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HORUS VOL I. Issue 3

more Myths, Monuments, and Mnemonics: A solstice visit to Machu Picchu
David Griffard

[*!* Image: The editor visits the Intihuatana, Machu Picchu.]

[*!* Image: The Intihuatana from the entrance before solstice sunset.]

The June visit to Machu Picchu for the winter (southern hemisphere) solstice was a perfect follow-on to the Easter Island visit in March for the autumnal equinox. While it was a bit strange to jump from mid-summer to mid-winter in a matter of a few hours, landing at over 11,000 ft. in the Peruvian Andes seemed stranger. Yet, there stood a city surrounded by great mountain peaks that reached higher still.

Cuzco once represented the heart of the Inca Empire and the modern city still rests on foundation stones laid by Inca stonemasons. The city's name means "Navel of the World", a term already familiar from the native name for Easter Island. The Inca ruling class was distinguished by a term, "orejones," or "big ears" which derived from the practice of wearing large ear-plugs which we have already seen among the priesthood (the "Long Ears") on Easter Island as well. Heyerdahl's thesis that the similarities in stonework and culture suggest west: em migration from Peru probably deserves more consideration than it has received.

Only the hardiest and clever of peoples could have tamed these altitudes and have raised the great stone walls and other structures which stood for centuries on an earthquake-prone landscape. The size of the individually cut and fitted stones rivals any on the earth; some weigh more than 300 tons and blocks estimated at 100 to 200 tons are common. The intricacy with which their jig-saw shapes have been fitted together is unsurpassed anywhere. The construction of only one such wall must have been a massive undertaking; the energy required to construct them throughout the empire in this almost vertical world is hard, if not impossible, to imagine.

The Inca Empire was a renewed form of a culture which stretched back into the centuries and had covered a major portion of South America. Concentrated now in Peru, the once powerful dominance of the Inca is reflected in the preservation of Quechua, the Inca language, in a majority of the population.

The astronomical focus of Inca religious and civil organization is well known and there are probably few places where concern with preserving the memory of these ancient practices is as visible. The Inca King was himself the divine descendant of the Sun and his entire empire - from the symbolic organization of his court, to the geographic organization of the kingdom itself reflected this passion for the worship of the heavens which has survived, though a distant echo, into the present.

[*!* Image]

About 80 miles from Cuzco, the fabled "Lost City" of Machu Picchu sits atop an 8000 ft. steepwalled peak. A neighboring peak to the north, Huayna Picchu, also was topped with temple construction and was apparently an integral part of this mysterious, sacred citadel. Machu Picchu is said to have been a sanctuary where the sacred "Chosen Women" or "Virgins of the Sun" performed religious duties and important ceremonies connected with the annual cycles in their astronomical calendar.

Here there are two structures in particular which have attracted the attention of archaeoastronomers. One is the famous Intihuatana, the "hitching post of the Sun," and the Torreon where, inside a room with a smoothly curved wall along one corner, a large altar carved from natural rock occupies a large part of the floor space Its resemblance to part of the great Sun temple in Cuzco (now the Church of Santo Domingo) where a special room lined with gold caught the first rays of the winter solstice sunrise suggests a similar importance at Machu Picchu.

[*!* Image]

The Intihuatana, a large granite rock carved into a complex, oddly beautiful form, is known from tradition to be associated with observations of the Sun's motion but the particular method of its use remains a mystery. Unlike other examples of the form, the "hitching post" at Machu Picchu had escaped destruction by the Spanish. The shape of its base is designed to mark the cardinal points, as guides are fond to demonstrate with a magnetic compass. That astronomical North, which the Inca would have used as a reference, is within one degree or so of the magnetic measure at this latitude is a happy coincidence for magnetic compass "demonstrations" of Inca genius.

[*!* Image]

Perhaps more important is the orientation of the post itself. From the horizontal, the top of the "hitching post" seems to be elevated on an incline roughly equivalent to the latitude of Machu Picchu although the graded view may simply represent the angle toward a horizon of higher mountains. In either case, the westward side of the post faces basically toward their summer solstice sunset. This area on the horizon is highlighted in the time-exposure of the sky taken from the Intihuatana the night before the solstice. The camera sat directly on top the "hitching post" and was positioned as nearly as possible to aim in the same direction as its westward surface.

[*!* Image]

Several of the bright stars arcing toward the horizon in the middle of the photograph form the constellation Scorpio. The track of its primary star, Antares, marks the horizon at around 26 degrees southwest, close to the point where, at the latitude of Machu Picchu, their December (summer) solstice Sun would set. The next morning the June solstice Sun would rise in the northeast opposite this view so that the post itself could have served in observing and ceremonially marking both events. Some have suggested that the post served as a mount for ritual objects - perhaps a large gold sun-disc or a special gnomon used only during the solstice ceremonies. That Inca astronomer-priests might have designed other celestial alignments into this multifaceted "abstract" sculpture seems a likely possibility.

[*!* Image]

The other structure believed to have a direct relation to the winter solstice rests on the floor of the oddly shaped Torreon. It is apparently a ceremonial altar whose general form resembles a less damaged example in another location at the site. Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu, noted that the Torreon altar's cracked and broken appearance is consistent with what happens when intense heat is applied to granite ("... the surface of granite bowlders flakes off in shells around the point where the greatest heat strikes the stone" [Lost City of the Incas, 1948] and suggested that it had been a place for burnt offerings. He marveled however, at the amount of heat that must have been involved to have caused so much damage and, noted especially the "total absence of ashes or pieces of charcoal."

It could be imagined, according to known traditions, that the source of the thermal cracking of the boulder was the priestly practice of lighting the "new fire" in the solstice ceremony by focusing the rays of the Sun with a parabolic reflector. If so, the absence of traces of ash or charcoal would be more understandable.

[*!* Image]

Archaeoastronomers have suggested that the altar originally had a center ridge at one end (similar to the ridge shown in the intact altar) aligned with the window at the other which, in turn, was oriented toward winter solstice sunrise and that this was used for systematic measurement of the event [Krupp, Echoes of the Ancient Skies.] It is difficult to see, given the broken condition of the stone, how this could be established with much confidence but some such use of the building and its altar seems probable. Tradition associating the building with Sun worship reaches far into the past.

The strength of the Inca passion for their Deity of the Sun and his divine representative on Earth still echoes in the celebration of the Inti Raymi festival in Cuzco. The time of the winter solstice was the time of renewal in the ancient empire and a vestige of its former religious significance still glows each year in sacred ritual. At Sacsayhuarnan, a great ancient ruin atop a mountain overlooking CuzC0, well over 100,000 people (the crowd was estimated as high as 200,000) assembled for the grand ceremony. On the ritual field, representatives of the four quarters of the Inca empire in traditional costume perform offerings and dances, each in their rum, before the presiding "Inca". The ritual eventually focuses on the sacrifice of a llama; the heart cut from its living body is held aloft in offering toward the solstice Sun to assure the renewal of the cycle of time.

[*!* Image]

True, the re-enactment is little more than a dim memory of the original riches, solemnity, and splendor which must have characterized the event, set amid the massive stone walls and buildings which once stood whole here. Yet it preserves some small remnant of the degree to which ancient peoples invested faith in their astral beliefs and the dominance of the visible cycles of celestial bodies over their lives. The Inca passion for Sun worship and its echo in the present offer the visitor a brief but revealing glimpse into a world long past and the profound influence of astronomical worship generally over the course of human civilization.

[*!* Image]

more Myths, Monuments, and Mnemonics: A solstice visit to Machu Picchu

David Griffard

[*!* Image: The editor visits the Intihuatana, Machu Picchu.]

[*!* Image: The Intihuatana from the entrance before solstice sunset.]

The June visit to Machu Picchu for the winter (southern hemisphere) solstice was a perfect follow-on to the Easter Island visit in March for the autumnal equinox. While it was a bit strange to jump from mid-summer to mid-winter in a matter of a few hours, landing at over 11,000 ft. in the Peruvian Andes seemed stranger. Yet, there stood a city surrounded by great mountain peaks that reached higher still.

Cuzco once represented the heart of the Inca Empire and the modern city still rests on foundation stones laid by Inca stonemasons. The city's name means "Navel of the World", a term already familiar from the native name for Easter Island. The Inca ruling class was distinguished by a term, "orejones," or "big ears" which derived from the practice of wearing large ear-plugs which we have already seen among the priesthood (the "Long Ears") on Easter Island as well. Heyerdahl's thesis that the similarities in stonework and culture suggest west: em migration from Peru probably deserves more consideration than it has received.

Only the hardiest and clever of peoples could have tamed these altitudes and have raised the great stone walls and other structures which stood for centuries on an earthquake-prone landscape. The size of the individually cut and fitted stones rivals any on the earth; some weigh more than 300 tons and blocks estimated at 100 to 200 tons are common. The intricacy with which their jig-saw shapes have been fitted together is unsurpassed anywhere. The construction of only one such wall must have been a massive undertaking; the energy required to construct them throughout the empire in this almost vertical world is hard, if not impossible, to imagine.

The Inca Empire was a renewed form of a culture which stretched back into the centuries and had covered a major portion of South America. Concentrated now in Peru, the once powerful dominance of the Inca is reflected in the preservation of Quechua, the Inca language, in a majority of the population.

The astronomical focus of Inca religious and civil organization is well known and there are probably few places where concern with preserving the memory of these ancient practices is as visible. The Inca King was himself the divine descendant of the Sun and his entire empire - from the symbolic organization of his court, to the geographic organization of the kingdom itself reflected this passion for the worship of the heavens which has survived, though a distant echo, into the present.

[*!* Image]

About 80 miles from Cuzco, the fabled "Lost City" of Machu Picchu sits atop an 8000 ft. steepwalled peak. A neighboring peak to the north, Huayna Picchu, also was topped with temple construction and was apparently an integral part of this mysterious, sacred citadel. Machu Picchu is said to have been a sanctuary where the sacred "Chosen Women" or "Virgins of the Sun" performed religious duties and important ceremonies connected with the annual cycles in their astronomical calendar.

Here there are two structures in particular which have attracted the attention of archaeoastronomers. One is the famous Intihuatana, the "hitching post of the Sun," and the Torreon where, inside a room with a smoothly curved wall along one corner, a large altar carved from natural rock occupies a large part of the floor space Its resemblance to part of the great Sun temple in Cuzco (now the Church of Santo Domingo) where a special room lined with gold caught the first rays of the winter solstice sunrise suggests a similar importance at Machu Picchu.

[*!* Image]

The Intihuatana, a large granite rock carved into a complex, oddly beautiful form, is known from tradition to be associated with observations of the Sun's motion but the particular method of its use remains a mystery. Unlike other examples of the form, the "hitching post" at Machu Picchu had escaped destruction by the Spanish. The shape of its base is designed to mark the cardinal points, as guides are fond to demonstrate with a magnetic compass. That astronomical North, which the Inca would have used as a reference, is within one degree or so of the magnetic measure at this latitude is a happy coincidence for magnetic compass "demonstrations" of Inca genius.

[*!* Image]

Perhaps more important is the orientation of the post itself. From the horizontal, the top of the "hitching post" seems to be elevated on an incline roughly equivalent to the latitude of Machu Picchu although the graded view may simply represent the angle toward a horizon of higher mountains. In either case, the westward side of the post faces basically toward their summer solstice sunset. This area on the horizon is highlighted in the time-exposure of the sky taken from the Intihuatana the night before the solstice. The camera sat directly on top the "hitching post" and was positioned as nearly as possible to aim in the same direction as its westward surface.

[*!* Image]

Several of the bright stars arcing toward the horizon in the middle of the photograph form the constellation Scorpio. The track of its primary star, Antares, marks the horizon at around 26 degrees southwest, close to the point where, at the latitude of Machu Picchu, their December (summer) solstice Sun would set. The next morning the June solstice Sun would rise in the northeast opposite this view so that the post itself could have served in observing and ceremonially marking both events. Some have suggested that the post served as a mount for ritual objects - perhaps a large gold sun-disc or a special gnomon used only during the solstice ceremonies. That Inca astronomer-priests might have designed other celestial alignments into this multifaceted "abstract" sculpture seems a likely possibility.

[*!* Image]

The other structure believed to have a direct relation to the winter solstice rests on the floor of the oddly shaped Torreon. It is apparently a ceremonial altar whose general form resembles a less damaged example in another location at the site. Hiram Bingham, who discovered Machu Picchu, noted that the Torreon altar's cracked and broken appearance is consistent with what happens when intense heat is applied to granite ("... the surface of granite bowlders flakes off in shells around the point where the greatest heat strikes the stone" [Lost City of the Incas, 1948] and suggested that it had been a place for burnt offerings. He marveled however, at the amount of heat that must have been involved to have caused so much damage and, noted especially the "total absence of ashes or pieces of charcoal."

It could be imagined, according to known traditions, that the source of the thermal cracking of the boulder was the priestly practice of lighting the "new fire" in the solstice ceremony by focusing the rays of the Sun with a parabolic reflector. If so, the absence of traces of ash or charcoal would be more understandable.

[*!* Image]

Archaeoastronomers have suggested that the altar originally had a center ridge at one end (similar to the ridge shown in the intact altar) aligned with the window at the other which, in turn, was oriented toward winter solstice sunrise and that this was used for systematic measurement of the event [Krupp, Echoes of the Ancient Skies.] It is difficult to see, given the broken condition of the stone, how this could be established with much confidence but some such use of the building and its altar seems probable. Tradition associating the building with Sun worship reaches far into the past.

The strength of the Inca passion for their Deity of the Sun and his divine representative on Earth still echoes in the celebration of the Inti Raymi festival in Cuzco. The time of the winter solstice was the time of renewal in the ancient empire and a vestige of its former religious significance still glows each year in sacred ritual. At Sacsayhuarnan, a great ancient ruin atop a mountain overlooking CuzC0, well over 100,000 people (the crowd was estimated as high as 200,000) assembled for the grand ceremony. On the ritual field, representatives of the four quarters of the Inca empire in traditional costume perform offerings and dances, each in their rum, before the presiding "Inca". The ritual eventually focuses on the sacrifice of a llama; the heart cut from its living body is held aloft in offering toward the solstice Sun to assure the renewal of the cycle of time.

[*!* Image]

True, the re-enactment is little more than a dim memory of the original riches, solemnity, and splendor which must have characterized the event, set amid the massive stone walls and buildings which once stood whole here. Yet it preserves some small remnant of the degree to which ancient peoples invested faith in their astral beliefs and the dominance of the visible cycles of celestial bodies over their lives. The Inca passion for Sun worship and its echo in the present offer the visitor a brief but revealing glimpse into a world long past and the profound influence of astronomical worship generally over the course of human civilization.

[*!* Image]

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