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Every day tourists from the world over admire the remarkable Incan masonry of what remains of the monument today, the megaliths too large for the Spaniards to mine them for their building projects in the city below.

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Construction Theories - Part 1

Perfect Fitting Stones

In the Sacred Valley at the site of Ollantaytambo lie many unfinished blocks of ryholite. They were quarried or collected from a large rockfall 2.17 miles away across the Urubamba River. How are the massive stones quarried, transported, dressed and placed? The lack of written history leaves it up to us to figure out by observation, comparison, and experimentation.

Quarrying did not occur in the classic sense of hewing raw blocks from solid cliffs. The Inca stonemasons searched the rockslides for blocks that would suit their purposes. Often the raw blocks were partially shaped at the quarry or during transportation. Final fitting and dressing of the stones occurred at the work site.

Rough shaping of stones was accomplished by two main techniques. At the base of the ramp leading up to the Sun Temple at Ollantaytambo lie several blocks abandoned in transit. One shows small holes pecked into a natural groove into which wedges were driven to split the stone.

The other method for roughing stones was to simply carve a collar around the stone until the unwanted portion broke off. This worked on any area of the stone and didn't rely on a naturally occurring fissure.

At Ollantaytambo transporting the large blocks required them to be lowered from the quarry area, hauled across the valley floor, over the Urubamba River, and up to the Temple site.

As mentioned above there are several large stones lying at the base of a large ramp which leads up to the Temple. They are called the "Tired Stones". As evidenced by digging under other stones left in the fields, getting them to this point was accomplished by dragging them over a prepared bed of cobblestones. Vincent Lee has suggested a method for getting them up the steep ramp, turning them and bringing them to the site.

Vincent Lee developed his method while working on similar problems on Easter Island. He devised a method that employs a track of ladder-like sections for the roadbed, a sled to place the stone on, and levers to move it forward.

Dressing and setting the stones in the precise way that made Inca construction so famous is also not known from written history. None of the stonemasons' methods survived to present day. Many theories have been proposed.

The most well accepted theory about how the Inca dressed the stones is that they used hammer stones to shape the blocks. Larger hammer stones were used to rough the blocks and smaller stones were used to finish and smooth the blocks. Trial experiments has proven that this is a viable method for reproducing the work of the Inca stonemasons.

Setting the blocks presents an obvious problem. The stones are massive with many weighing several tons. Moving and fitting must be an efficient and simple process to be worthwhile. Many theories exist about how it was accomplished. Again Vincent Lee has proposed a reasonable solution that does not rely on space alien interventions.

Vincent Lee has proposed a process that is not far from the method used by log workers to build log cabins. Essentially a stone must be maneuvered into place above its intended placement. Then the stone may be scribed with the exact form of the placement below and lowered into place. Mr. Lee has developed a method for holding the stones in place above their eventual location. His ideas seem to work well with the small protuberances and concavities seen at the base of so many stones. His suggested scribe tool has never been seen though and any minor refitting would be difficult to perform.

Source: Inca Architecture

Stone Technology

The Sun Temple that was constructed with huge red porphyry (pink granite) boulders. The stone quarry is named Kachiqhata (Salt Slope) and is located about 4 km (2.5 miles) away on the other side of the valley, by the upper side of the opposite south-western mountains. The boulders were carved partially in the quarries, and taken down to the valley's bottom. In order to cross the river Quechuas constructed an artificial channel parallel to the natural river bed that served for deviating the river's water according to conveniences. Therefore, while that water flowed through one channel the other was dry, thus stones could be taken to the other side of the valley. More over, the boulders were transported to the upper spot where the temple is erected using the inclined plane that is something like a road which silhouette is clearly seen from the valley's bottom. They had the help of log rollers or rolling stones as wheels, South-American cameloids' leather ropes, levers, pulleys, and the power of hundreds and even thousands of men. Today, on the way from the quarry to the temple there are dozens of enormous stones that people know as " tired stones" because it is believed that they could never be transported to their destination; those stones are the reason why some authors claim that the Sun Temple was unfinished when the Spanish invasion happened.

Massive, multi-sided blocks were precisely fitted together in interlocking 
patterns in order to withstand the disastrous effects of earth quakes.

Scientists speculate that the masonry process might have worked like this: after carving the desired shape out of the first boulder and fitting it in place, the masons would somehow suspend the second boulder on scaffolding next to the first one. They would then have to trace out a pattern on the second boulder in order to plan the appropriate jigsaw shape that would fit the two together. In order to make a precise copy of the first boulder's edges, the masons might have used a straight stick with a hanging plum-bob to trace its edges and mark off exact points for carving on the second boulder. After tracing out the pattern, they would sculpt the stone into shape, pounding it with hand-sized stones to get the general shape before using finger-size stones for precision sanding. Admittedly, this entire technique is merely scientific speculation. The method might have worked in practice but that doesn't mean this is how the ancient Quechua stonemasons did it.

"How were such titanic blocks of stone brought to the top of the mountain from the quarries many miles away? How were they cut and fitted? How were they raised and put in place? Now one knows, no one can even guess. There are archaeologists, scientists, who would have us believe that the dense, hard andesite rock was cut, surfaced and faced by means of stone or bronze tools. Such an explanation is so utterly preposterous that it is not even worthy of serious consideration. No one ever has found anywhere any stone tool or implement that would cut or chip the andesite, and no bronze ever made will make any impression upon it."

A. Hyatt & Ruth Verrill ----America's Ancient Civilizations

Jean-Pierre Protzen thinks the Verrills was wrong. He went to Cuzco and showed how river rocks could be used as hammers to pound stones into the desired shape.

"It appears that the Inca technique of fitting the blocks together was based largely on trial and error. It is a laborious method, particularly if one considers the size of some of the huge stones at Sacsahuaman or Ollantaytambo. What should be kept in mind, however, is that time and labour power were probably of little concern to the Incas, who did not have a European notion of time and had plenty of tribute labour from conquered peoples at their disposal."

Jean-Pierre Protzen ---Scientific American ---Feb. 1986

Was this monolith carved with stone tools?

Eric Von Daniken, in his series of books beginning with Chariots of the Gods theorized that the Andean stone-works were build by Alien/Gods who visited the earth long ago, bringing civilization to primitive man. The scientific community simply snickered.
Whatever one thinks of his theories, he brought to the public an awareness of the many ancient monuments on earth that seem to defy rational explanation.

Everybody who has traveled to Egypt, Mesopotamia, South America and many ancient places has seen it: the astonishing craftsmanship of these ancient stoneworkers. The precision fit of large stone blocks is eminent in both the Old and New World. It is hardly imaginable, that all of this should have been done by pure manual work alone. This very interesting link, Ancient Stone Technology, also  includes theories of Professor Davidovits from the Geopolymer Institute in France.
In short, his theory is that the 2 million blocks of limestone that make up the core of the pyramid of Chufu (Cheops), have not been cut into shape, but the limestone was solved in water, brought to the building place in small portions and then the blocks were cast in situ.  Even more interesting are his ideas on the precision-fit Inca walls: He puts forward a technique to soften the stone by use of acid plant extracts!
Another interesting website is STONE TECHNOLOGY. The ancient Egyptians were masters in working with stone. These pages document photographic evidence, historical research and contemporary debates on stone technology. Topics include predynastic stonewares, straight saws, circular saws, tube drilling and lathes - Photos, Research Papers and Newsgroup Debate Summaries.

Construction Theories: Part 2

Ancient Mystery: Perfect fitting, vitrified and moulded rocks

Many rocks have a strange look in Cusco and surroundings. As if they once were soft and have been moulded to give them form. They have a finish that gives them a look as a mirror, with a strong reflection, a shine, sometimes like metal or glass. Omnipresent in all vestiges, but only seen in two of the three construction styles. In the latest construction style, according to Alfredo Gamarra belonging to the Inca's, no vitrification is observed, but only stones treated with hammer and chisel, giving as a result walls in which the stones do not fit perfectly.

Read More:
Construction Theories: Part  2 >>





The Tiwanaku : Portrait of an Andean Civilization (Peoples of America)
by Alan L. Kolata

Kolata's book shows how, contrary to their implicit racism, the indigenous people of the Titicaca basin were more than ingenious enough to come up with ways to construct major monuments, carve incredible fantastic stone sculptures, and make the high arid plain of the altiplano bloom with potatoes, tubers and quinoa. These people had indoor plumbing and public sewage systems 1500 years ago! The Tiwanaku is a bit simplistic and general for the Andean or archaeological specialist; it is more appropriate for the first year University student or educated layman. Nonetheless, it brings together the current general state of knowledge about this important civilization in a highly readable fashion.

Valley of the Spirits : A Journey into the Lost Realm of the Aymara
by Alan L. Kolata

A millennium before the Incas built their empire, the city of Tiahuanaco sat at the center of a great empire of its own. Located on Lake Titicaca, the world's highest at 13,000 feet, in what is now Bolivia, at the very limits of agriculture, the people of Tiahuanaco developed an ingenious system of cultivation based on raised planting beds alternating with trenches that served as irrigation ditches. From A.D. 400 to 800, the temples of Tiahuanaco glittered with gold and the empire supported as many as 250,000 people. Kolata, who has spent more than 17 years excavating the empire's ruins, weaves together the story of Tiahuanaco and the region's modern inhabitants, the Aymara.

Lukurmata by Marc Bermann

Household archaeology, together with community and regional settlement information, forms the basis for a unique local perspective of Andean prehistory in this study of the evolution of the site of Lukurmata, a pre-Columbian community in highland Bolivia. First established nearly two thousand years ago, Lukurmata grew to be a major ceremonial center in the Tiwanaku state, a polity that dominated the south-central Andes from a.d. 400 to 1200. After the Tiwanaku state collapsed, Lukurmata rapidly declined, becoming once again a small village. In his analysis of a 1300-year-long sequence of house remains at Lukurmata, Marc Bermann traces patterns and changes in the organization of domestic life, household ritual, ties to other communities, and mortuary activities, as well as household adaptations to overarching political and economic trends. Prehistorians have long studied the processes of Andean state formation, expansion, and decline at the regional level, notes Bermann.

Ancient Aliens (2009) DVD

Is it possible that intelligent life forms visited Earth thousands of years ago, bringing with them technology that drastically affected the course of history and man s own development? Presented in the 1968 bestselling book Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Daniken, the theory of ancient aliens rocked people s beliefs in mankind s progress. Ancient cave drawings of strange creatures, remains of landing strips in Peru, and Indian texts that describe the flying machines of the gods were just a few of the odd archaeological artifacts cited by von Daniken as proof that ancient astronauts were well known to our ancestors. Produced with the exclusive cooperation of von Daniken himself, Ancient Aliens launches all-new expeditions to seek out and evaluate this evidence, with a concentration on the latest discoveries of the last 30 years, including unusual DNA findings on man s evolution and newly decoded artifacts from Egypt to Syria to South America. It is a balanced investigation into a theory some believe cannot be true, but many agree cannot be ignored.

El enigma de Tiahuanaco
by P. Guirao


Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo
by Jean-Pierre Protzen, Robert Batson (Illustrator)


In this book, Protzen describes and interprets the archaeological complex of Ollantaytambo, discovers temporal and functional links among its components, uncovers the planning and design criteria that governed its layout and architecture, and compiles all that has been written about the site.

Inca Architecture and Construction at Ollantaytambo

It is a modern-day mystery how the Inca, who did not have iron tools or knowledge of the wheel, mined and transported stones and dressed and fitted them in remarkable structures. Jean-Pierre Protzen has spent much of the past decade investigating the quarrying and stonecutting techniques of the Inca, and problems of Inca construction practices. His work is based principally on observation, careful measurements of structures, and experiments using stones and tools the Inca stonemasons would have used. Ollantaytambo, probably the best-preserved Inca town, offers an ideal laboratory with its well-thought-out site plans, its intimate integration of the built form with the natural environment, the unity of its architecture, and the sheer perfection of its cut-stone masonry. Offering the only extensive analysis of Inca construction practices, Protzen describes and interprets the archaeological complex of Ollantaytambo, discovers temporal and functional links among its components, uncovers the planning and design criteria that governed its layout and architecture, and compiles all that has been written about the site.

The Secret of the Incas - Myth, Astronomy, and the War Against Time

Step by step, Sullivan pieces together the hidden esoteric tradition of the Andes to uncover the tragic secret of the Incas, a tribe who believed that, if events in the heavens could influence those on earth, perhaps the reverse could be true. Anyone who reads this book will never look at the ruins of the Incas, or at the night sky, the same way again. Illustrations. (Note: This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.)

Between the Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawings of Ancient
Anthony F. Aveni

Searching for Lost Worlds: Machu Picchu: Secrets of the Incan Empire (1999)

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Archaeoastronomy and Stonework at Sacsayhuaman, Peru, Perfect fitting stones, moulded rocks, vitrification
Pre-Inca megalithic stonework