Ancient Inca astronomy - astronomy was at the heart of the Inca way of life.

Ancient Inca astronomy was very detailed and accurate. The Inca Empire was the largest empire in America before the Europeans landed, and their culture was deeply involved in astronomy, the movement of the sun, the moon and the stars in the sky. Astronomy was rooted in their day to day tasks and you will see that it was an extremely important part of their way of life.

Observations in ancient Inca astronomy

The Incas didn't have telescopes the way that we do today. The knowledge that they gained was derived from centuries of observing the sky and keeping extremely precise records of what they saw. The people that kept these records were usually considered wise and holy by the population and they held a lot of power. They kept track of things like the cycle of movement of the sun and moon over a year on knotted strings called quipus. By keeping track of the days between things like solstices and equinoxes, the ancient Inca could predict when they would next happen.

In the capitol city of Cuzco, stone towers were built at places on the horizon to mark the points where the sun would rise and set on days of the solstice and equinox. In this way, the people who watched the stars could compare what happened in one year with what happened in other years.

Constellations in ancient Inca astronomy

Just like our Orion or Big Dipper, the Inca Empire had its own constellations. The Milky Way was known as “Mayu” which means “river.” Mayu flowed in the sky and at the edge of the world met up with the Urubamba river, which flowed through the Inca lands. The Inca also recognized crosses, animals, and buildings in their skies and like, they made up stories about why they were there. For the Inca, there was a star called the Jaguar Star and people who lived in the jungle or had to travel into the jungle would sacrifice to it and pray to it.

The constellation that the Inca called the Storehouse is known to us as the Pleiads and was considered very important; the Storehouse was where the stars of the animals returned to every night.

Ancient Inca astronomy and the seasons

It might seem strange that an entire civilization would devote so much time to the stars, but the Incas took their stargazing very seriously! The stars gave the Inca very detailed information about things like when to plant their crops and what the weather might be like in the near future. The decision of when to plant and when to harvest would have been very important to an empire the size of the Incas' and these were all decided on depending on the motion of the stars.

On a different level, there was also a very strong spiritual component to ancient Inca astronomy. The people who manned the stone towers and kept track of the movement of the sun were often priests or holy men. To conduct their rituals, they would have had to have precise information on the movement of the sky.

The Incas considered their emperor the child of the Sun and it's no surprise that they paid so much attention to the sky above them!

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