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NOVA: The Great Inca Rebellion

Airs Wednesday, May 16, 2012 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Classic Inca burial in crouched sitting position, with the dead expectantly facing the rising sun, a symbol of rebirth.

In "The Great Inca Rebellion," NOVA and National Geographic go to an impoverished suburb of Lima, Peru, where an ancient cemetery crammed with mummies is excavated by Peruvian archaeologist Guillermo Cock.

Grave Analysis

Take a close look at an Inca burial thought to be from the Siege of Lima in this interactive feature.

Outfitting for Battle

Inca and conquistador soldiers had very different gear—and that made all the difference. In this interactive artist's rendering, compare Inca and conquistador soldiers to see how markedly their dress and weaponry differed.

Anomalous sprawled burial with clear marks of violence, Lima, Peru.
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Above: Anomalous sprawled burial with clear marks of violence, Lima, Peru.

In a truly startling find, he discovers corpses that differ from all the rest. They have been hastily buried and disfigured by multiple, appalling wounds and fractures. Forensic experts help to determine that these remains are victims of a battle that pitted club-wielding Inca warriors against Spanish cavalry.

The forensic evidence may be a decisive clue that helps explain a long-standing mystery about the Spanish conquest of Peru. How, in 1532, did a tiny band of Spanish soldiers crush the mighty Inca Empire, then the most powerful civilization in the Americas? Were the conquistadors' obvious advantages - steel arms, gunpowder and horses - the key to their success, as is generally supposed? Or were disease and civil war more significant factors that were downplayed by the invaders?

By uncovering new evidence from the Lima cemetery, NOVA and National Geographic reveal the untold final chapter of the conquest: not the Spanish walkover familiar from well-known accounts, but rather a protracted and complex war of astonishing brutality that almost led to the Spanish losing their precarious foothold in the Andes.

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Preview: NOVA: The Great Inca Rebellion

Watch the full episode. See more NOVA.

Above: In "The Great Inca Rebellion," an ancient Peruvian cemetery crammed with disfigued mummies helps explain a long-standing mystery about the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire.

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