Research Question: What do ruins in Ollantaytambo reveal about Incan theology?
This research question enables a specific investigation of how Ollantaytambo, a royal estate and fortress in the Sacred Valley of Southern Peru, yields meaningful insight regarding the Inca Empire’s religious beliefs and practices. This acute focus allows for a concentrated and sustained analysis of Ollantaytambo’s theological significance within the context of the architectural design, engineering methods, and geographic location of a significant archeological site. As a result, the comprehensive answer of this particular research question facilitates robust and substantive discussion about Incan theology.
Ruins in Ollantaytambo (photo credit: Cooper Henderson)
Hypothesis: Ruins in Ollantaytambo reveal the nature and identity of specific Incan deities as well as substantive details about specific Incan religious beliefs and practices.
This hypothesis directly and fully answers our research question regarding what insight about Inca theology is revealed by the ruins in Ollantaytambo. By hypothesizing that this archeological site reveals meaningful characteristics of specific Gods within Incan theology, this hypothesis allows for a well-organized consideration of relevant evidence to confirm or reject this component of our proposed answer. Furthermore, this hypothesis’ claim that Ollantaytambo reveals substantive details about Incan religious beliefs and practices provides a second concrete opportunity to confirm or reject our proposed answer.
Terraces in Ollantaytambo (photo credit: Cooper Henderson)
Research Methods: Carefully reviewing peer-reviewed academic research accessed via EBSCO and primary sources observed in the field enabled a meaningful analysis of what ruins in Ollantaytambo reveal about Incan theology.
The choice of peer-reviewed academic research guaranteed a credible and trustworthy foundation for this research, based upon the scholarship of well-qualified experts. More specifically, the use of EBSCO offered an authoritative and nuanced base of knowledge upon which this research group could develop our thinking about the intersection of Incan architecture and theology generally, as well as the particular context of ruins in Ollantaytambo. This targeted application of peer-reviewed academic research enables a credible and cogent answer to our research question, thereby allowing us properly scrutinize our research question.
Firsthand observations of the archeological sites in Ollantaytambo provided a powerful source of anecdotal and photographic evidence of the information and theories presented within the above mentioned peer-reviewed academic research. By asking questions of tour guides in Ollantaytambo about the theological significance of the ruins and documenting theologically salient elements of the archeological site with photographs, this research group collected data in the field which facilitates substantive analysis and discussion related to our research question.
Sun Temple and Ruins in Ollantaytambo (photo credit: Cooper Henderson)
Conclusions: Ruins in Ollantaytambo do not reveal the identity of specific Incan deities, but this archeological site does reveal the general nature of Incan deities and offer substantive details about specific Incan religious beliefs and practices.
We must reject our hypothesis because ruins in Ollantaytambo do not clearly reveal the identity or nature of specific Incan deities. However, we can make credible assertions regarding the general nature of Incan deities, which demonstrates the undeniable theological significance of this archeological site. While we fail to substantiate the initial claim within our hypothesis, we can confirm the hypothesis’ second claim that ruins in Ollantaytambo reveal substantive details about specific religious beliefs and practices. Despite the rejection of our hypothesis, this research into the theological significance of ruins in Ollantaytambo yields consequential insight regarding the Incas’ religious motivations and uses for this archeological site.
While our study of the ruins in Ollantaytambo fails to authoritatively reveal the identity of specific Incan deities, research conducted by astronomers and archaeologists does enable us to offer evidence-based speculation regarding the general nature of Incan deities. After documenting the astronomical contexts of important Incan monuments, researchers have confirmed that the most important structures in Ollantaytambo face the sunrises of the December and June solstices (Zawaski and Malville 2007). This orientation of such elaborate structures towards the solstices, paired with the fact that Ollantaytambo served as an estate for royals, who were the focus of many solar ceremonies (van der Jagt 2015), indicates that certain Incan deities likely had a direct connection to the sun. Thus, despite our inability to declaratively identify specific Incan deities based on ruins in Ollantaytambo, we can credibly assert, based on this archeological site, that the general nature of Incan deities was largely influenced by and intertwined with important solar events.
The south-eastern boundary of the Sun Temple (photo credit: Cooper Henderson)
Ruins in Ollantaytambo do reveal substantive details about specific Incan religious beliefs and practices. This insight regarding religious beliefs and practices can be gleaned from carefully analyzing the astronomical orientation and structural features of important ruins in relation to each other. For example, the wall of six monoliths which formed the south-eastern boundary of the Sun Temple, arguably the most important ruin in Ollantaytambo, faces the location on Pinkuylluna Hill where the sun rises and the Pleiades constellation sets during the June solstice (Zawaski and Malville 2007). The Incas constructed a narrow stone wall upon this portion of Pinkuylluna Hill where, from the viewpoint of the Sun Temple, the sun rises and the Pleiades constellation sets during the June solstice. Within this narrow stone wall, the Incas built four niches, each approximately 2 meters in height, all of which directly face the aforementioned astronomical events. These geometrically precise niches, oriented towards theologically significant astronomical events, suggest the Incas used these niches to leave religious offerings or sacrifices, allowing us to credibly assert that ruins in Ollantaytambo do reveal substantive details about specific Incan religious beliefs and practices.
Pinkuylluna Hill, as seen from the Sun Temple (photo credit: Cooper Henderson)
Beyond revealing the general nature of Incan deities and substantive details about specific Incan religious beliefs and practices, the orientation of both the Sun Temple as well as the geometrically precise stone wall on Pinkuylluna Hill towards astronomical events associated with the June solstice yields consequential insight regarding the Incas’ religious motivations and uses for this archeological site. Given that observing the solstice sunrise does not serve any demonstrable agricultural or calendrical purpose, we agree with the assertions of archaeologists and astronomers (Zawaski and Malville 2007) that these ruins in Ollantaytambo were in all likelihood primarily used for public ritual performances of some theological importance.
Panorama of Ollantaytambo Terraces and Pinkuylluna Hill (photo credit: Ivan Mlinaric)
Kerry van der, J. (2015, May 2). Secrets of the Sacred Valley. Sydney Morning Herald, The. p. 12.
Zawaski, M.J., & Malville, J.M. (2007). An Archaeoastronomical Survey of Major Inca Sites in Peru. Archaeoastronomy, 21(20), 20-
Henderson, C. (2017). Ruins of Ollantaytambo [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.
Henderson, C. (2017). Terraces of Ollantaytambo [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.
Henderson, C. (2017). Sun Temple and Ruins in Ollantaytambo [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.
Henderson, C. (2017). Sun Temple [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.
Henderson, C. (2017). Pinkuylluna Hill [Cell Phone Photograph]. Self-published.
Mlinaric, I. (2008). Ollantaytambo Panorama [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 27, 2017 from https://www.flickr.com/photos/eye1/3183902719