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Inca Irrigation & Aqueducts Lesson for Kids

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

The Inca built a mighty society, high in the Andes Mountains of South America, with a successful system of getting water to cities and farms. Learn about how the Inca utilized this life-giving fluid in this lesson.

Thirsty?

Imagine climbing to the top of a steep mountain. It's hard and your legs get tired and you get pretty thirsty afterwards. Maybe nowadays there would be a soda machine near the top, but hundreds of years ago the only available water was out in nature, in rivers and lakes. The Inca Empire stretched all across the mountains of South America and required lots of water for drinking, growing food, washing, and cleaning. They got this water through irrigation, the transport of water across land. With a system of irrigation in hand, Inca society grew large and powerful.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Now, imagine that you have a lot of water on one side of a mountain, but not very much on the other side. How would you survive if you had to live on the dry side? You could climb over each day with a heavy bucket full of water on your back, or you could bring the water to you by constructing a pathway. These man-made pathways are called aqueducts. Today our water pipes are made out of metal, but the Inca built aqueducts out of stone. In fact, some of them are carved out of a single piece of stone instead of multiple bricks, so that there would be less water leaking out.

Fountain from Inca aqueduct
Inca fountain

The aqueducts flowed into Inca cities and settlements. Some connected to baths, some to fountains, and others to areas for growing crops for food. In fact, the region of Peru known as 'Sacred Valley of the Incas' is one of the most productive farm regions of the country today, due to the structures put in place by the Inca over 500 years ago. Many Inca aqueducts continue to supply water to cities and towns across the Andes Mountains.

What's for Dinner?

It's fun playing around in water sprinklers during the summer when it gets hot. We use water sprinklers for lawns, gardens, and farms. For the Incas, however, there was no electricity, which meant that getting water from a river was only half of the problem - you still have to get it to the places where you're growing food. They used irrigation systems in order to develop a huge area of farmland in the Andes Mountains of one million hectares, which is about the size of the entire county of Los Angeles.

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