Construction techniques used by the Incas and what they reveal about how they used geographic locations to their advantage. (photo credit: Mariano mantel)


This research paper focuses on the importance of the materials and constructions methods used by the Incas, and how these have contributed to the current state that Machu Picchu is in. It is centered on materials such as andesite and granite, and how the characteristics of these rocks have helped Machu Picchu survive erosion and natural disasters such as earthquakes. In addition, this paper will reveal engineering methods the Incas used. This paper was written by students in Colegio Menor San Francisco de Quito, in Quito, Ecuador, to answer a question they proposed themselves during an academic field trip to Cusco, Peru.

All the information needed to answer the question was carefully researched through online books and articles on the search engine of Google Scholar, as well as primary sources found in Peru, such as ruins and temples. The tour guides provided information to help the students achieve a more thorough answer.

The students came to a conclusion that the building methods used by the Incas provide an explanation as to why the city of Machu Picchu sis so well maintained, and how they used geographical surroundings to the benefit of their structures.

The tenth grade students in Peru. (Photo Credit: Johanna Nylander)

Research Question: What building techniques did the Incas use in Machu Picchu that contribute to how intact the city looks today, and how does that allow us to have a better understanding about how they used geographic locations to their benefit?

Our research question requires a thorough investigation of Machu Picchu’s durability, enabling a specific analysis of the Inca Empire’s advanced technology. The question is directly related to the Inca civilization because we are analyzing the way Incan constructions were built and how they made them last for almost 600 years. The Incas had an interesting way of doing things symmetrically and with harmony among each piece, resulting in masterful engineering that has gained admiration from many viewers. Consequently, the information utilized to answer this research question can be concentrated and analyzed for the importance of Machu Picchu’s geographical location and what engineering techniques the Incas used to create such amazing 15th century structures that still stand today.

The city of Machu Picchu today (Photo Credit: unsplash)

Hypothesis: The use of materials like andesite and engineering strategies such as the careful and precise inlaying of stones are building techniques which have helped preserve the beauty of Machu Picchu, a city surrounded by rock formations which helped reduce the distance the Incas had to carry the stones.

Our predicted answer is that unique building techniques, such as the precise laying of gigantic rocks, and the materials used, such as andesite and granite which can be found close by, have helped Machu Picchu withstand centuries of erosion, weather damage, and natural disaster, preserving the pristine city. Our hypothesis fully answers every aspect of the question thoroughly and concisely. We predict that the careful and precise laying of stones on top of each other has kept the site intact, despite it being affected mildly by earthquakes and the effects of weather. Furthermore, we hypothesize that the use of huge rocks and a special mortar to bind them together has made a big difference on the state Machu Picchu is in today. Most structures have barely shifted over the last hundred years and still show their original grandeur. This hypothesis can be either fully confirmed or disputed using evidence from Machu Picchu, such as cracks or significant shifts in the structures that will tell us if the material or methods used by the Incas are what have kept it intact.

Interlocked blocks at Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: Domonic Sherony)

Research Methods: Using Google Scholar for academic research as well as primary sources observed during the academic field trip allowed significant analysis of how different building techniques, and geographic considerations have contributed to the maintenance of the city.

The use of Google Scholar enabled us to find credible and legitimate journal articles, scholarly literature, and academic resources from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, and universities. The Google Scholar database is full of specific details about the Inca civilization. It has plenty information on how the Incas built their cities and how they used their geographic surroundings, with a focus on Machu Picchu. With a large base of credible evidence we were able to come up with a fully analyzed and concrete answer to our question.

During our time in Peru, we got to observe firsthand the work of the Incas. By visiting Machu Picchu and other archeological sites, we got the answers we needed by collecting evidence and asking the guide and locals. We asked Percy, our guide, how the ruins stand to this day and we got important architectural explanations to better answer our research question. We also found out about the materials used and the engineering side of the story.

Conclusions: Inca building techniques, such as interlocking blocks, do contribute to how intact Machu Picchu looks today by creating incredibly resistant structures, and this helps us get a better understanding of Inca engineering in terms of irrigation and terracing systems, as well as their mountainous locations.

We fully confirm our hypothesis.The various building materials and techniques used are the primary reasons why Machu Picchu today looks almost like it looked when the Incas built it. We reached this conclusion using evidence found online and gathered on site. The confirmation of our hypothesis leads us to wonder why the Incas cared so much about preserving this ancient city.

Well maintained structures in Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: miltonhuallpa95)

Techniques such as stone cutting, and well-fitted masonry contributed to the maintenance of the city by producing very resistant structures. “The Shape of Inca History,” a book written by Susan A. Niles, a professor of anthropology at Lafayette College, helps us distinguish the different building methods used by the Incas, “ Well-fitted masonry characterizes some structures at all the sites… Walls are generally battered, and niches and door openings may be noticeably trapezoidal, particularly in buildings with fitted masonry.” (Niles, 1999, p.268). Niles describes the method of well fitted masonry used by the Incas. This evidence is relevant because the use of well carved walls and niched walls is what helped the structure maintain stability and resistance. “The Inca World,” a book edited by Laura Laurencich Minelli, has also some very intricate information on the Incas’ building techniques, “To cut and dress stones the Incas used simple river cobbles of various sizes as hammer stones… Almost everywhere I found building blocks in all stages of preparation, from raw stone, to roughly shaped, to finely finished ones.” (Laurencich, 1992, p.212). Laurencich Minelli describes another very commonly used technique for Inca building, known as stone cutting. As Laurencich mentions, in the many places she visited, she saw a pattern of the same building method being used. This helps the structures maintain their form because cutting stones to perfections allows them to be firm and solid. Niles also explains why and how the Incas used their geographic location, “At places such as Pisac and Machu Picchu, buildings are arrayed on top of mountains or ridges and, at these and other sites, are often oriented to give a direct view of a mountain or other prominent feature of the landscape.” (Niles, 1999. p,268). Clearly the places the Incas chose for building were not just chosen for their beauty, but because when constructing they used the landscape to its full advantage by outlining the natural contour of the mountain. This use of geographic locations enabled the Incas to develop advanced agricultural terraces and advanced irrigation systems. The location allowed the Incas to make their structures be one with the mountain, which contributes to how well preserved the city is because the structures have enormous rocks supporting them.

Wall in the city of Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: littlevanities)
Terraces outlining the shape of the mountain in Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: Max Pixel)

The archaeologists Kelly Hearn and Jason Golomb had stated that the building techniques used by the Incas to create the architectural structures in Machu Picchu were essentially “ The stone bricks were simply put together without any material to stick them, it was a simple unification between stones with the same cut ” (Hearn & Golomb, 2007) . Therefore, our research done has confirmed our prediction regarding how the Incas made their buildings last for many centuries. This building method is so durable because it does not require materials that can be easily deteriorated over time. In conclusion, the information that has been discovered and synthesized is useful to know our roots in the building aspects that lead to us constructing in symmetrical shapes during this era.

Works Cited

Hearn,K., & Golomb, J. (2007) Machu Picchu's Mysteries Continue to Lure Explorers. Retrieved from

Laurencich Minelli, L. (1992) The inca world. Retrieved from

Littlevanities. (2005). Colors of the stones, Machu Picchu [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

Mantel, M. (2015). Behind the walls [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

Niles, S. A. (1999) The shape of inca history. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press

Niles, S. A. (1999) The shape of inca history. Retrieved from

Pixel, M. (2016). Machu Picchu Terraces [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

Sherony, D. (2010). Machu Picchu - wall detail [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

Unsplash. (2017). Machu Picchu Mountains [Online Photograph]. Retrieved March 28, 2017 from

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