The Great Inca Rebellion
Mass graves and forensic evidence reveal a complex truth about how the Inca Empire fell. Airing May 16, 2012 at 9 pm on PBS Aired May 16, 2012 on PBS
- Originally aired 07.20.11
Through a mix of crime-lab science, archeology, and history, this NOVA/National Geographic special presents new evidence that is changing what we know about the final days of the once-mighty Inca Empire. This probing story of archeological discovery begins in a cemetery crammed with skeletons that offer tantalizing clues about a fierce 16th-century battle between warriors of the collapsing Inca Empire and Spanish invaders. Now, the long-accepted account of a swift Spanish conquest of the Inca—achieved with guns, steel, and horses—is being replaced by a more complete story based on surprising new evidence, including what may be the first gunshot wound in the Americas.
The Great Inca Rebellion
June 26, 2007
NARRATOR: On the outskirts of Lima, Peru, bodies emerge from the sand. Their wounds are horrific.
MELISSA MURPHY (Biological Anthropologist): This person died a very violent death.
NARRATOR: These skeletons may revolutionize our understanding of one of the pivotal events of world history, the Spanish conquest of the Inca.
For 500 years, we have had to rely on chronicles written by the Spanish conquistadors to understand what happened. Those chronicles tell us how, in 1532, Francisco Pizarro arrived at the frontiers of the Inca Empire with fewer than 200 men. Ever since, historians have puzzled at the events that followed.
As Inca messengers spread news of the tiny invasion around the Empire, why didn't the huge Inca armies mobilize? How could a handful of Spanish adventurers bring the greatest indigenous civilization of South America to its knees?
Was it the vast superiority of the Spanish weapons? Was it European diseases to which the Inca had no resistance? Or was it something else?
These skeletons may hold the answers. For the first time, science can open a window on the real events of the conquest of Peru. The discoveries are amazing.
ALBERT HARPER (Forensic Scientist): I think we're looking at the first gunshot wound in the New World.
NARRATOR: A story of the conquest never told before, a story of secret alliances and betrayal...
EFRAIN TRELLES (Historian): ...a great cover up that took place in the 16th century.
NARRATOR: ...the story of The Great Inca Rebellion, right now on NOVA.
Major funding for NOVA is provided by David H. Koch and by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, serving society through biomedical research and science education: HHMI.
And by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.
NARRATOR: For 3,000 years, the mountains and coasts of Peru were home to the most advanced civilizations of South America. The Inca Empire was the last of many to rise and fall in Peru, but it was the greatest.
The Inca were the Romans of the New World. Incomparable builders and engineers, they created Machu Picchu, the most sophisticated road system of the Americas, and countless masterpieces of gold. But their real genius was for conquest.
In the 15th century, they used it to conquer the entire Andean region. The ghosts of that fierce Inca Empire still haunt Peru's modern capital, Lima.
Twenty-first century Lima, today, is a teeming city of 9,000,000. But beneath its sprawling shanty towns lie layer upon layer of Peru's ancient dead.
For over 20 years, Peruvian archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Guillermo Cock has been working to unravel the mysteries of these Indian gravesites. Nobody knows more about the ancient burials of Lima.
GUILLERMO COCK (Archeologist): At the beginning of March of 2004, the city was going to open a new highway in the area that we suspected that had a cemetery. We decided to put a trench in, in order to test if it was or wasn't a cemetery.
NARRATOR: The site Guillermo was investigating was an apparently unremarkable hillside in a suburb of Lima called Puruchuco. He set to work with his colleague of many years, archaeologist, Elena Goycochea. Very quickly, their test trench yielded results.
GUILLERMO COCK: The result of the test was about 20 graves in a trench that was two-by-eight meters. That finding led us to conclude that that little ravine was, in fact, a cemetery.
NARRATOR: At first, the Puruchuco graveyard seemed very similar to others Willy and Elena had excavated. Bodies were buried at regular intervals, in a crouched sitting position, facing the rising sun. This is the classic pattern of Inca burials. But before long, strange anomalies began to appear.
GUILLERMO COCK: Very soon, when we were into the excavation, we noticed that there was a number of individuals that they didn't conform to the standard, what we may call the burial pattern.
NARRATOR: In the lower layers of the cemetery, everything seemed to be as Willy would expect in a well-organized Inca graveyard, but on top of these was a layer of bodies buried near the surface which was like nothing he or Elena had ever seen.
ELENA GOYCOCHEA (Archeologist): The body is stretched out this way, facing west. Normally, it should be facing that direction, east. The orientation is all wrong, just like the others.
NARRATOR: The more they uncovered, the more surprises they found. On top of the corpses of the traditional Inca graveyard, bodies had been thrown in chaotically. Instead of the usual careful wrapping of the body with cotton stuffing and woolen fabrics, these had been hastily wrapped in simple cloths called "telas." They were stretched on their side or back; some faced up, some to the west. None were crouched and facing east in the traditional Inca way.
GUILLERMO COCK: It was evident that they didn't follow the burial rituals. They were without the proper offerings.
Now the question was why these individuals had been buried in such an unusual way.
NARRATOR: To someone who knows the Inca world as well as Willy and Elena, this was mystifying. Reverence for the dead was at the core of Inca culture. Properly performed death rituals were crucial to ensuring the rebirth of the dead in the spirit world, hence their burial in a crouched, expectant pose facing the sunrise, symbol of rebirth.
Against this backdrop, the treatment of the bodies at Puruchuco was doubly surprising.
ELENA GOYCOCHEA: It's as if the moment they died, they just wrapped them in a cloth, brought them to the cemetery and stuck them in the ground chaotically, not the usual Inca way.
NARRATOR: When Willy and his team unwrapped the loosely covered skeletons, what they found was even more shocking. Almost all bore marks of extreme violence. Skulls had been crushed, and some showed injuries that had never been seen before in an Inca cemetery, in fact, in any Indian cemetery anywhere in Central or South America.
One skeleton in particular really caught their attention. They called him "Mochito," the severed one, because of his horrific injuries.
MELISSA MURPHY: The left, middle and ring finger on the left hand had perhaps been cut off or twisted off. He's clearly received some sort of blow to the face, a peri-mortem fracture to the left first rib, a pretty bad break to the proximal femur. All of these injuries, together, lead me to believe that this individual died a very violent death.
NARRATOR: Melissa Murphy is a bio-archaeologist working with Willy to interpret Mochito's injuries.
MELISSA MURPHY: This is a very exceptional skeleton for a number of reasons. He is very atypical. He has a series of peri-mortem injuries that I haven't encountered before, in particular, these three quadrangular defects to his cranium.
One of the defects also has a small radiating fracture, hinging fracture that looks like something caught the outer table of this bone.
I've never encountered this. And based on documented cases of other injuries, it seems consistent with metal-edged weaponry, something else, but not something you would see among Inca weapons.
NARRATOR: The Inca had few weapons capable of delivering the clean piercing wounds Melissa sees in Mochito's remains. Their deadliest weapons of war were stone clubs, spears and slings, the type of weaponry used by Inca warriors had been obsolete in Europe for over 2,000 years.
JOHN GUILMARTIN (Military Historian): The Inca army would have been totally beyond the comprehension or historical memory of the Spaniards. It's a "Chalcolithic" army, meaning that the Andeans could smelt gold, silver, copper, but all of their cutting implements, all of their piercing implements, all their weapons were stone.
NARRATOR: The arrival of Pizarro and his conquistadors, in 1532, brought this Inca army and its stone weapons face-to-face with 16th century Europe's most advanced military technology.
It was only 40 years since Christopher Columbus had claimed his first discoveries in the New World for Spain. Since then, indigenous populations of the Americas had been overwhelmed by the relentless Spanish expansion. One reason for that was that the Spanish brought with them two things the Indians had never seen before.
JOHN GUILMARTIN: The Spanish had enormous advantages of mobility. Their horse was perhaps the second largest advantage they had. Their greatest advantage was their possession of steel weapons.
NARRATOR: The strange wounds on the top of Mochito's skull made Willy and his team think of stab wounds delivered from horseback.
Could the bodies in the graveyard be victims of Pizarro's conquistadors? If so, they would be the first ever found.
The injury to another skull seemed to prove the link to the conquistadors in an even more dramatic way.
MELISSA MURPHY: What's especially anomalous about it is that it has a large circular defect on the left parietal that looks suspiciously like a gunshot wound. And it looks like, as the projectile exited the face and exited this area, it came apart and the entire face was fragmented.
What's especially exceptional about this is not only that we have, in fact, the entrance wound and the exit wound that I just showed you, but also that I recovered the plug of bone that actually was in this position on the inside of the skull.
NARRATOR: This could be a momentous discovery. It would be the first documented gunshot wound in the New World.
The primitive but deadly 16th-century guns called "arquebuses" were just one of the many terrifying novelties the Spanish brought with them to South America.
JOHN GUILMARTIN: The Spanish arquebuses of the conquest were no more awkward than European infantry muskets a hundred years later—a bit heavier for their projectile weight—but the Spaniards knew how to use them. They knew how to use them well.
NARRATOR: The combination of guns, steel weapons and cavalry had a devastating effect on native armies. The Inca had no defense against any of them.
JOHN GUILMARTIN: The European response to a cavalry charge had been learned over centuries of exposure to mounted combat. Over the short term, the Inca had no response whatsoever to cavalry.
NARRATOR: And there was yet another deadly cargo brought by the Spanish, which would eventually decimate the Inca population, disease. But no one is sure exactly when the first epidemics arrived.
So Willy's team concentrate their efforts on the more obvious injuries to the skeletons. If the suspected gunshot wound is real, it would be unprecedented. So Melissa needs proof.
She hopes that x-rays might reveal traces of metal around the edges of the wound.
MELISSA MURPHY: Here we are seeing where the exit wound was and we were really expecting to see metal residues—really bright white, as distinct from the bone and the teeth in the film—but we don't. There's nothing in there that suggests that there's lead or metal residues. It looks like no.
NARRATOR: The negative result is a blow. To Melissa and Willy, the wound clearly suggests a gunshot. They just can't prove it. Perhaps the metal traces left by the musket ball were too miniscule for the x-rays to detect.
So Willy decides on a bold course of action. He calls on one of the world's foremost crime labs. It is 4,000 miles away at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.
With cutting edge forensic techniques, if anyplace can get some results from the skeletons of Puruchuco, it is here.
Top forensic scientists Al Harper and Tim Palmbach have examined hundreds of gunshot wounds, a lot fresher than the one in Peru.
Before long, Al and Tim are in Lima. The lure of examining what may be the first gunshot wound in the Americas is irresistible. Willy's lab contains the remains of over 3,000 Inca burials. Work on this astonishing collection of mummies and skeletons has been temporarily abandoned as Mochito and his band take center stage.
Al and Tim immediately focus on what Melissa thought might be the gunshot wound.
ALBERT HARPER: Oh, how interesting. Look at this. It's almost as if there are two separate entrances.
TIM PALMBACH (Forensic Scientist): You almost did have a trajectory line 30, 45 degrees maybe.
ALBERT HARPER: It's hitting at some angle about like that.
TIM PALMBACH: So if we think energy-wise: it's got to be sufficient enough to pop a hole through the cranium, but not so energetic that you bust this up.
I mean, if you take a modern day 14-, 1,500-foot energy impact of a normal handgun you don't get plugs like that. It doesn't fragment there.
ALBERT HARPER: No, it would completely and totally fragment. The little pieces...the bullet simply punches a hole through the bone and it fragments the pieces of bone as it goes through. This isn't the case here.
NARRATOR: The intact plug of bone indicates an impact much less forceful than any modern gunshot. But it might well correspond to the much weaker impact of a 16th-century arquebus. In fact, the bone plug itself carries a concave imprint highly suggestive of a musket ball.
ALBERT HARPER: Remarkable, absolutely remarkable. Could this be a gunshot? It could be.
NARRATOR: To prove it, they'll have to use more sophisticated instruments, starting with a scanning electron microscope or SEM.
TIM PALMBACH: What we want to try to do here is we'll do some scanning electron microscopy, looking at this, and then, if we find some small particulate matter, we can go ahead and we'll hit it with an x-ray. And that will give us the elemental compositions.
NARRATOR: The results go beyond their wildest dreams. The edges of the hole in the skull and the entire surface of the bone plug are impregnated with fragments of iron, a metal sometimes used for Spanish musket balls.
TIM PALMBACH: Standard x-ray procedures failed to see these iron particles because what ultimately we established through the SEM is that these were very small particles that were actually hidden in these small fissures and fractures in the bone.
NARRATOR: Now Tim and Al have an image of what probably happened. As the musket ball punched into the back of the skull and passed through the head, it left iron fragments deep inside the bone which had stayed there for 500 years.
TIM PALMBACH: Honestly, when we were first confronted with the possibility that there was a gunshot wound some 500 years ago, we were skeptical, and as any scientist would do, we sought to disprove that.
Simply, there is nothing that we have found or evaluated that is inconsistent with that having been, indeed, a gunshot wound.
NARRATOR: It's a remarkable discovery—not only the first evidence of a gunshot wound in the Americas, but support for Willy's belief that the bodies from the Puruchuco graveyard could be the first ever forensic remains of the battles of the conquest.
The questions posed by these precious bones are tantalizing. What other stories do they have to tell? Who was Mochito? How did he and his people die?
As forensic science opens a window on the Spanish conquest of Peru, what more will we see through it? Will it confirm what the Spanish wrote in their chronicles, that courage, along with guns and steel swords, gave a tiny band of conquistadors such an advantage they could vanquish thousands.
Spanish chronicles of the conquest underplay one critical fact. When Pizarro and his conquistadors arrived in Peru, the Inca Empire was falling to pieces.
It had been formed only a hundred years earlier when the Inca had spread out from their capital at Cusco to overwhelm the many different Indian chiefdoms of the region. By 1532, many of the empire's over 10 million inhabitants were fed up with Inca rule and all too willing to ally themselves with the Spanish in a bid to break free of Inca domination.
For the newly arrived Spanish, this was a great stroke of luck. Even with their huge technological advantages, they were hardly a formidable fighting force.
JOHN GUILMARTIN: It's a mistake to think of the conquistadors as soldiers. They were not soldiers in the contemporary Spanish sense, let alone the modern American sense. They were adventurers. They were absolutely ruthless, but they weren't soldiers.
NARRATOR: Many of the conquistadors were illiterate, including Francisco Pizarro himself. From peasant stock in rural Spain, most were men of action, not letters. The task of telling the story of the conquest largely fell to scribes and chroniclers. Over the years, a sort of official version of what happened was composed.
Historians and archaeologists have long suspected that in the process, facts were altered and some conveniently forgotten.
GUILLERMO COCK: The chronicles try to justify the conquest. And in order to magnify the glory of the Spaniards, they exaggerate.
NARRATOR: The chronicles go to great lengths to paint a dramatic portrait of Spanish hardships and heroism, but largely ignore the help given by their Indian allies. They recount a series of dramatic confrontations in which Pizarro's tiny band confront vast Inca armies and, against all odds, triumph.
The most remarkable of these takes place only weeks after the Spanish arrive. At Cajamarca in northern Peru, they come upon the troops of the Inca king, Atahualpa, who are celebrating a successful military campaign. The Inca are not prepared for battle. The Spanish take them by surprise and massacre them. In the process, they take the king hostage.
Pizarro demands a huge ransom of gold for Atahualpa. Once it is paid, he executes him anyway.
With the Inca world in shock, Pizarro pushes on to the capital, Cusco, which quickly falls to the Spanish.Within a matter of months, the Inca Empire is theirs.
It takes four years for armed Inca resistance to materialize. In 1536, Inca armies mobilize and throw themselves at the conquistadors both in Cusco and the newly founded Spanish city of Lima. The great Inca Rebellion has begun.
According to the chronicles, on August 10th, 1536, Francisco Pizzaro is in Lima. He watches in terror as a vast Indian army sweeps across the coastal plain.
"God save us from the fury of the Indians," is all he can say.
It was during the siege of Lima that followed that Mochito and his people probably lost their lives.
The time layering, or "stratigraphy," of the cemetery at Puruchuco tells Willy that Mochito's remains are from the very first years of the conquest.
GUILLERMO COCK: The only event that could explain the injuries and the stratigraphic position of this was the siege of Lima.
NARRATOR: In August 1536, the city of Lima is only 18 months old. Its few adobe houses are arranged in a grid system around a central square.
According to the chronicles, on the day of the battle, a vast army led by the great Inca general, Quiso Yupanqui, closes in on Lima. They estimate it in the tens of thousands. Quiso is carried on a litter surrounded by his captains.
Pizarro has only a few hundred troops. With the odds stacked against him, he decides to gamble everything on one desperate cavalry charge. The Spanish always try to kill leaders first because they know this devastates enemy morale. So the cavalry hacks its way through the Inca troops towards Quiso and his captains.
In front of the Spanish charge, the captains fall back, exposing Quiso. He is killed in an instant. The Inca army retreats in disarray.
In the picture painted by the chronicles, a handful of Spaniards have once again heroically defeated a huge Indian army. Lima is saved. But is that really what happened?
Now, for the first time, we will be able to re-examine the Spanish version of events.
Willy and Elena believe Mochito and his people were part of the Inca force that confronted Pizarro on that fateful day in August, 1536.
GUILLERMO COCK: The finding of this individual is very important, because we can confront the descriptions contained in the European documents with material evidence, with the reality, a sort of forensic work, in order to prove or disprove those narrations.
NARRATOR: Of all the burials found at Puruchuco, Mochito's stands out. His head had been wrapped in blue cloth. He was in the center of the cemetery.
The way he was buried make Willy and Elena sure Mochito had special status. He was a leader.
As Tim and Al work on Mochito's remains, they discover that many of his injuries seem consistent with the classic account of the siege of Lima. Perhaps he was one of the captains, close to the Inca general, who were cut down by Pizarro's cavalry charge. This, in itself, might explain his terrible injuries.
ALBERT HARPER: The mandible has been fractured with an incredible amount of force. Normally, the chin bone is very strong and is very resistant, but in this one it's been snapped with a force coming down from the outside, forcing it apart, breaking off this little piece of bone that's missing. Who knows where that went. So, some terrible thing has happened there.
And then, in examining the vertebrae, we find that the thoracic vertebrae are all intact, but we look at the ribs...part of the rib has been...the first rib has been snapped off. And we see additional damage to the inside of the sternum or the breastbone where it's been snapped, not in one, but in two, but in three different places.
An amazing amount of force has been applied to the outside of this person's body, something very large and very heavy, perhaps a great big rock or even a horse.
NARRATOR: Sharp piercing wounds to the skull and crushing wounds to the torso are exactly what you would expect in somebody killed in a cavalry charge. But when Al and Tim come to examine the remains of the people who died with Mochito, they seem to tell a very different story.
ALBERT HARPER: It's very unusual to see this kind of pattern. So many of them have had severe, blunt force trauma...broken the skull completely apart. You get the occipital bone broken, plus you get injuries to the face and orbits, a lot of it to the left side as if a blow is coming in to the right.
NARRATOR: While a few of the death injuries look like they were dealt by Spanish steel, the great majority point to a very different type of weapon.
ALBERT HARPER: It's an object that's approximately two to three centimeters in diameter, and it takes out the left zygomatic arch, breaks the face, breaks the back of the skull, breaks the occipital bone all in one piece. Whatever happened to this person was an extremely violent death.
NARRATOR: And the shattered skulls hold yet another shocking surprise: a tiny bone beneath the ear indicates that some are women.
ALBERT HARPER: Two or three appear to be female—you can tell by the small mastoid processes—and they've got signs of injury, too.
NARRATOR: Is this evidence that women fought alongside Mochito and his men? If so, like many of the Puruchuco finds, it would be unprecedented.
To look for the weapons that could have caused these blunt force skull injuries, Al and Tim head for the Gold Museum of Lima. It has the largest collection of historic weapons in Peru, both Spanish and Inca.
The steel weapons of the Spanish would produce either sharp piercing injuries or crushing injuries with clean edges. They would not create the sort of blunt force traumas Al and Tim have been examining.
What sort of weapon could have created those? Tim and Al go on to look at the Inca weapons.
ALBERT HARPER: Tim, look at this thing. That's really heavy. Can you imagine what would happen if that got swung at somebody?
TIM PALMBACH: Isn't that about the same kind of configuration as some of the facial and side...the head injuries you were looking at?
ALBERT HARPER: Sure, it's just about the right size, and certainly if that...
TIM PALMBACH: So that would punch the skull in more than just a flat kind of fracture.
ALBERT HARPER: Absolutely. It would fracture all the fine bones of the face.
TIM PALMBACH: Well, that might be why a lot of the skulls, you weren't finding the small bones, because they were probably so busted up that they disarticulated, right?
ALBERT HARPER: Absolutely. That's an incredibly lethal weapon.
NARRATOR: The possibility that the Indians found in the Puruchuco cemetery were killed by stone clubs points to a stunning conclusion: most were killed not by the Spanish, but by other Indians.
Of 70 individuals in the Puruchuco cemetery, only three show clear signs of being killed by Spanish weapons. This directly challenges the account in the chronicles.
So what really happened at the siege of Lima?
Willy knows that to get to the bottom of this mystery, he needs the collaboration of other disciplines, not just forensic scientists, but historians, too.
EFRAIN TRELLES: For 500 years, we have been told a handful of Spaniards and their irons and their horses were able to take an entire empire. Since we historians have gone beyond the chronicles in the last three decades, this official version can be challenged.
NARRATOR: Historian Efrain Trelles has been studying the historical records of the early Spanish colony in Peru. They are housed in places like this, the Archive of the Franciscans at the Convent of San Francisco de Lima.
Efrain's attention was drawn to a long-forgotten court case, which took place in Lima many years after the siege. It sheds dramatic new light on the events of August 1536.
EFRAIN TRELLES: Years after the rebellion, the heirs of Pizarro were arguing with the crown. And as part of their trial, they contended that the costs of defending Lima from the siege had had a heavy impact on the Pizarro estate and that they had to be rewarded for that.
NARRATOR: The crown disagreed. They brought Indians in who were present at the siege. The Indians testified that the fighting involved small skirmishes, but no major battle.
EFRAIN TRELLES: We have references of fighting during the siege, but mostly Indians against Indians.
NARRATOR: Witnesses also claimed that the Inca army was in the thousands, not tens of thousands, that there was no heroic cavalry charge by Pizarro, and that Spaniards who did fight were protected by large numbers of Indians who were fighting alongside them.
EFRAIN TRELLES: So this leads me to think and believe that the great siege must have taken place in a very different manner than we have been told.
NARRATOR: Willy's discovery that most of Mochito's warriors were killed by other Indians supports the version of events that emerged at the trial. It also provides the first scientific evidence for what historians have long suspected, but could never prove: that the role of the Indian allies, consistently downplayed by the chronicles, was critical to the success of the conquest.
JOHN GUILMARTIN: It's very clear, when you look at the way the conquest went down, that Pizarro's allies were very important to his ultimate victory, not simply in the fighting line, but for logistical support. They were enormously important.
It's very clear that their role in the conquest has been minimized.
NARRATOR: No one has found more proof of the importance of Indian allies to the Spanish than Maria Rostworowski. At 91, she is probably the most respected living historian of the Andes.
MARIA ROSTWOROWSKI (Historian): The Spanish were massively supported by their Indian allies. This fact, overlooked by the chronicles, completely changes our vision of the conquest. Without it, the story is absurd.
NARRATOR: Maria has discovered documents that reveal the true story of the siege of Lima. Found in the Archives of the Indies in Seville, Spain, they show that Pizarro's survival at Lima depended not on military prowess, but on an alliance with a powerful chiefdom in the mountain province of Huaylas.
When Francisco Pizarro arrived in Peru, he was a single man of 54. Eager to create an alliance with him, the nobility of Huaylas offered him a young girl as wife.
MARIA ROSTWOROWSKI: She was called Quispe Sisa and she became Pizarro's concubine after baptism.
It's a curious fact that the Spanish had all the relations they wanted with Andean women, but only after they were baptized.
NARRATOR: Pizarro's young concubine, Quispe Sisa, is with him in Lima when the Indian armies lay siege to the city in August 1536. She is at the center of what really happens at the siege of Lima.
As the small Inca army approaches Lima, Pizarro does indeed send out a cavalry charge to fend it off. They follow the Inca warriors into a dry riverbed outside the city where the Spanish horses start to break their ankles on the huge stones.
Having achieved nothing, the cavalry retreats.
Soon after, the Inca army once again advances on the city.
MARIA ROSTWOROWSKI: And the Inca army was actually entering the streets of Lima when suddenly they retreated. And the Spanish said, "How stupid! They walk away when they are on our doorstep."
What had happened? I found, in the Archive of the Indies, a document saying that Pizarro's young concubine sent runners with messages to her mother in Huaylas asking for help. She asked for an army, and her mother sent her one.
NARRATOR: Quispe Sisa's mother was a chief in her own right. As soon as she received news that her daughter was surrounded in Lima, she dispatched a large army to relieve the city.
Lima was saved, not by conquistador heroics, but by the arrival of the army sent by the mother of Pizarro's young concubine.
As the Indians from Huaylas descend on Lima, the Inca army sees that its situation is suddenly hopeless. The balance has tipped in favor of the Spanish. The Inca army retreats in disarray.
They are pursued by a few Spaniards, accompanied and protected by large groups of warriors from Huaylas. The fighting of the siege of Lima takes place in small skirmishes around the city.
It was probably in one such skirmish that Mochito and his people met their deaths at the hands of the Spaniards and their Indian allies.
Now, finally, we can tell the story of that last day of their lives.
We don't know Mochito's real name, but from the way he was buried, we know he was a leader and he was young.
MELISSA MURPHY: These clavicles, they aren't fused yet, so that's going to be...put him around...somewhere in the range of 20s, in the early 20s, late teens, maybe 18 to 22.
NARRATOR: Typically, he would have had at least one wife and children. He may have known nothing of the upcoming battle until Inca emissaries came to Puruchuco demanding his support for their fight against the Spanish.
On the morning of the attack, he would have set out from Puruchuco to cover the five miles to the new Spanish settlement at Lima. He and his fellow warriors would have been armed with the traditional Inca weapons: stone clubs, bolas and spears.
They were accompanied by their women, not as warriors, but probably as carriers of food and water for the day's fighting.
MARIA ROSTWOROWSKI: Don't forget that the viruses might have already arrived and decimated the indigenous population. Since they had lost so many warriors, it was probably women who carried the supplies.
NARRATOR: Mochito and his people were part of the Inca army that tried to enter Lima and was forced to retreat by the arrival of the army from Huaylas.
One likely scenario is that as they tried to make it back to Puruchuco, they were hunted down by a small band of Spaniards with their many Indian allies. Mochito's people were clearly outnumbered.
Their deaths came with savage brutality.
MELISSA MURPHY: So this is another individual who has a series of blunt force injuries, peri-mortem injuries, to the left side of the cranium.
NARRATOR: One warrior was killed like no other, shot in the head by a Spanish arquebus, the first recorded gunshot victim in the New World.
TIM PALMBACH: It is very clear that everything that we've evaluated is consistent with, indeed, this being a gunshot wound.
NARRATOR: No one was spared the slaughter, not even the women.
ALBERT HARPER: This is a young woman, and she's been hit very hard.
NARRATOR: As a leader, Mochito would have been attacked with special ferocity.
MELISSA MURPHY: He's missing his face, and there were no facial fragments recovered.
NARRATOR: The bones of his limbs and torso were smashed by club blows and probably the hooves of a Spanish horse.
ALBERT HARPER: The damage extends all the way up to the first rib, which is also then snapped.
NARRATOR: If he was not dead already, the three puncture wounds to his head would certainly have killed him.
ALBERT HARPER: When we have a chance to look at the CAT scans where we can actually peer inside the skull, we can see that the inner layer of the skull is punched out in all three cases.
That much force pushing into the skull would have caused death.
NARRATOR: Perhaps in a final coup de grace, Mochito died as a Spanish lance stabbed him three times in the back of his skull.
Some time later, the people of Puruchuco came to gather their dead. Perhaps a day or more had passed before they dared venture out. Rigor mortis had already set in. This might explain the unusual sprawled postures in their graves.
With war parties still in the area, there was no time for proper death rituals. Mochito and the people who died with him were hastily buried in their clan cemetery.
From their remains, the work of archaeologists, scientists and historians has uncovered a long hidden truth.
EFRAIN TRELLES: The conquest of Peru was a matter of Indians fighting Indians. Indians took Cusco, Indians defended Cusco; Indians attacked Lima, Indians defended Lima.
Now we have solid evidence.
NARRATOR: Why was the massive participation of Indian armies in the Spanish conquest of Peru left out of the chronicles?
JOHN GUILMARTIN: Very straightforward: the Spanish were indebted to their allies; they didn't want to remember their debts.
NARRATOR: To gain their support, the conquistadors promised their Indian allies the independence and influence they had been denied by the Inca. After the conquest, the promises were all conveniently forgotten.
EFRAIN TRELLES: There has been a political interest to erase from the historical landscape all the indigenous elements that helped Pizarro.
NARRATOR: The story of the Spanish alliances with the Andean Indians who fought their battles for them is the great untold story of the conquest. By a strange twist of fate, it is their victims, Mochito and the people who died with him at the siege of Lima, whose bones have borne witness to this long forgotten truth.
On NOVA's Great Inca Rebellion Web site, see in detail how a Spanish conquistador and an Inca warrior were outfitted for battle. Find it on PBS.org.
Educators and other educational institutions can order this or other NOVA programs, for $19.95 plus shipping and handling. Call WGBH Boston Video at 1-800-255-9424.
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The Great Inca Rebellion
- Edited by
- Bonnie Cutler-Shear
- Written and Produced by
- Graham Townsley
- Jay O. Sanders
- Reuben Aaronson
- Assistant Camera/STEADICAM
- Guillermo Garcia
- Associate Producers
- Heidi Christenson
- Field Associate Producer
- Deborah McLaughlan
- Production Manager
- Neetu Chopra
- Production Coordinator
- Wesley Della Volla
- Post Production Supervisor
- Averi Livingston
- Aaron Keane
- Sound Recordist
- Guillermo Palacios
- Additional Sound
- Joe Maggio
- Additional Camera
- Guillermo Garcia
- Recreations Art Department
- Ana Mari Pomaredo
- Graphics and Animation
- Bully! Entertainment
- Audio Mix
- Assistant Editor
- Dave Hogan
- Archival Material
- AKG Images
- Special Thanks
- RJ Lee Group, Inc.
Henry C. Lee Institute, University of New Haven
Oro del Peru
Armas del Mundo
Fundacion Miguel Mujica Gallo
Ensemble Studios/Microsoft Game Studios
- Executive Producer For National Geographic Television
- John Bredar
- NOVA Series Graphics
- yU + co.
- NOVA Theme Music
- Walter Werzowa
- Additional NOVA Theme Music
- Ray Loring
- Post Production Online Editor
- Mark Steele
- Closed Captioning
- The Caption Center
- NOVA Administrator
- Ashley King
- Eileen Campion
Lindsay de la Rigaudiere
- Gaia Remerowski
- Production Coordinator
- Linda Callahan
- Unit Manager
- Carla Raimer
- Raphael Nemes
- Talent Relations
- Scott Kardel, Esq.
- Legal Counsel
- Susan Rosen Shishko
- Assistant Editor
- Alex Kreuter
- Associate Producer, Post Production
- Patrick Carey
- Post Production Supervisor
- Regina O'Toole
- Post Production Editor
- Rebecca Nieto
- Post Production Manager
- Nathan Gunner
- Supervising Producer
- Stephen Sweigart
- Business Manager
- Joseph P. Tracy
- Producers, Special Projects
- Susanne Simpson
- Coordinating Producer
- Laurie Cahalane
- Senior Science Editor
- Evan Hadingham
- Senior Series Producer
- Melanie Wallace
- Managing Director
- Alan Ritsko
- Senior Executive Producer
- Paula S. Apsell
- A Production of NOVA and National Geographic Television
- © 2007 NGHT, Inc. and WGBH Educational Foundation
- Courtesy Guillermo Cock
- Guillermo Cock
- Archeologist news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/04/0415_020417_cockinterview.html
- Elena Goycochea
- John Guilmartin
- Military Historian www.angelfire.com/ga4/guilmartin.com/
- Albert Harper
- Forensic Scientist
- Melissa Murphy
- Biological Anthropologist people.brynmawr.edu/msmurphy/index.htm
- Tim Palmback
- Forensic Scientist
- Maria Rostworowski
- Efrain Trelles
Inca Mummies: Secrets of a Lost World
On this website from National Geographic magazine, read an interview with archeologist Guillermo Cock, view an online documentary on the excavation of Inca burial grounds at Puruchuco, Peru, take an interactive look inside an Incan mummy bundle, and much more.
Learn about the Spanish conquistadors and the legacy of their contact with Native Americans.
Bodies of Evidence
Explore forensic science and its use in archeological investigations around the world.
The Khipu Database Project
On this Harvard University Web site, discover the intricate method of communication and record keeping that the Inca developed using knotted ropes called khipu.
by Terence D'Altroy. Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
The Last Days of the Incas
by Kim MacQuarrie. Simon & Schuster, 2007.
The Conquistador: 1492-1550
by John Pohl and Adam Hook. Osprey Publishing, 2001.
Full Program | 53:04
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