Inca Elite Imported Diverse "Staff" to Run Machu Picchu

José Orozco
for National Geographic News
October 27, 2008

Inca nobility at Machu Picchu relied on special, permanent servants from the far corners of the empire to manage the royal estate, according to a new study of human skeletons found buried at the site.

Machu Picchu sits high in the Peruvian Andes about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of the former Inca capital of Cusco (see map).

Royal retainers, known as yanacona, may have been brought to the site from as far away as South America's Pacific Coast, the northern highlands, and the area around Lake Titicaca near Peru's border with Bolivia, the study says.

Determining the geographic origins of yanacona may help researchers better understand how the Inca practice of paying tributes with labor helped shape the empire's social classes.

For some people this work was temporary, but for yanacona it meant leaving home and family behind forever, noted lead study author Bethany Turner, an anthropologist at Georgia State University.

Yanacona candidates probably had little room for negotiation, Turner added.

"It was not necessarily forced, but you wouldn't turn it down lightly," she said.

Bustling City

The Inca Empire lasted from roughly 1430 to 1532, when the Spanish reached Peru, Turner said.

The empire stretched from present-day southern Colombia to what is now central Chile, and the Inca largely allowed their subjects to maintain their languages and cultural traditions.

Many scientists believe the city of Machu Picchu, which was occupied starting around 1450, was built on orders from Inca ruler Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui to serve as a government palace and administrative center.

While nobility were not permanent residents at the estate, visitors would probably have seen a city buzzing with the activity of yanacona, Turner said.

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