Cranleigh Arts Centre
West Surrey Area
Museums & Art Galleries
Machu Picchu and the Incas of Peru
of the lecture given by Gloria Broadbent, MA
on July 25th 2012
I recall Gloria Camino-Broadbent I will think of her as the lady with the big
heart - a biological trait which she shares with some 140 million others world-
wide who grow up in altitudes above 7500 feet. As well as larger hearts, they
have a greater lung capacity. Exploring and photographing at altitude therefore
presents no problem for our guest speaker, who was born and educated in Cusco,
Peru which at around 11000 feet is some 3000 feet higher than Machu Picchu.
Peru lies on the west coast of South America between Ecuador and Chile.
From west to east, it consists of a narrow band of coastline, then mountains
(the Peruvian Andes) and finally jungle - the great Amazon basin. Machu Picchu
was built at an altitude of 7711 feet between the mountains and the jungle.
Inca Empire was founded in 1200 AD and expanded rapidly from Colombia right down
to central Chile, becoming the largest empire in the Americas, and the world.
The Incas used a variety of methods to expand their empire, from the conquest of
some cultures through battle, to peaceful assimilation of others. As a result,
Inca textiles, ceramics, jewellery and so on show a great diversity of colours,
patterns and styles gleaned from a whole host of sources and influences.
The empire's capital was founded in Cusco. The official spoken language was
Quechua but there was no alphabet or written language and all was passed on
verbally. Illustrations of daily life and rituals were made by Guaman Poma de
Ayala but their purpose was to record what was by then being destroyed by the
Spanish conquistadors who had arrived in 1532. The manuscript was sent to King
Phillip III, to bring the perceived injustices of the Spanish invaders to his
attention. It disappeared and mysteriously surfaced at the Royal Danish Library
centuries later in 1908, though it had apparently been kept in the library since
at least 1660 and possibly earlier. One explanation is that the manuscript
passed through the hands of a Danish ambassador and collector of books who came
across it at the Madrid court.
An example of
a Quipu from the Inca Empire, currently in the Larco Museum Collection in Lima
Quipu, a collection of knots of different styles and colours tied in ropes
attached to a longer cord, was used extensively as an accounting and record
keeping device. The technique was not documented in later years and is lost to
history. The Quipu may also record literature, census data and so on, and
researchers at Harvard are striving to find ways to decode the information. One
can only wonder at what would be revealed should they succeed!
Machu Picchu was brought to the world's attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham
of Yale University, although the archaeologist John Rowe had previously
discovered references to Picchu, an estate of the Inca ruler Pacachuti (he who
shakes the earth), to the north of Cusco. Bingham had married Alfreda Mitchell,
granddaughter of Charles Tiffany and heiress to the family fortune, so although
given a small grant by Yale University, Bingham mostly funded himself. He led a
small expedition to the area, where locals guided them along the narrow granite
cliffs up to the site which was overgrown with vegetation. It must have been
quite a moment!
Machu Picchu, which means 'old mountain' in Quechua, was built in the mid
1400's, probably as a royal retreat and a centre of learning. The site would
have been selected because of its position relative to sacred landscape features
such as the River Uburamba and the mountains which are thought to be in
alignment with key astronomical events important to the Incas. They worshipped
the sun, and the mountains, and believed that every object in nature had its own
spirit. They sacrificed children to the gods in extreme cases - during drought,
famine, plagues and following earthquakes, or on the death of an emperor, and
due to the dry cold of the Andes, archaeologists have discovered a number of
The site at Machu Picchu was 530 metres long and 200 metres wide. Models
were used to plan the layout - an early example of urban planning to scale. The
composition is very ordered and harmonious. The upper, urban sector contained
the public buildings and the lower, agricultural sector contained workshops,
granaries and so on. Two granite slabs called mortars were used for grinding
corn. All buildings had three doorways in and out, and roofs were thatched.
The classical Inca architectural style of polished dry stone walls was used,
where blocks of granite, quarried nearby, were cut to fit tightly together
without mortar, rendering the structures more earthquake resistant. The Incas
did not use the wheel in any practical way though it exists in toys of the time
which shows that the principal was known to them. The steep terrain and dense
vegetation would have rendered its use impractical in any case, and exactly how
they moved and placed the enormous stones is a mystery, though it must have been
simply manpower, dragging the stones over a double ladder called a slipper. The
Incas had no strong metals to make tools to fashion the rocks - they used timber
or pounders made from stone. Water channels were included to ensure good
drainage - the source of water being from melted snow or rainfall.
One of the most striking features of Machu Picchu are the 12 or so acres of
terraces and the 3000 steps between them, which are in some cases fashioned out
of single blocks of white granite. One can only wonder at how this was achieved!
Planting crops on terraces overcame the problem of soil erosion. Many crops were
grown, including sweet potatoes, corn, quinoa, yams, chillis, and ordinary
potatoes which were dehydrated and could be stored for many years. The 600 or
so inhabitants were not self sufficient in agriculture however, and supplies
must have been brought in from outside.
| A view of the
terraces at Machu Picchu|
what happened at Machu Picchu remains a mystery. 164 human remains have been
found, mostly female. Under the rule of Emperor Huayana Capac, the Inca Empire
had reached its height. He decided, on his death, to divide the empire in two,
leaving some territory to his favourite son and the rest to his legitimate heir.
After he died in 1525, probably of smallpox carried from Europe by the Spanish
to Panama, civil war ensued. Machu Picchu was most likely abandoned at this
time as war depleted the male population who had not succumbed to disease. The
roads to the site would have become rapidly overgrown without organised,
continual maintenance. The Spanish, who arrived at the borders of the Inca
territories in 1528, came at an opportune moment to begin their conquest and it
took them just eight years to almost destroy the entire Inca culture. They were
mostly illiterate adventurers interested only in wealth or power. Gold and
silver, seized and melted down into ingots was their priority. By the time
scholars and administrators arrived it was too late. The guild of historians,
maintained by the Incas, was scattered and information lost. Machu Picchu would
not have been of much importance to either the diminished Inca state or the
plundering Spanish. It was forgotten as those who knew of its existence and
where to find it died out.
Machu Picchu is highly significant as a relatively intact cultural site and is a
source of immense national pride. It was declared a Peruvian Historical
Sanctuary in 1981, and a Unesco World heritage site. The level of tourism
permitted is being carefully balanced with the preservation of the site, as
scientists and archaeologists continue to excavate and rebuild this
Our guest speaker, Gloria Broadbent