Sacsayhuaman is a walled complex near the old city of Cusco, at an altitude of 3,701 m. or 12,000 feet. The site is part of the City of Cuzco, which was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1983. It was built by the prehistoric indigenous people of the Killke culture about 1100 AD. They were superseded by the Inca, who occupied and expanded the complex beginning about 1200 AD. Kelly Hearn, "Ancient Temple Discovered Among Inca Ruins", National Geographic News, 31 March 2008, accessed 12 Jan 2010
Some scholars believe the walls were a form of fortification. Kelly Hearn, "Ancient Temple Discovered Among Inca Ruins", National Geographic News, 31 March 2008, accessed 12 Jan 2010 Others believe the complex was built specifically to represent the head of a puma, the effigy shape which Sacsayhuaman together with Cuzco forms when seen from above. There is much unknown about how the walls were constructed. The stones are so closely spaced that a single piece of paper will not fit between many of the stones. This precision, combined with the rounded corners of the limestone blocks, the variety of their interlocking shapes, and the way the walls lean inward, is thought to have helped the ruins survive devastating earthquakes in Cuzco. The longest of three walls is about 400 meters. They are about 6 meters tall. The estimated volume of stone is over 6,000 cubic meters. Estimates for the weight of the largest limestone block vary from 128 tonnes to almost 200 tonnes.Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World, ed. Chris Scarre, 1999 pp. 220-3Readers Digest: "Mysteries of the Ancient Americas: The New World Before Columbus", 1986, p. 220-1
The Spanish harvested much rock from the walls of the structure to build churches in Cuzco. This is why the walls are in perfect condition up to a certain height, and missing above that point.
Sacsayhuaman is also noted for an extensive system of underground passages known as chincanas, which connect the complex to other Inca ruins within Cuzco.
On March 13, 2008, archaeologists discovered the ruins of an ancient temple in the periphery of Sacsayhuaman. It also is believed to have been built by the Killke culture, and scholars believe this indicates the site was a ceremonial center for religious as well as political activities. These people built structures and occupied the site for hundreds of years before the Inca, between 900 and 1200 AD.
In January 2010, parts of the site were damaged during periods of heavy rainfall in the region. Heavy rainfall in Peru BBC News, 26 January 2010
Theories about construction of the megalithic walls
Vince Lee is an author, architect, and explorer who has studied and consulted on various ancient sites where people moved large megaliths. He theorized that the blocks at Sacsayhuaman were put into place by carving them and then lowering them into place. The stones would have been precisely carved in advance to create the tight joints made to fit into prepared pockets in the wall. Then the stones would be towed up a ramp and above the wall, where they would be placed on top of a stack of logs. The logs would be removed one at a time to lower the stones into place.
Lee supervised an experiment to see if his proposed theory could work on a small scale; this accomplished limited success. If the Incas were unable to obtain the tight joints the first time, they would have had to be able to lift the stones up to correct their mistakes. The modern workers were not able to obtain as much precision as the Incas, but they thought with more practice, they could have achieved more precise joints and done it with larger stones.
The researchers conducted experiments in nearby Ollantaytambo to reenact the work of towing megalithic stones, to understand how the Inca had managed it. This also led to limited success. When they tried to lower a one-ton stone down a mountain, they lost control and it rolled down on its own. This is probably not the way the Incas did it. The researchers concluded that they needed practice to maintain control of the descent.
Another re-enactment of ancient work was to tow a megalith of close to 10 tons over cobblestones. About 12 people pushed the megalith from behind, while more than 100 men pulled on several ropes from the front. They succeeded in towing it at a fairly quick pace. The ancient Incas built an extensive road system that included 25,000 km of roads. Some of the roads were embellished with stone pavings.Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World, ed. Chris Scarre 1999 p. 249-251 Additional experiments were done at other locations to move large megaliths. (See the List of megalithic sitesList of efforts to move and install stones).
Today, Peruvians celebrate Inti Raymi, the annual Inca festival of the winter solstice and new year. It is held near Sacsayhuaman on June 24. Some Cusquenos use the large field within the walls of the complex for jogging, tai chi, and other athletic activities.
List of megalithic sites
BBC Article New Discoveries at Sacsayhuaman
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