Did the Incas Build All of Machu Picchu?

To many, Machu Picchu is the poster child of the Incan civilization. Like an ancient lost city, the ruins lay hidden from the world for centuries, even the Spanish invaders, until they were ‘revealed’ to archaeologist Hiram Bingham in 1911. Yet, for all its majesty, Machu Picchu isn’t the only impressive legacy of the Incas. I visited several ruins in Peru: Ollantaytambo, Chinchero, Machu Picchu, Qenqo, Sacsayhuaman, Pisaq, Qoriqancha—all breathtaking in their own way.

But, there are anomalies at Peru’s ancient archaeological sites. It doesn’t take a trained eye to see that there are three distinct, very different styles of stone construction, easy to overlook or ignore if you’re in a hurry. The conventional wisdom is that the Incas did all the masonry during their brief reign in the 13th-16th centuries. When the Spanish invaders arrived, everything was already in place. They made assumptions and recorded what they saw. Without a written language, the Incas cannot tell their own story.

Is there more than meets the eye?

Archaeologists (and tour guides) will say that the Incas employed different styles on structures depending on the functions they served. The more important the purpose—religious, astronomical, sacred—the more sophisticated and refined the construction. Are these assumptions valid? Let’s take a brief look at the three styles, which were first identified by a Peruvian researcher.

Alfredo Gamarra studied these structures over decades and came to the conclusion that they represent works done at three separate stages in human history, by three distinct civilizations, of which the Incas were the last. Gamarra’s son, Jesus, carries on his father’s work. It isn’t a linear history as we today believe, that is, the progression from stone age cultures with crude tools to our technologically advanced society today, but the possibility that human history spans a considerable amount of time during which humanity has undergone great cycles of development and decline. I made the trip to Peru in part to witness for myself this ancient stonework.

The Time of Hanan Pacha

The first stoneworks are identified by in situ carvings in outcroppings of bedrock. These monoliths can be very large. Gamarra uses the term Hanan Pacha to associate a historical time period for this kind of construction. It wasn’t a building technology so much as one of sculpting. Rock looks like it was neatly scooped out or sliced rather than hammered out with tools. The cuts take the form of niches, stairs, throne-like hollows, platforms, snakelike channels, straight grooves and circular holes, among others. The entire vertical face of a hillside in Ollantaytambo, for instance, seems to have been sheared off in places by an enormous blade. Plane surfaces are amazingly straight and smooth, showing no signs of chisel marks. There also is startling evidence of vitrification, which implies the application of extreme heat to melt rock surfaces to glass-like finishes.

Intihuatana stone ('Hitching Post of the Sun') has equinoctial alignments, Machu Picchu
Intihuatana stone (‘Hitching Post of the Sun’) has alignments with the equinoxes and cardinal directions, Machu Picchu
Excavation in stone, Ollantaytambo. Note the smooth, cut surfaces, having the appearance of being machined.
Excavation in stone, Ollantaytambo. Note the smooth, cut surfaces, having the appearance of being machined or removed by a giant blade.
Ollantaytambo. Giant stairways?
Staircase patterns and vertical walls, Ollantaytambo.
Throne-like excavation, Chinchero
Throne-like excavation, Chinchero
Straight-cut walls, Chinchero
Straight-cut interior walls, Chinchero. Stairs likely added much later.
Stone work, Qenqo
Stone work, Qenqo
Square cutout, Qenqo
Squared cutouts, Qenqo
Subterranean chamber, presumed mummification platform, Qenqo
Subterranean chamber, presumed to be ‘mummification platform’ with vitrified horizontal surface, Qenqo

Uran Pacha

The second style of construction consists of megalithic stones, some weighing 100 tons or more, fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle and with such precision that scarcely a human hair can be inserted in the mortarless joints. This culture (or time period) Gamarra calls Uran Pacha. Incredibly, the seams are not always straight but follow the unlikeliest curvilinear outlines. This must not have been easy to do. And for what purpose? The interior angles can be sharp, non-geometric. In many cases, such as in Cusco, there appear to be broad spatula-like strokes, as if the stones were shaped or smoothed. If your eyes didn’t deceive you, you’d swear the stones were soft or putty-like when worked. Even more curious is that where adjacent stones abut, the edges are sometimes bull-nosed or rounded, sometimes beveled, sometimes perfectly straight, but always tight. There are also curious knobs that project out from the bottom edges of many stones. These works inspire awe and wonder, how massive stones such as these could possibly have been precision-cut and moved from quarries tens of miles (or kilometers) away. The greatest example of Uran Pacha stonework is at Sacsayhuaman in Cusco where some of the larger stones, one weighing in excess of 100 tons, were laid. Vitrification also is found on Uran Pacha stones.

Precise alignment, Qoriqancha, Cusco
Precise alignment, Qoriqancha, Cusco
Evenly spaced trapezoidal niches, Qoriqancha, Cusco
Evenly spaced trapezoidal niches, Qoriqancha, Cusco
Curved wall, Qoriquancha, Cusco
Curved wall, Qoriqancha, Cusco. Gaps may be products of earth movement.
Non-linear stone masonry, Cusco
Non-linear stone masonry with interesting indentation marks, Hatun Rumiyoc Street, Cusco
Famed stone with twelve corners, Cusco
Famed stone with twelve corners, Hatun Rumiyoc Street, Cusco. It also appears to have been smoothed with a spatula-like or other flat tool.

Ukun Pacha

The final and latest style, one attributed to the Incas, is characterized by roughly cut stones fitted together with lots of clay mortar. The masonry has nowhere near the sophistication nor precision of the second style. It’s typically associated with ambitious construction projects built on a vast scale, most notably the marvelous, extensive terracing that seems to typify Inca sites. The appearance is more crude and don’t replicate the fit-and-finish of its Uran Pacha predecessor. Most of Machu Picchu reflects this style. This is the time period of Ukun Pacha.

Wall, Machu Picchu
Wall, Ollantaytambo
Gateway, Machu Picchu
Gateway, Ollantaytambo. Compare the rough portal stonework to the precision-cut stones in the rear.
Most of Machu Picchu is Ukun Pacha
Most of Machu Picchu is Ukun Pacha
Terracing, Pisaq
Terracing, Pisaq

Gamarra also makes a case for the three styles appearing in the above historical order. The Hanan Pacha always appears at the bottom or surrounded by the other two, the Uran Pacha below or surrounded by the Ukun Pacha. An example is the top image taken at Machu Picchu and the following.

Uran Pacha gateway, Ukun Pacha fill-in above, Ollantaytambo
Uran Pacha gateway, Ukun Pacha fill-in above, Ollantaytambo
Hanan Pacha base and ‘stair step’ of tower, Uran Pacha tower wall and trapezoidal wall enclosure, Ukun Pacha structure (upper left), Machu Picchu
Planed surfaces (left), Pisac
Planed surfaces (left) of Hanan Pacha, stone wall (right) of Uran Pacha, Pisac

To this day, the construction and true purpose of these sites puzzle modern-day architects, engineers and archaeologists. There are many theories but few hard facts. If there are vast differences in style and execution, should it be automatically assumed that the Incas constructed everything, or is it more reasonable to believe they added to or repaired whatever they already found? I favor the latter explanation. In the sixteenth century, the Spaniards asked that very question of the Incas when they beheld both Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) in Bolivia, presumably the birthplace of the Incas, and Sacsayhuaman. Their answer, as reported by the Spanish chronicler, Pedro Cieza de Leon, was that the complexes were already in ruins when they, the Incas, arrived.

Another bit of supporting evidence that these three construction types were executed in vastly different time periods is the presence of lichens on the Hanan and Uran Pacha stones, but not on the Ukun Pacha (Inca) constructions. Lichen growth has been used to date stones as early as 10,000 years old. It would be interesting if geologists were to carry out lichenometric analyses.

Lichen growth on Uran Pacha period stones, Ollantaytambo
Lichen growth on Uran Pacha period stones, Ollantaytambo

Did the Incas build Machu Picchu? Most of it, it would seem, but the rest remains a mystery. Who were the architects who built these amazing pre-Inca structures? Why have the builders gone to so much trouble? How were the heaviest stones moved? The same questions can be asked of the Great Pyramid of Giza and other similar monuments the world over. All I could do was stare in amazement and wonder how much we really don’t know of ancient human history and the technologies they possessed.

5 thoughts on “Did the Incas Build All of Machu Picchu?

Add yours

  1. That stonework is pretty amazing, isn’t it. How did they do it without modern tools, and how long did it take. Given the length of pre-Inca history it’s hard to believe the Inca did all the stonework in all the locations.


    1. Hi, Dave. Yes, it is amazing. The same kind of stonework is evident the world over, it appears. Makes you wonder. You and I have been to the same places at roughly the same time. I enjoy your posts, too. Thanks for writing.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great article ! High tech culture – wherever “they” came from. We ask ourselves : “Why they started with the most difficult constructions without any adequate tools ? No human being would have been so stupid !” Supposed there have been highly developed cultures long before our (kn)own history then this was not the beginning of their architecture but the climax. Once I asked one of best Dutch stonemasons Mr van Weel whilst restoring works at the Royal Palace in Amsterdam (Paleis op de Dam) because I heard about his interest in polygonal walls around the world: “You as such an experienced stonemason – do you have an explanation how “they” could have done it ?” – He replied: “I have no idea at all !” Greetings from Michael Bohring / German restorer and producer of pure anorganic chalks (www.silikat-kreiden.de) – The making of these chalks is nothing else than forming pure SiO2 (silica / silicon dioxide from colored powder to “colored” stones (even with results of vitrifiying on the front ends whilst drying process.


  3. The giants from Genisus 6 absolutely did this,along with fallen angels…they did the same thing all over this world…..


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