of astronomy it is not easy to say. They had knowledge of some of the planets, and it is claimed that there is some reason to believe they used aids to eyesight in studying the heavens. A discovery made in Bolivia a few years since is cited in support of this belief. It is the figure of a man in the act of using a tube to aid vision, which was taken from an ancient tomb. Mr. David Forbes, an English chemist and geologist, obtained it in Bolivia, and carried it to England in 1864. William Bollaert describes it as follows in a paper read to the London Anthropological Society:

“It is a nude figure, of silver, two and a half inches in height, on a flat, pointed pedestal. In the right hand it has the mask of a human face, but in the left a tube over half an inch in length, the narrow part placed to the left eye in a diagonal position, as if observing some celestial object. This is the first specimen of a figure in the act of looking through a hollow tube directed to the heavens that has been found in the New World. We cannot suppose the Peruvians had anything that more nearly resembled a telescope. It was found in a chulpa, or ancient Indian tomb, at Caquingora, near Corocoro in Bolivia.”

Peruvian Quipus that tell stories and record information


The art of writing in alphabetical characters, so far as appears, was unknown to the Peruvians in the time of the Incas. No Peruvian books existed at that time, and no inscriptions have been found in any of the ruins. During the time of the Inca, specifically after the Conquest, had a method of recording events, keeping accounts, and making reports to the government by means of the quippu. This was made of cords of twisted wool fastened to a base prepared for the purpose. These cords were of various sizes and colors, and every size and color had its meaning. The record was made by means of an elaborate system of knots and artificial intertwinings. The amautas were carefully educated to the business of understanding and using the quippus, and “this science was so much perfected that those skilled in it attained the art of recording historical events, laws, and decrees, so as to transmit to their descendants the most striking events of the empire; thus the quippus could supply the place of documents.” Each quippu was a book full of information for those who could read it.

Among the amautas memory was educated to retain and transmit to posterity songs, historical narratives, and long historical poems. It is said, also, that tragedies and comedies were composed and preserved in this way, and that dramatic performances were among the regular entertainments encouraged and supported by the Incas. Whether the art of writing ever existed in the country cannot now be determined, but sdeveral myths would suggest that it was. Some of the Peruvian tongues had names for paper; the people knew that a kind of paper or parchment could be made of plantain leaves, and, according to Montesinos, writing and books were common in the older times, that is to say, in ages long previous to the Incas.

Ancient hieroglyphic writing


It is not improbable that a kind of hieroglyphical writing existed in some of the Peruvian communities, especially among the Aymaraes. Humboldt mentions books of hieroglyphical writing found among the Panoes, on the River Ucayali, which were “bundles of their paper resembling our volumes in quarto.” A Franciscan missionary found an old man sitting at the foot of a palm-tree and reading one of these books to several young persons. The Franciscan was told that the writing “contained hidden things which no stranger ought to know.” It was seen that the pages of the book were “covered with figures of men, animals, and isolated characters, deemed hieroglyphical, and arranged in lines with order and symmetry.”

The Panoes said these books “were transmitted to them by their ancestors, and had relation to wanderings and ancient wars.” There is similar writing on a prepared llama skin found among other antiquities on a peninsula in Lake Titicaca, which is now in the museum at La Paz, Bolivia. It appears to be a record of atrocities perpetrated by the Spaniards at the time of the Conquest, and shows that some of the Aymaraes could at that time write hieroglyphics.

(See the next post, “The Ancient Peruvians – Part V,” for more information about the early people of Peru and tie-in to the Book of Mormon)



  1. Very fine research! The great Swedish scientist and researcher Erland Nordenskiold wrote a great work 100 years ago entitled Copper and Bronze age in South America or something like that. His work on hardened copper is fascinating to anyone who may be interested in hardened copper. Many years of work went into this obscure book, very few apparently have heard of it. Also it seems that the Spanish conquistadores saw a golden chain in Cuzco that took 1500 men to carry. The Spaniards saw it once , never to be seen again. Now my memory may be faulty I have not read this stuff for over 25 years.

  2. Thank you for the information