In the Cusco region of Peru, 2.4 km above sea level in the mountains, the ruins of Machu Picchu were re-discovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu, which means ‘Old Mountain’, is an Inca site in the mountains of Peru which is often referred to as the ‘Lost city of the Incas’.
An old Incan trail leads its way through the mountains to the city of Machu Picchu. Archaeologists believe that the site was built in approximately 1400 AD by King Pachacuti; however, local legends denote that Machu Picchu was a sacred place built far earlier than that. Therefore, it is not exactly clear why it was built, by whom, or how.
Machu Picchu is a city comprised of more than 200 buildings, temples, houses, pathways, fountains and altars all cut from grey granite from the mountain top. There is no evidence of any fortified walls, which means that it was not a fortress. Many of the stone blocks weigh more than 50 tons, and all are cut and fitted together in such a precise manner that it raises incredulity as to how they created such a monumental place.
Why was this place built? One of the functions that archaeologists suggest is that of astronomical observations. A specific stone at the highest part of the site, the Intihuatana stone, was used to indicate with accuracy the two equinoxes, as well as other celestial events. Local shamanic legends refer to this stone as a gateway to the spirit world. The person who would touch the stone with his forehead would open a vision to the spirit world. Other main buildings inside the city of Machu Picchu are the temple of the Moon, the temple of the Sun, and the room of the three Windows. Unfortunately, there are no written clues or carvings in Machu Picchu proving that this was the only purpose of the site.
New excavations are currently taking place and recently the French mechanic David Crespi thinks he discovered a secret entrance that will lead to an underground room in the centre of the city. A French archaeologist named Thierry Jamin and her team not only confirmed what David suspected, but with the help of instruments verified that many rooms exist below the city and behind the sealed entrance, as well as gold and other precious metals.
Who built Machu Picchu and why? How did they manage to move and place such enormous blocks? And most importantly, why was it abandoned?
By John Black
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FOLLOW UP STORY
Archaeologists Discover Astronomical Observatory in Machu Picchu
A monument discovered in part of Machu Picchu in Peru has been identified as an astronomical observatory by a research team led by Professor Mariusz of the University of Warsaw.
The monument, called El Mirador, is made of custom cut stones and is thought to have been used by priests to observe the position of celestial bodies. This discovery is important because it is a different type of structure compared to ones found so far – the ceremonial places of the Incas are normally oriented towards the direction of the sunrise or the sunset during the solstice, however, this is not the case with this one. El Mirador is so far the only discovered precise Inca astronomical observatory, apart from the Astronomical Grotto Intimachay located also in Machu Picchu.
The results of the discovery are going to be presented in the weeks to follow during the International Conference ‘Societe Europeenne pour l’ Astronomie’ in Athens.
For the Inca Empire, astronomy was an important part of their culture. They used astronomical events to govern religion, agriculture and daily events, as well as to honour their origins. The city of Cuzco, for example, was constructed in such a way that it would replicate the sky and point to specific astronomical bodies. Pleiades was one of the important constellations of the Incas who called it ‘Seven Kids’.
The Incas have built observatories in many different places and their main type of observatory was called the Coricancha (Qurikancha) and was completely covered in gold (inside and outside), revealing their dedication to the Sun God.
Findings such as these raise important questions about how a so-called ‘primitive’ society was able to acquire such advanced astronomical knowledge without the advanced technology we have today. It seems we are only beginning to scratch the surface in unravelling the mysteries of our ancestors and the incredible wealth of knowledge they possessed relating to the stars and the cosmos.
By John Black