It’s been 41 years since Peru and Bolivia became part of my world, and 35 since I last visited either. El Alto International Airport, serving La Paz, Bolivia, is the only international airport in the world where an airliner decompresses when its door opens–at an altitude of 4,061m (13,323 ft.); it is the highest international airport on earth. I was startled when I first heard the cabin air swoosh out as the stewardess opened the door. And I could hear my young and strong heart pounding as I walked a few hundred yards across the tarmac. My attaché case and clothing bag (I travelled light during that terrorist-plagued period) felt like they weighed twice what they did when I boarded in Lima. My local associate drove me far down to the city, and dropped me off at the Sheraton (3,500m, 11,483 ft.), telling me to ask for the mate de coca (coca tea) and he’d join me for breakfast in the morning. Drinking the tea, after several cups, relieved the altitude headache (hypoxia), and allowed me to sleep well.
After acclimating to the high altitude for two weeks, my host drove me to the terminal for my Lufthansa flight out (cabin pressure 8,000 feet). When I arrived home in Montevideo, Uruguay, my nose bled profusely due to the 12-hour descent from 13,000 feet, that day’s flight legs at 8,000 feet cabin pressure, and stepping out at sea level.
Altitude Effect on Altiplano Denizens. El Alto International Airport is set on the Altiplano, Spanish for “High Plain.” In this post, we’re going to examine the earliest civilizations on the Altiplano, from among which I suspect the forbears of the Inca descended to the much denser oxygen levels of the lower altitudes—where they would have been formidable fighters, essentially “high” on oxygen.
From the altitude vs. oxygen graph above, we can see that when the Inca descended to the coastal Peruvian cities, the Inca were breathing 65% more oxygen than what they’d had at home. Ask any professional football or basketball player what that would do for his game. If we can build a hypothesis the Inca came from the Altiplano or any high-Andes homeland, we have strong evidence they would have been unbeatable at lower altitudes, especially over coastal civilizations of the prior post whom they defeated just before the Spanish arrived—but would have no physiological competitive edge over other highlanders of the Andes.
Altiplano Monumental Architecture. On the southeast shore of Lake Titicaca, we find Tiwanaku and striking monumental buildings. The following video: The Stone at the Center explores the altiplano, Lake Titicaca, and the Tiwanaku region, and suggests some hypotheses (without written language, virtually all is hypothesis). Out of this region came the Tiwanaku Empire (300 to 1150 CE), which is best described as:
- an expanding trading network;
- a benign and gregarious beer-drinking people;
- a strongly-felt religion focused upon gods of nature e.g. wind, rain, fertility;
- coexistent with soft demands amongst host societies;
- no evidence of violent intrusion during expansion.
The map below shows the Tiwanaku Empire bordering the south edge of the Wari Empire during the period 400-1000 CE. Any difference in longevity is not known to have strategic significance, and was most likely related to slight territorial differences in the Big Drought and their differing agricultural methods.
The Tiwanaku and Wari Empires shared these features:
- large capital cities;
- monumental architecture;
- large populations;
- government warehousing of food surpluses;
- vertical empires, able to manage separated regions;
- accepted discontinuities in sovereignty, didn’t need to own all roads;
- colonies on eastern and western slopes of the Andes;
- foods: maize, chili peppers, seafood, cocoa;
- hallucinogenic drugs;
- llama caravans for long-distance trading;
The Empires differed in these features:
Tiwanaku People Group. The people of Tiwanaku spoke the extinct Puquina language, once the common language of the Altiplano. However, the Altiplano has since been occupied by the Aymara people for the past 800 years, and they speak the Aymara language. The Aymara displaced the earlier Uru people around Lake Titicaca; these spoke yet another language: Uru.
Inca People Group. The Inca are one of the Quechua people groups who still speak the Quechua language, so it’s a safe bet that’s what they spoke when the Spanish arrived, at the peak of their surrendered Inca Empire. Today 4.4 million Quechua speakers live in Peru, 1.6 million in Bolivia, 2.2 million in Ecuador, which is no clue as to the Inca heartland, assuming their short-lived empire stranded its people in the conquered places, when the Spanish Conquistadores seized control and disallowed freedom of travel back to their original homelands. Given the language difference, I drop my hypothesis that the Inca had important roots in the Tiwanaku culture. Nonetheless, the fact that the Inca Empire spread throughout the heights of the Andes suggests their people came from those highlands–and were adept at exerting high physical performance at all altitudes.Below is a map of the expansion of their Empire.
The Inca are a dead end, as are the Aztec, and all their predecessors. The worship of demons and concomitant presence of widespread human sacrifice among their coastal predecessors leaves little room for sympathy for the Inca’s fall. One cannot help thinking the world’s a better place having stripped the Aztec and Inca of the power to continue their evils into today’s already tortured world. But, I’m wrong to think like that.
As we previously observed, the Dynastic Sumerians and 1st Dynasty Egyptians were equally contemptuous of human life. And so were their contemporary Asian, Eurasian, and Europeans. In fact, it’s difficult to find a civilization that, once truly understood, does not look more like hell than heaven. More people were killed by violence in the 20th century than in all prior centuries combined. Which affirms that all mankind is seeped in evil, and powerless to redeem itself. So, it’s fair for you to ask, “O.K. Burke. So, where can we find hope?” To which I answer, “Knock on that door, and it will open to you.”
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke