Machu Picchu Andean Vision of the Cosmos

By Rossella Lorenzi


Machu Picchu, the “lost city of the Incas,” was not a true city but rather a pilgrimage center symbolically connected to the Andean vision of the cosmos, an Italian study has concluded. According to Giulio Magli, professor of archaeoastronomy at Milan’s Polytechnic University, Machu Picchu was the ideal counterpart of the Island of Sun, a rocky islet in the southern part of Lake Titicaca. “This island had a very important sanctuary which was a destination of pilgrimage. An apparently insignificant rock was believed to be the place of birth of the sun, and therefore of the Inca civilization,” Magli told Discovery News. The Inca, who ruled the largest empire on Earth by the time their last emperor, Atahualpa, was garroted by Spanish conquistadors in 1533, believed that the sun god was their ancestor.

Surrounded on three sides by the gorges of the Urubamba River (also called the Vilcanota River), and tucked between two massive mountain peaks — the Huayna Picchu and the Machu Picchu — the Inca city features about 200 stone structures and was probably inhabited by no more than 750 people. It is perched some 8,000 feet in the clouds. After its abandonment at the time of the Spanish conquest, it was lost to the jungle for nearly 500 years, and was then discovered by Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, in 1911 (although recent studies claim that it was actually discovered 40 years earlier by an obscure German entrepreneur).

Theories about the city’s function abound. Machu Picchu has been wrongly identified as the traditional birthplace of the Inca people, their final stronghold, and a sacred center occupied by virgins devoted to the sun god. Another recent interpretation, based on archival research published in the mid-1980s, and widely supported by scholars, suggests the spectacular site was a private estate of the emperor Pachacuti, who built it around 1460 A.D.

“Any interpretation is doomed to remain speculative. Machu Picchu remains a mystery. We do not know for sure what the Inca called it, we do not know when and why it was constructed, or why it was abandoned,” Magli said.

Published on the Cornell University physics Web site, Magli’s study examined Machu Picchu’s urban layout, its ancient access ways, and the position of the site in relation with the cycles of celestial bodies during the Inca’s reign. He then compared these aspects to a well-documented Inca pilgrimage site on Lake Titicaca, located on the border of Bolivia and Peru. According to Magli, the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu avoided a much easier and faster route along the Urubamba River, instead ascending through the difficult and spectacular Inca trail, which ended at the gate of the town.

“The admitted visitors perhaps left their ritual offerings just near the entrance wall. Indeed, many peculiar stone pebbles, mainly of obsidian, have been recovered there,” Magli said. “The pilgrims were then confronted by the imposing view of the Huayna Picchu mountain. Most likely, this was their final destination. Indeed, the last part of the pilgrimage, oriented north, took place inside the town,” Magli said. The author of “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy,” Magli suggests that the ceremonial path into the city was conceived as a replica of the path followed by the first Incas in cosmological myth.

In their final leg, the pilgrims approached three important places: the so-called quarry, an area possibly connected with Mother Earth and the underground travel of the first Incas, the temple of the three windows (it was believed that the first Incas came out from one of the three windows), and the Intihuatana Pyramid, which resembled the sacred mountain Huayna Picchu, located at the end of the path.

According to Magli, the picture also fits with celestial cycles that appeared in the sky at the times of the Incas. These were dominated by the Milky Way, which was perceived as a “celestial river” having its terrestrial counterpart in the Urubamba River. “Machu Picchu was located at the ideal, opposite crossroads between the terrestrial and the celestial rivers. It was the other end of the sun’s path,” Magli concluded.

According to Jean-Pierre Protzen, who teaches architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, the study brings an additional dimension to the site. “Magli’s argument that Machu Picchu was a pilgrimage site and not a royal estate is well worth considering, although it is in need of a much more substantial proof. There is no reason to believe that it could not have been both,” Protzen, a leading expert on Inca architecture, told Discovery News June 8, 2009.

Lost City Of The Incas Part Of Vast Complex?

The world’s most famous “lost city” – the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru, found in the early 20th century – was part of a much larger complex, according to sensational new archaeological discoveries. While investigating a mountain ridge facing the Andean city, an Anglo-American expedition has discovered a previously unknown series of high-status sacred ceremonial buildings scattered over at least a square mile of jungle.

So far, using airborne infra-red reconnaissance and exploration of the jungle itself, the team – led by the British explorer Hugh Thomson and the American archaeologist Gary Ziegler – have found 33 previously unknown buildings. They also found seven others which had originally been located by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1912, but the whereabouts of which had been lost, as Bingham left no compass bearings. Preliminary examination of the ruins suggests that the complex was a large religious centre used for ceremonies and astronomical observations.

The new area istwo miles from Machu Picchu itself. The expedition has identified, as well as the buildings, eight plazas, seven 10ft-highplatforms and a series of walled walkways connecting structures. The buildings include a massive storehouse, a probable sun temple (resembling in several ways the great sun temple in the Inca capital, Cuzco, 45 miles away), and a two-storey observatory, for watching solar equinoxes and solstices.

The archaeologists believe that the complex was probably built by the Inca emperor Pachacuti in the mid-15th century. The complex, known as Llactapata, appears to have been constructed along with Machu Picchu as part of one overall plan. Buildings in both Machu Picchu and Llactapata are aligned with each other and with Mount Machu Picchu, which dominates the site.

The ruined fortress city of Machu Picchu (“manly peak”)consists of about 200 buildings at an altitude of 8,000ft. It was probably used to provide seasonal high-status accommodation and some ceremonial facilities for the ruler and his entourage, with room for 1,200 people, possibly during the winter when Cuzco became very cold. Llactapata, on the other hand, appears to have been more ceremonial in nature. The sites therefore complemented each other and formed a greater whole facing each other across the Aobamba River.

Mr Ziegler said: “This is an important discovery which may completely alter our view of Machu Picchu, as the Llactapata site is closely related to it.” Mr Thomson, who has just returned to the UK after four months in Peru, said: “This must be one of the last places left on the planet where major above-ground archaeological monuments are still being located. We are extremely excited by this find.”

Archaeologists say the discovery reinforces the need to expand the Machu Picchu Historical Sanctuary’s borders to include and protect a wider area. At present the ruins at Llactapata lie outside the protection of the Peruvian National Park Service and so are vulnerable to looters. The expedition discovered evidence suggesting that looters had been active at the site, despite the fact that archaeologists were unaware of the site’s existence. The Inca ruins are visited by 500,000 tourists every year.

The exploration was carried out with the support of the Royal Geographical Society. © 2003 David Keys

Machu Picchu Mummy Discovered

Peruvian archeologists have discovered a complete mummified human skeleton in the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, the National Institute of Culture announced Saturday. The skeleton was found in a tomb surrounded by funeral paraphernalia, in a 33 square meter (39 square yard) cavern 120 meters (400 feet) below the surface. Archeologist Sabino Hancco, an official at the institute, said the remains apparently date back to an period when human sacrifice was common. He said studies were being conducted on the skeleton, which was believed to have been that of a young woman.

Also found in the tomb were two cooking pots with lids on pedestals, a jug, kitchen utensils and other artifacts. Machu Picchu, built some 500 years ago atop a mountain near the edge of Peru’s southern jungle, was discovered in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham.

It attracts some 500,000 visitors a year and is on the United Nations’ World Heritage Site list. Other excavations at Machu Picchu have yielded isolated human bones, but the latest find was the first of a complete skeleton, officials said. AFP – Oct. 13, 2002.


Intihuatana Altar Damaged Machu Picchu

The Intihuatana, considered by archaeologists to be the most sacred object in Machu Picchu has been damaged in the filming of a beer commercial.

This devastating incident demonstrates once again that the INC is itself responsible for major damage to Machu Picchu through its policies and oversights. See INC–Agent for Protection or Plunder?

The INC permitted the beer commercial to be shot, which in itself is a huge affront to all who love Machu Picchu and recognize its importance. In turning a blind eye it allowed the production crew to sneak a 1000 pound crane into the sanctuary at dawn.

The commercial was shot by the U.S. publicity firm J. Walter Thompson for beer company Cervesur, a subsidiary of Peru’s largest beer company, Backus & Johnston. “We do not feel responsible,” said Cervesur regional manager Carlos de la Flor.

Experts report that a ‘reconstruction’ of the damaged part is possible. Authorities say this repair will be undertaken. Criminal charges have been filed against the production company for destruction of national patrimony, or ancestral property, he said. The charges carry a sentence of two to four years in prison.

Geological Threat at Machu Picchu

A leading archaeologist has accused the Peruvian Government of failing to act on a report that suggests the ancient Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is in danger of falling off its mountain perch. If we follow the Japanese, in five, 10 or perhaps 15 more years, we won’t have Machu Picchu any more Dr Frederico Kauffmann

Dr Frederico Kauffmann is calling on the National Cultural Institute of Peru to urgently set up an inquiry into a recent survey by Japanese geologists who found the earth beneath Machu Picchu is moving. According to the Japanese, there are alarming signs that the mountainside beneath the 2,250-metre-high city could give way in a potentially catastrophic landslide within the next few years.

“Machu Picchu is constructed over a place that is moving inside. It’s terrible,” Dr Kauffmann said. “According to the Japanese, this phenomena is going now very quickly, so if we follow the Japanese, in five, 10 or perhaps 15 more years, we won’t have Machu Picchu any more.” To study the geological activity in the mountain, the researchers from the Disaster Prevention Research Institute at the Kyoto University set up sensitive instruments buried in the steepest slopes around the citadel.

The team later published an annex to their study which acknowledged that the movement was exaggerated by excessive rainfall and construction work at a hotel beneath the site in the months that they were there, but their concerns remain. And at the site its self, there are clear signs of problems. The Incas were master stone-masons, crafting walls out of massive blocks of granite so tight fitting that it is impossible to slip a piece of paper between them.

But gaps have begun to appear in some of the constructions, hinting at movement beneath. All around the spectacular razor-back ridge that the Incas built on, there are other warning signs: deep scars on the jungle-clad slopes left by landslides caused by natural erosion in the geologically young Andean mountains.

The mountain perch where the Incas established their homage to the gods of the Sun and the Moon is also split by no less than five geological faults. Machu Picchu draws some 700,000 visitors a year. The original inhabitants managed to stabilise most of these, even turning some into drainage channels, but they remain weak spots in the constructions, and most of the damage to buildings lies along those lines.

The National Institute of Culture which administers Machu Picchu acknowledges the problem, but it insists there is no need for panic. “This is nothing new,” said the Institute’s executive director Ricardo Ruiz. “The Incas were aware of just how unstable the region was when they started building 500 years ago. They were careful to protect the city when they built the foundations, and they did such a good job that there’s very little damage to Machu Picchu until now,” he added.

Mr Ruiz also attacked experts like Dr Kauffmann for being alarmist. “The geological process takes a very long time, and Dr Kauffmann knows this. In reality it takes 10 or 15 years to properly diagnose what’s going on,” he said.

“So for us to take radical action after a study that lasts just two or three months would be irresponsible,” he added. The Institute insists that it is determined to protect the spectacular ruins. Machu Picchu draws in some 700,000 tourists each year, easily winning the prize as Peru’s biggest draw-card.

The Institute has plans to increase the numbers to nearly two million by 2005, and says it simply cannot afford to see anything happen to the site. But Dr Kauffmann believes the institute is simply burying its head in the sand. “I think the National Institute of Culture is acting irresponsibly. The solution isn’t to hide the problem but to confront it, to see if the Japanese are right,” he said.

“If they are not right, then we are okay, but maybe they are right. We can’t afford to ignore. — Peter Greste