Student Question

Compare and contrast the Inca and Mississippian societies.

Quick answer:

The Mississippian and the Inca both practiced large-scale agriculture, had ranked societies, traded in networks, and controlled extensive territories. They differed due to their building techniques and landscape.

Expert Answers

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Because neither the Mississippians nor the Inca left written records, our knowledge of their societies remains incomplete. Both left archaeological records, and there are some Spanish accounts of them as well. Through these, we can see some noteworthy similarities as well as differences.

Both practiced large-scale agriculture. This involved an organized division of labor that fed a large population. The main staple of the Incan diet was potatoes. However, they also cultivated maize, which was the main Mississippian crop.

This division of labor allowed both civilizations to have a dedicated class of artisans and craftsmen. They produced goods that were traded widely over large commercial networks that extended far beyond their own territories.

Both the Inca and the Mississippians appear to have had a priestly class and noble class that ranked above the peasantry and the artisans. Political control was centralized in the hands of the kings or chiefs. All of this led to high levels of social inequity.

While both the Inca and the Mississippians made large monumental buildings, their methods differed greatly. The Mississippians built large mounds out of earth. They did not use stones in their construction. The Inca, on the other hand, were skilled stoneworkers. Their grandest buildings employed massive stones quarried and cut so perfectly that there was no need for mortar in their construction.

These civilizations inhabited very different landscapes. Although there were mountains on the periphery of Mississippian civilization, their territory was centered in the plains and along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The Inca lived in the Andes, one of the most dramatic mountain ranges on the planet. This forced them to make special adaptations, including terraces, roads, and bridges.

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