Inca Astronomy Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Angela Burke

Angela has over ten years of teaching experience in Special Education, classroom teaching and GT. She has a master's degree in Special Ed with an emphasis in Gifted.

For the Incas, the sun, moon, and stars were important figures in daily life. In this lesson, find out how astronomy was used every day in the Inca civilization and how it helped them to make important decisions.

The Incan Sky

Have you ever looked up at the stars at night and imagined seeing animals or other interesting images? Believe it or not, the Incas (pronounced ING-kuhs) did this too. The Incas lived in the Andean Mountains around the 1400s, on the continent of South America, and they believed the night sky was magical!

Connecting the stars, just like a dot to dot number puzzle, can create images we call constellations. The Incas believed the stars protected the animals of the earth. Each animal, including the serpent, fox, toad and llama, had a constellation that watched over it. One of the most important constellations to the Incas was a group of seven very bright stars called the Pleiades (pronounced plee-uh-deez). The Incas called the Pleiades the Seven Kids. The rising of the Pleiades marked the beginning of the Incan year.

The Pleiades Constellation.
Pleiades

Inca Astronomy and Religion

Astronomy is the study of space, including stars, planets, moons, and galaxies. It was very important to the Inca civilization and religion. The Incas believed that everything in the universe was connected. The sun and the moon were considered to be gods to the Incas. Special ceremonies and rituals were planned around the movement of the stars, planets, sun and moon.

The largest Inca festival was the Sun Festival, which celebrated the god of the sun, Inti (pronounced IN-tee). It started at sunrise on the winter solstice and was filled with feasting and dancing. The festival lasted nine days. It was a time to give thanks to the sun and to celebrate the beginning of a planting season.

Remains of Incan walls by the city of Cusco where the Sun Festival is still held.
Inca Walls

Agriculture

Astronomy was very important to Inca agriculture, which is the practice of farming. What would happen if you planted a garden and it started to snow? The plants probably wouldn't survive. Knowing the right time to plant food in the earth is important and the Incas knew this. The Incas tracked the sun's movement across the sky by marking where it rose and set on stone pillars set on hilltops. This helped the Incas to tell time and decide when to plant their crops and when to harvest.

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