Ancient Inca Sun Pillars Still Mark June Solstice
2009 07 16

By Nicholas Asheshov | LastDayoftheIncas.com

When the Sun Hits the White Granite Boulder, it’s the Solstice

On June 21, just over a week from now, the winter solstice, easily the most important day in the ancient Andes, falls due and brilliant rays of sun will be flooding just after dawn through carefully-designed Inca windows onto sharp once-a-year marker stones…


(Above: The Torreón at Machu Picchu is a tower built around a stone that still has a carved groove in it. Once a year, the groove is illuminated as the rising sun shines through one window each June solstice. The window also frames the Pleiades constellation, which was used by the Incas to decide when to plant potatoes. At its height in the early 16th century, the Incas’ 2,500-mile-long empire was littered with celestial observatories, which aided the Incas in the precise sowing and reaping of various crops–KM).


In the old days everyone would be out in the sharp cold dawn at huacas in every valley. I myself will be out too, at a white granite boulder the size of a pick-up truck, in what used to be Huayna Capac’s palazzio at the upper end of Urubamba, beside the cemetery where there is a fine long Inca wall.

I will, like the Incas 500 years ago, be looking up to a couple of stone towers, four metres in height, on a far ridge soaring a thousanad metres above. Beyond these, yet another thousand metres, loom the great snow peaks of the Chicon and Sawasira.

Between the stone towers, on this day a sharp ray of sun will slap precisely onto the white granite boulder, an intihuatanaa, a sacred carved map representing the Urubamba Valley.

I will feel reassured, as people all over the world did and do, that there are solid, precise, predictable events, or as Ecclesiastes puts it,
One generation goes, and another comes; the Earth remains forever. The sun also rises, and the sun goes down and hurries to its place where it rises.
In the Andes it is the mid-year solstice that has always been much the most important simply because it is the dry season and the skies are generally clear of clouds and haze. In December like as not it is pouring, good for the crops but not for astronomers.

I had pointed the sun pillars out some years ago to Kim Malville, Professor of Astronomy at the University of Colorado, and he has since written academic papers on them and on the solstice significance of other sites in the Sacred Valley including Machu Picchu, Llactapata, Ollantaytambo and, in the Cordillera Blanca, Chankillo.

The Urubamba sun pillars can be spotted from anywhere in town and they make a wonderful, steep couple-of-hours walk up to an ancient platform with an outstanding view over a dozen miles of the Valley. Brian Bauer, the Inca-ologist, reported them officially in 1995 as “useful examples of what Inca solar pillars may have looked like”. The reason that Brian says “may” is because there are hardly any left: they were exterminated by the Spaniards as of 1539 as part of the official campaign to destroy the Inca and other cultures.

Kim tells me today: “We’ve established over several June solstices that the Urubamba sun pillars mark the June solstice sunrise very precisely.
“I hope the boulder survives; we had heard that the folks in the cemetery had once thought of breaking it up to make a bridge for their clients.” The boulder is still very much here and elsewhere in the two-hectare main courtyards of the Palace are a couple more. Huayna Capac’s palace is at the centre of Susan Niles’s gripping The Shape of Inca History: Narrative and Architecture in an Andean Empire.

The close relationship of the stars to the Incas and their elaborate astronomy has fascinated the greatest of today’s Andeanist anthropologists, namely Tom Zuidema, of the University of Illinois, and Gary Urton, at Harvard. They have in their different ways combined careful measurements of the ruins, always focusing on the solstice angles and azimuths, and on the stories still told by communeros high in the Andes*.
The Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu is shut so the best place to watch the solstice is from a point near the quarry from which the great stones of Ollantaytambo were taken. It is one of the most thrilling views easily available in the Andes.

At seven o’clock in the morning of June 21 a sudden shaft of sunlight against a somber early-morning background hits first one, then another and another, walled Inca courts, the size of a small football field. These are part of a pyramid-like set of fine terraces just below the main ruins.
This is Broadway in the Andes.

To get there is an easy hour or so walking from the Inca bridge just above the town along a mule path. All around rise great steep dark slopes, peaks and narrow valleys outlined against translucent mists, whisps of cloud and sharp shafts of sunlight.

At the bottom of a thousand-foot scree is the Rio Vilcanota, including some rapids, pushing on down exactly the same route as it has for at least a thousand years, through ancient maize and potato fields. The Incas lined the sides of this river with stone and they’re still there.

In front rise the snowpeaks of the Veronica, ‘Tears of Gold’ in Quechua. In the light of a full moon these great mountains, from this vantage-point, stand out silhouetted against eternity.

On the other side of the river runs the railway track, laid 80 years ago, on its way, along the bottom of the pyramid, from Cusco down to Machu Picchu.

In the little trains people are looking at their electronic watches to see if they are on time.

Article from: Kim MacQuarrie’s Peru & South America Blog



Related Articles
Ancient Irish Tomb Big Draw at Winter Solstice
Peru finds human sacrifices from Inca civilization
'Pre-Inca' temple found in Peru
Viking Age Inca Indian Found in Norwegian Burial Ground?
Maasais, Canaanites And the Inca Connection


Latest News from our Front Page

NATO Exercise in Ukraine Coincided with MH-17 Shoot-down
2014 07 24
Rapid Trident was omitted from the flurry of coverage on the shoot-down MH-17. From the U.S. Army in Europe website: Rapid Trident supports interoperability among Ukraine, the United States, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations. The exercise helps prepare participants to operate successfully in a joint, multinational, integrated environment with host-nation support from civil and governmental agencies. ...
Warning of ’imminent’ terror attack in Norway
2014 07 24
Norwegians were warned Thursday of the concrete possibility of a terror attack occurring in that country at the hands of people with connections to an extremist group in Syria. A press conference was called in Oslo, Norway on Thursday where an announcement was made of a "possible concrete threat" to national security in that country from terrorists related to an extremist ...
Judge says government can access everything in a Gmail account
2014 07 24
All your emails are belong to us. At least that’s what the latest court order from a judge in New York says. The warrant, granted on June 11, states that the government can access all the content and files contained in a Gmail account. Yes, this is a significant blow to privacy. The subject of this specific search relates to a money laundering ...
Scotland Yard Spied on Grieving Families: secret surveillance after police victim shot seven times in head ’by mistake’
2014 07 24
More terror from the ’anti-terror’ brigade. Undercover police gathered evidence on 18 grieving families By Rob Evans and Vikram Dodd | The Guardian Undercover police officers secretly gathered intelligence over two decades on 18 families fighting to get justice from the police, it was revealed on Thursday. The intelligence covering high-profile campaigns was collected between the mid-1980s and 2005, and affected grieving families ...
Air Algerie AH5017 with 116 onboard goes missing for hours, found crashed in Mali
2014 07 24
An Air Algerie flight carrying 110 passengers and six crew members has reportedly crashed in Mali after having disappeared from radar early on Thursday morning between Burkina Faso and Algeria. A French Ministry of Defense official told Fox News that the two French fighter jets located the wreckage of the plane, which had crashed in Mali. An airport official additionally confirmed ...
More News »