Text and photos courtesy of Michelle Mock
During the Middle Horizon (Middle Ages) in South America, the local cultures merged under two great empires. The Tiahuanaco culture served as a religious base. The Huari (also called Wari) culture was the military capital. In addition to the temples, metal-work, sculptures and ceramics, the Tiahuanaco supported themselves with agriculture, herding and fishing. The Tiahuanaco culture slowly declined between the years 650 and 850. The Huari people were conquerors. They also built extensive roads systems. The culture existed for roughly four hundred years and began to decline around the year 1000. As the two large empires declined, the local cultures began to reappear.
Around 1000 to 1600, off the coast of South America on the Easter Islands of the South Pacific, the local people built huge stone heads. Similar carvings have also been found in Tiahuanaco sites in Bolivia.
In the 1100s, the Chimú people built many large cities including Chanchan. The Chimú culture declined as the Inca culture rose around 1200-1300.
Perhaps the best known of the early South American cultures was the Inca Empire. The Incas were a well organized culture. Everyone had to work to their level of ability according to their rank. The elderly, infirm and orphaned children were cared for by the community. The Inca culture is also known for its stonemasons. They were expert farmers and built good roads in very difficult terrain. The Inca people were also warriors and conquered and absorbed many other cultures.
Between 1438 and 1471 the Inca emperor Pachacuti began conquering from his capital in Cuzco. The Inca people believed him to be half God and half human. In 1476 the Incas conquered the Chimú civilization of Peru. The greatest Inca conqueror Huayna Capac reigned from 1493 to 1525. He founded a second capital city at Quito.
At the very end of the 15th Century, Europeans found their way to South America. In 1498, Christopher Columbus arrived at Trinidad, the coast of Venezuela and the mouth of the Orinoco River. Between 1499 and 1504, Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci made several trips to the "New World" exploring the South American coast. As a result of these explorations, it was suggested that the continents be named after him. Some time at the beginning of the 16th Century, the New World became officially known as the Americas, a name that survives to this day.
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