Pre-Columbian Archaeology Winter 2018 All About the Inca

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1. Secrets Of Quipu – Ancient Inca Message Decoded By Student | December 27, 2017 | Archaeology News, Artifacts, News – Unraveling the secret of the quipu is by no means easy, but one student has successfully decoded an ancient Inca message.
The Inca had no written language. To communicate they invented the quipu, a form of non-verbal communication written in an encoded language similar to the binary code used by modern computers.
A quipu (or ‘khipu’ – (in Quechua ‘knot’) was a series of strings with knots. The number of knots, the size of the knots, and the distance between knots conveyed meaning.
As mentioned earlier on Ancient Pages, the quipu is one of the most mysterious phenomena that existed in odd number of dimensions.  
Deciphering the knots is of great importance as it gives a better understanding of what life was like for the Inca. A quipu contains a secret message and when we decode it, we give South American people a chance to speak.
Secrets Of Quipu- Sacred Ancient Inca Message Decoded By Student
Manny Medrano is a Harvard student who has made an astonishing archaeological breakthrough. Together with his Professor, Gary Urton, a scholar of Pre-Columbian studies, Medrano interpreted a set of six quipus, knotted cords used for record keeping in the Inca Empire.
“There’s something in me, I can’t explain where it came from, but I love the idea of digging around and trying to find secrets hidden from the past,” Medrano said.
“I could never figure out the hidden meanings in these devices. Manny figured them out, focusing on their color, and on their recto or verso (right-hand and left-hand) construction. This was the only case we have discovered so far in which one or more (in this case six) quipus and a census record matches,” Professor Urton said.
Manny Medrano
A study by Manny Medrano ’19 (from right), with guidance from Professor Gary Urton, has decoded the meaning behind khipus, an Incan bookkeeping method of knotted rope. Credit: Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer
Medrano has compiled a database of hundreds of quipus from museums around the world and was later hired by his professor help organize citations in his recently published book, “Inka History in Knots: Reading Khipus as Primary Sources.”

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2. ‘Collata Quipu’ May Explain Messages Hidden In Mysterious Writing Of Inca | May 10, 2017 | Archaeology News, Artifacts, News – Two 18th century ‘Collata Quipu’ artifacts preserved in a wooden box by elders of the region located in San Juan de Collata, in the province of Huarochiri, Peru may offer clues to understanding how some quipus kept and relayed information.
Message Cord. A bundle of animal hairs signals the beginning of a sequence of twisted and knotted cords on an 18th century khipu from a Central Andean village. A bright red tuft of deer hair is followed by a woven cone of hairs from different animals mixed with metallic fibers. New research suggests this and another khipu contain a type of writing.
Message Cord. A bundle of animal hairs signals the beginning of a sequence of twisted and knotted cords on an 18th century khipu from a Central Andean village. A bright red tuft of deer hair is followed by a woven cone of hairs from different animals mixed with metallic fibers. New research suggests this and another khipu contain a type of writing.
Inca used combinations of knots to represent numbers, very useful for the storage of corn (corn), beans and other provisions and most of quipu artifacts belong to the Inca period, between 1,400 and 1,532 AD.
However, Spanish accounts of colonial times indicated that the Incas also decoded histories, biographies, letters and other important information.
According to Collata villagers, the quipus are sacred writings of two local chiefs concerning a late 18th century rebellion against Spanish authorities.
See also:
Secrets Of Quipu – One Of The Most Mysterious Phenomena That Existed In Odd Number Of Dimensions
Ancient Chinese Version Of Quipu -Tradition Of Tying Knots Dates Back To Antiquity
The lost “written” language of the Inkas used twists of coloured animal hair rather than ink and paper,
The lost “written” language of the Inkas used twists of coloured animal hair rather than ink and paper. Image credit: University of St. Andrews
According to Sabine Hyland, anthropologist at St. Andrews University “the ropes have 14 different colors for 95 unique rope patterns and the number is within the range of symbols in logo syllabic writing systems”.
Each Collata quipu consists of a horizontal cord from which a series of cords hang. One Collata specimen contains 288 hanging cords separated into nine groups by cloth ribbons tied at intervals along the top cord. The other quipu features 199 hanging cords divided by ribbons into four groups. Knots appear only at cord ends to prevent unraveling. In contrast, proposed accounting quipus contain many knots denoting numbers.
These specific combinations of strings could represent syllables or words and the special thing about them, as Hyland explained, was that they contained “a series of complex color combinations between the strings.”
Quipu knots
One quipu starts with a tuft of bright red deer hair, followed by a woven, cone-shaped bundle with metallic-colored thread. The second quipu begins with a woven, tube-shaped bundle of multicolored alpaca hair atop the remains of a red tassel.
“The Collata khipus are completely unlike accounting khipus that I have been studying for over a decade,” Hyland says. Central Andean khipus generally viewed as accounting devices were often made of cotton, and they contain two main colors, between 15 and 39 cord combinations and repetitive knot sequences.
Hyland’s analysis indicates that the quipus of St. John of Collata are the first identified as narrative by descendants of its creators.
These quipus are larger and more complex, and unlike others of their kind, are made of hair and fiber from Andean animals.

What Were The Most Important Inca Laws That All Citizens Had To Respect? | August 16, 2017 | Ancient History Facts, Featured Stories, News
Share this: – The Incas were very strict with the laws and punishments, which were very harsh and severe. Unlike other places, the Inca Empire had low crime rates.
The laws were controlled by special officials chosen by Sapa Inca and they had to be respected by the Inca citizens. The laws were based on beliefs, practices and customs of the society. The Inca had no system of imprisonment.
Inca Laws and punishment
Every member of the Inca society had to worship the sun.
Three most important Inca laws imposed on all citizens, were: “Do not steal” (Ama Sua), “Do not lie” (Ama Llulla) and  “Do not be lazy” (Ama Quella).
Regional leaders were authorized to decide in several different matters of law but not all.
Only a higher authority could decide in cases of the penalty in form of mutilation or death, which was given for robbing, killing, breaking state possessions or entering rooms of the Chosen Women.
Laziness, was also considered a very serious crime since lazy people deprived the Sapa Inca of their work and the punishment for doing so – was death, which was also applied in case of homicide, adultery, rebellions, second offenses in drunkenness and theft.
Inca Laws and punishment
If a citizen made a mistake for the first time, then he/she would get a reprimand from the government.
In case of a second offense, the punishment was very severe – death by stoning, hanging, stoning or by pushing the person off a cliff.
The Inca government promoted peace among its citizens, and in fact there was very little crime in the Inca Empire, but at the same time, there was no mercy when a crime was committed.
Any kind of law transgression represented an action against divinities and was therefore, unacceptable.
The purpose of Inca law system was to teach a lesson to the lawbreaker and prevent re-occurrence by any member of the society, therefore, mutilation and the death penalty were frequently applied.
Lucky ones, who managed to survive a punishment, had to tell their stories for the rest of their lives.
People, who listened willingly to the stories, would give them food but their survival was based on how engaging and compelling their crime story was.
The Inca respected all local laws in new territories conquered by them, as long as these laws were not in conflict with Inca law.
Otherwise, all contradicting laws had to be removed; if the leader of the territory conquered by the Inca, opposed the new set of rules, he would be executed.

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4. Atahualpa
by Mark Cartwright
published on 17 March 2016
Atahualpa (Brooklyn Museum)
Atahualpa (also Atawallpa) was the last ruler of the Inca empire who reigned from 1532 CE until his capture and execution by the invading Spanish forces led by Pizarro in 1533 CE. The troubled Incas had suffered six years of damaging civil war and Atahualpa was only just enjoying his ascendancy to the throne when the Spanish arrived to turn the Inca world upside down. Further weakened by European-introduced diseases which wiped out millions, the Incas could do nothing against the better-armed invaders who would stop at nothing to gain the fabulous riches of the Americas’ largest ever empire.
Civil War & Succession
Atahualpa’s father Wayna Qhapaq died in 1528 CE of smallpox, the most distinguished victim of the epidemic of European diseases which had spread from central America even faster than the foreign invaders themselves could manage. This epidemic killed a staggering 65-90% of the native population. When Wayna Qhapaq died without choosing a second heir (his first choice Ninan Cuyuchi also died of smallpox) Atahualpa battled for the throne with his half-brother Waskar (or Huascar) in a hugely damaging civil war which the Spanish would be only too glad to take advantage of when they arrived on Inca territory in 1532 CE. Atahualpa was based in the northern capital at Quito while Waskar was at Cuzco. After diplomatic relations soured between the two brothers, open warfare broke out in the north. There followed a series of battles costly to both sides until, after six years of fighting, Atahualpa finally prevailed.
By the time Spanish arrived, Atahualpa had managed to capture Waskar but the factions which had deeply split the empire remained. Waskar was imprisoned and his kin-group was killed, as were those who had supported him. Atahualpa even killed historians and destroyed the Inca quipu records. This was to be a total renewal, what the Incas called a pachakuti or ‘turning over of time and space’, an epoch-changing event which the Incas believed periodically occurred through the ages. What Atahualpa did not know was that another pachakuti was less than a year away, and this time he would be its victim.    
Atahualpa’s reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa (‘Unique’) Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury.
Atahualpa’s reign may have been brief but, as the Sapa (‘Unique’) Inca, he lived a life of extreme luxury. Drinking from gold cups, wearing silver-soled sandals and treated as a manifestation of the Sun god Inti on earth, Atahualpa was the head of the largest and richest empire the Americas had ever seen. His taste for opulence was chronicled by the Spanish who said that he once ordered a cloak made only from bat skins. As the Inca king, he had the right to wear even more gold jewellery than the already over-laden nobility. His regalia included a feather headband (Ilauto), a golden mace (champi), and king-size golden ear-spools. The monarch travelled on a gold and silver litter further embellished with parrot feathers. He was fed food by a servant, and anything the royal person touched was collected and burnt in an annual ceremony to ward off witchcraft. If ever there was a pampered ruler it was the Sapa Inca of ancient Peru.
Pizarro Arrives
On Friday, 15th of November, 1532 CE the 168-man force of Spaniards led by Francisco Pizarro approached the Inca town of Cajamarca in the highlands of Peru. Pizzaro sent word that he wished to meet the Inca king, there enjoying the local springs and basking in his recent victory over Waskar. Atahualpa agreed to finally meet the much-rumoured bearded white men who were known to have been fighting their way from the coast for some time. Confidently surrounded by his 80,000 strong army Atahualpa seems not to have seen any threat from such a small enemy force and he made Pizarro wait until the next day. Then, seated on a low wooden throne and accompanied by all his wives and nobles, the Inca ruler finally came face to face with these curious visitors from another world.
Inca Ruler Atahualpa
Atahualpa is Captured
The first formal meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa involved a few speeches, a drink together while they watched some Spanish horsemanship and not much else. Both sides went away planning to capture or kill the other party at the first available opportunity. The very next day Pizarro, using the conveniently labyrinth-like architecture of the Inca town to his advantage, set his men in ambush to await Atahualpa’s arrival in the main square. When the royal troop arrived Pizarro fired his small canons and then his men, wearing armour, attacked on horseback.  
In the ensuing battle, where firearms were mismatched against spears, arrows, slings, and clubs, 7,000 Incas were killed against zero Spanish losses. Atahualpa was hit a blow on the head and captured alive. Either held for ransom by Pizarro or even offering a ransom himself, Atahualpa’s safe return to his people would only happen if a room measuring 6.2 x 4.8 metres were filled with all the treasures the Incas could provide up to a height of 2.5 m. This was done and the chamber was piled high with gold objects from jewellery to idols. The room was then filled twice again with silver objects. The whole task took eight months and the value today of the accumulated treasures would have been well over $50 million. Meanwhile, Atahualpa continued to run his empire from captivity and Pizarro sent exploratory expeditions to Cuzco and awaited reinforcements from Panama. Then, having got his ransom, Pizarro summarily tried and executed Atahualpa anyway, on the 26th of July 1533 CE. The Inca king was originally sentenced to death by burning at the stake but, after the monarch agreed to be baptized, this was commuted to death by strangulation.
Inca Gold Sun Mask
Some of Pizarro’s men thought this was the worst possible response but the wily Spanish leader had seen just how subservient the Incas were to their king, even when he was held captive by the enemy. As one Miguel de Estete described the king receiving visitors during his captivity,
When they arrived before him, they did him great reverence, kissing his feet and hands. He received them without looking at them. It is remarkable to record the dignity of Atahualpa and the great obedience they all accorded him (D’Altroy, 93).
As a living god, Pizarro perhaps knew that only the king’s death could bring about the total defeat of the Incas. Indeed, even in death the Inca king exerted an influence over his people for the severed head of Atahualpa gave birth to the enduring Inkarri legend. For the Incas believed that one day the head would grow a new body and their ruler would return, defeat the Spanish, and restore the natural order of things.
The Collapse of the Inca Empire
One of the reasons the Inca empire collapsed so swiftly following Atahualpa’s death, perhaps in less than 40 years, was the fact that it was founded on, and maintained by, force, and the ruling Incas (only 40,000) were very often unpopular with their subjects (10,000,000 of them), especially in the northern territories. This was not least because the Incas extracted heavy tribute from conquered peoples – both in kind and labour - and loyal Inca subjects were forced on these communities to better integrate them into the empire. The Inca Empire, in fact, had still not reached a stage of consolidated maturity – it had only just reached its greatest extent a few years before.

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Map of the inca Empire
It was a combination of factors then, a veritable perfect storm of rebellion, disease, and invasion, which brought the downfall of Atahualpa and the mighty Inca Empire. In addition, the Inca mode of warfare was highly ritualized where such things as deceit, ambush, and subterfuge were unknown. Inca warriors were highly dependent on their officers, and if these fell in battle, a whole army could quickly collapse in panicked retreat. These factors and the superior weaponry of the Europeans meant the Incas had very little chance of defending a huge empire already difficult to manage.
Pizarro received criticism from the Spanish king Carlos I for treating a foreign sovereign so shabbily, and his attempts to install a puppet ruler – Thupa Wallpa, the younger brother of Waskar - failed to restore any sort of political order. The Spanish soon found out that the vast geographical spread of their new empire and its inherent difficulties in communication and control (even if their predecessors had built an excellent road system) meant that they faced the same management problems as the Incas. Added to this was the massive population decline following epidemics and communities still resentful of outside rule. For those local tribes, a change in rulers, unfortunately, brought no respite from a rapacious overlord, once again, eager to steal their wealth and impose on them a foreign religion.

5. Inca Government
Inca Government
by Mark Cartwright
published on 22 October 2015
Inca Ruler Atahualpa (Mary Harrsch (taken at the Ojai Valley Museum))
The Inca civilization flourished in ancient Peru between c. 1400 and 1534 CE, and their empire eventually extended across western South America from Quito in the north to Santiago in the south, making it the largest empire ever seen in the Americas. Government and power was held at Cuzco, the Inca capital, which was considered the navel of the world. Eventually 40,000 Incas would govern some 10 million subjects speaking over 30 different languages. Consequently, the centralised Inca government, employing a vast network of administrators, governed over a patchwork empire which, in practice, touched local populations to varying degrees. Inca government, therefore, relied heavily on a combination of personal relations, state largesse, ritual exchange, law enforcement and military might.
Historical Overview – The Empire

Cuzco became a significant centre sometime at the beginning of the Late Intermediate Period (1000-1400 CE). A process of regional unification began from the late 14th century CE, and from the early 15th century CE, with the arrival of the first great Inca leader Pachacuti ('Reverser of the World'), the Incas began to expand in search of plunder and production resources, first to the south and then in all directions, and so they built an empire which stretched across the Andes.
The rise of the Inca Empire was spectacularly quick. First, all speakers of the Inca language Quechua (or Runasimi) were given privileged status, and this noble class then dominated all the important roles within the empire. Eventually a nationwide system of tax and administration was instigated which consolidated the power of Cuzco. The Incas themselves called their empire Tawantinsuyo (or Tahuantinsuyu) meaning 'Land of the Four Quarters'.
The Incas imposed their religion, administration, and even art on conquered peoples.
The Incas imposed their religion, administration, and even art on conquered peoples, they extracted tribute, and even moved loyal populations (mitmaqs) to better integrate new territories into the empire. However, the Incas also brought certain benefits such as food redistribution in times of environmental disaster, better storage facilities for foodstuffs, work via state-sponsored projects, state-sponsored religious feasts, roads, military assistance and luxury goods, especially art objects enjoyed by the local elite.
The Inca King
The Incas kept lists of their hereditary kings (Sapa Inca, meaning Unique Inca) so that we know of such names as Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui (reign c. 1438-63 CE), Thupa Inca Yupanqui (reign c. 1471-93 CE), and Wayna Qhapaq (the last pre-Hispanic ruler, reign c. 1493-1525 CE). It is possible that two kings ruled at the same time and that queens may have had some significant powers, but the Spanish records are not clear on both points. The king was expected to marry on his accession, his bride sometimes being his own sister. The queen (Qoya) was known as Mamancik or ‘Our Mother’ and could wield some influence both on her husband and via her kin group, particularly in selecting which son might become the official heir to the throne. The Qoya also had significant wealth of her own which she could dispose of as she wished.
The Sapa Inca was an absolute ruler whose word was law. He controlled politics, society, the empire's food stores, and he was commander-in-chief of the army. Revered as a god he was also known as Intip Churin or ‘Son of the Sun’. Given this elevated status he lived a life of great opulence. Drinking from gold and silver cups, wearing silver shoes, and living in a palace furnished with the finest textiles, he was pampered to the extreme. He was even looked after following his death as the Inca mummified their rulers and later 'consulted' them for their opinion on pressing state affairs. Despite his enviable status, though, the king had to negotiate the consent and support of his nobles who could, and did, sometimes depose or even assassinate their ruler. In addition to keeping favour with his nobles the king also had to perform his role as a magnanimous benefactor to his people, hence his other title Huaccha Khoyaq or ‘Lover and Benefactor of the Poor’.
Inca rule was, much like their famous architecture, based on compartmentalised and interlocking units. At the top was the king, his high priest (Willaq Umu) – who could also act as a field marshal - and ten royal kindred groups of nobles called panaqa. These nobles could form and instigate policy in councils with the king and, even more importantly, influence the final choice of the king’s successor which was rarely simply the eldest son. Indeed, many royal accessions were preceded by intrigue, political maneuvering, coups, and even assassinations to promote a particular kin group’s candidate. This may well be why later Inca kings married their own sister so as to avoid widening the elite power base at the very top of the government structure.
Next in line to the panaqa came ten more kindred groups more distantly related to the king and divided into two halves: Upper and Lower Cuzco. Then came a third group of nobles not of Inca blood but made Incas as a privilege. This latter group was drawn from that section of the population which had inhabited the region when the Incas had first arrived. As all of these groups were composed of different family lines, there was a great deal of rivalry between them which sometimes broke out into open warfare.
The Inca Administrators
At the bottom of the state apparatus were locally recruited administrators who oversaw settlements and the smallest Andean population unit the ayllu, which was a collection of households, typically of related families who worked an area of land, lived together, and provided mutual support in times of need. Each ayllu was governed by a small number of nobles or kurakas, a role which could include women.
Local administrators collaborated with and reported to over 80 regional-level administrators (a tokrikoq) who were responsible for such matters as justice, censuses, land redistribution, organizing mobile labour forces, and maintaining the vast network of roads and bridges in their jurisdiction. The regional administrators, who were almost always ethnic Incas, reported to a governor responsible for each quarter of the empire. The four governors reported to the supreme Inca ruler in Cuzco. To ensure loyalty, the heirs of local rulers were also kept as well-kept prisoners at the Inca capital. The most important political, religious, and military roles within the empire were, then, kept in the hands of the Inca elite, called by the Spanish the orejones or 'big ears' because they wore large earspools to indicate their status. To better ensure the control of this elite over their subjects, garrisons dotted the empire and entirely new administrative centres were built, notably at Tambo Colorado, Huanuco Pampa and Hatun Xauxa.
For tax purposes annual censuses were regularly taken to keep track of births, deaths, marriages, and a worker’s status and abilities. For administrative purposes populations were divided up into groups based on multiples of ten (Inca mathematics was almost identical to the system we use today), even if this method did not always fit the local reality. These censuses and the officials themselves were examined every few years, along with provincial affairs in general, by dedicated and independent inspectors, known as a tokoyrikoq or ‘he who sees all’.
As there was no currency in the Inca world taxes were paid in kind - usually foodstuffs (especially maize, potatoes, and dried meat), precious metals, wool, cotton, textiles, exotic feathers, dyes, and spondylus shell - but also in labourers who could be shifted about the empire to be used where they were most needed. This labour service was known as mit'a. Agricultural land and herds were divided into three parts: production for the state religion and the gods, for the Inca ruler, and for the farmers' own use. Local communities were also expected to help build and maintain such imperial projects as the road system which stretched across the empire. To keep track of all these statistics the Inca used the quipu, a sophisticated assembly of knots and strings which was also highly transportable and could record decimals up to 10,000.
Goods were transported across the empire along purpose-built roads using llamas and porters (there were no wheeled vehicles). The Inca road network covered over 40,000 km and as well as allowing for the easy movement of armies, administrators, and trade goods it was also a very powerful visual symbol of Inca authority over their empire.
The Inca Empire was founded on, and maintained, by force and so the ruling Incas were very often unpopular with their subjects (especially in the northern territories), a situation that the Spanish conquistadores, led by Francisco Pizarro, would take full advantage of in the middle decades of the 16th century CE. Rebellions were rife, and the Incas were actively engaged in a war in Ecuador, where a second Inca capital had been established at Quito, just at the time when the empire faced its greatest ever threat. Also hit by devastating diseases brought by the Europeans and which had actually spread from Central America faster than their Old World carriers, this combination of factors would bring about the collapse of the mighty Inca civilization before it had even had chance to fully mature.

6. Inca Communication: Mailmen Of The Inca Empire Were Fast Roadrunners | March 20, 2016 | Ancient History Facts, Featured Stories, News
Share this: – As a means of communications, the Inca used fast roadrunners to relay messages. The roadrunners were the mailmen of the Inca Empire. Not everyone could become a roadrunner, or chasqui.
It was a specialized and honorable profession that required studies.
Without these specially trained Incan mailmen, controlling the vast Inca Empire would have been almost impossible.  The Incan communication system was based on chains of runners to relay messages. Most messages were oral. Some were sent by Quipu, the knotted language of the Inca.
Since the Inca had no writing system the runner had to remember the message, and relay it to the next person. The Incan roadrunners were very fast and they could carry messages at a rate of about 250 miles a day.
Inca Communication: Mailmen Of The Inca Empire Were Fast Roadrunners
Each runner would run for one to two 1/2 miles along the famous Inca roads. There were small relay station buildings spaced along the roads where  fresh runners watched and  waited for the arrival of the  messenger.
As he approached the relay station, the runner blew loudly on a conch shell to alert the next runner to get ready. The next runner would appear, running along side the first.  Without stopping, the first runner told the second runner the message. The second runner then speeded ahead until he reached the next relay station.
Chasquis served for fifteen days at a time.
The chasqui did not have guards and they never carried weapons to defend themselves. They always ran alone.
Still, this type of Inca communication was highly effective. It was vital that the messages always reached the Sapa Inca accurately.
If it was discovered that a message was not accurate, punishment was severe and a roadrunner could be killed.

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7. Who Was The Sapa Inca? | January 27, 2016 | Ancient History Facts
Answer: The ruler of the Inca people was called the “Sapa Inca”, which means “only emperor”. (in Quechua: “the only Inca”).
The Inca believed that their ruler – Sapa Inca was sacred; he was like god on Earth
The Inca believed that their ruler – Sapa Inca was sacred; he was like god on Earth
The Sapa Inca was all powerful and his word was law. He was head of the government, and he owned everything. He was both a religious and political figure, and it was very important because for the Inca, politics and religion were intertwined.
The Inca believed that their ruler – Sapa Inca was sacred; he was like god on Earth. He descended from the sun god Inti, and this connection to the cosmos helped them to justify their rule over several civilizations across South America.
See also: Chocolate Was Invented In Mesoamerica 1900 B.C.
A Sapa Inca was polygamous, meaning he could have many wives. He wore a hat made of gold and feathers, his clothes were covered in jewels, and he wore huge gold earrings. The Sapa Inca only wore an outfit once, after that it was burned.
Some Sapa Inca are said to have had as many as a hundred children. When the Sapa Inca died one of his sons became the next Sapa Inca, this was not necessarily the oldest, just the favourite. After he died the Sapa Inca was mummified, and remained in his palace.
The first Sapa Inca was Manco Capac, who was the son of the god Inti, the sun god. The ninth Sapa Inca, Pachacuti expanded the kingdom and founded an empire, which would become the largest Native American Empire.