From an engineering perspective, is Machu Picchu durable against threats from climate, earthquakes and tourism? (Photo Credit: Ana Paula LARREA)

Abstract

In this experiment we investigated why Machu Picchu is durable against threats from visitation, climate, and earthquakes. The experiment started months before the Academic Field Trip and required a vast amount of investigation. We began creating a research question which could be supported or rejected by relevant research. Our driving question was: From an engineering perspective, is Machu Picchu durable against threats from climate, earthquakes and tourism? To respond the research question we first investigated places where we could find evidence regarding our topic and other sources such as books or websites. Later, we wrote a research proposal stating what our goals were and how we would achieve them. During the Academic Field Trip we took pictures of Inca construction and analyzed the engineer elements. Furthermore, we interviewed our guides from Camps International to get more information to be able to give a clear response to our driving question. The research pretends to highlight the key characteristics of the Inca structures and to what degree are these structures durable.

Research Question

From an engineering perspective, is Machu Picchu durable against threats from climate, earthquakes and tourism?

This question is very specific because it focuses on one Incan site from an engineering perspective. More specifically, this question highlights how geographic features such as earthquakes and climate in addition to damage caused by tourists impact the durability of Machu Picchu. The variables that are mentioned above, earthquakes, humid climate and tourism, impact were chosen because they are very important problems that any frequently visited place like Machu Picchu has to take in consideration. The three variables mentioned above are crucial to determine the durability of the constructions in ancient sites and specifically, Machu Picchu. The analysis of Machu Picchu will give readers the ability to interpret new ideas. Some of these could be how to recognize whether other ancient wonders can have sustainable paths of visitation or how to recognize key elements of construction.

Hypothesis

The construction techniques of stone cutting architectural designs used by the Incas when assembling rocks reveal how the ruins in Machu Picchu are durable against constant tourist visitation, earthquakes, and humid climate.

Our hypothesis suggests that Machu Picchu´s durability derives from the building techniques and architectural designs implemented by the Incas. The construction techniques of stone cutting aid the durability of the structures against the humid climate since they are perfectly aligned and it does not produce any harm. We predict that this assembling rocks creates stability and provide resistance towards earthquakes. Architectural designs also provides resistance in the structures when it comes to constant visitation from tourists since the ruins were designed to fully support that amount of activity in the city. The hypothesis allows us to consider relevant evidence to confirm or reject prove our proposed answer.

Sun Temple Trail (Photo Credit: Sara de la Puente)

Research Methods

For our research we will rely on published books found at Colegio Menor’s library about Inca life and construction which will provide clear explanations on the construction methods used at the time. Many of these texts have won international awards for their accuracy and vast information on Inca life. Such books will be relevant because they can help further analyze why constructions like Machu Picchu are resistant to the variables mentioned in the research question. During the academic field trip, we learned some methods of construction the Incas used; specifically, we learned how the city of Cusco was built. By putting together information about both cities, we could deduct that both settlements were similar thus giving the possibility to connect key elements about both cities. EBSCO databases were also searched looking for keywords related to our research topic such as: “Inca”, “Machu Picchu”, and “construction”. By ensuring qualitative information, this research group could answer the question: From an engineering perspective, is Machu Picchu durable against threats from climate, earthquakes and visitation? The method of centering the research on published sources allowed for the use of credible evidence that complemented process of investigation and revision before being published ensuring credibility to the published information used.

Inca Roca street in Cusco (Photo Credit: Ana Paula Larrea)

Field observations of Machu Picchu enabled us to ask our tour guides about the durability of Inca construction. Furthermore, compiling relevant of photographical evidence that we captured during our trip allowed the research group to have a better response to the research question. The photographic evidence of Inca structures is very useful as photos were taken from primary sources providing accurate information, specifically of Inca constructions and the inclined walls both in Cusco and Machu Picchu; we use this for having a better look on how constructions were made and why they are so resistant rather than basing our knowledge from what our tour guide explained. The information collected during the academic field trip facilitated an analysis of the evidence so that the group was able to respond. All of the evidence above helped us answer the research question as we proved the method of construction of the Incas is the cause of its durability against climate, earthquakes, and visitation.

Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: Ana Paula Larrea)

Conclusion

We can fully confirm our hypothesis because we are able to verify that the way the Incas built Machu Picchu includes advanced architectural and engineering techniques, enabling the durability of Incan constructions against earthquakes and climate. Some of these techniques include making walls inclined instead of making them straight as Ancient Cuzco: Heartland of the Inca by Brian S. Bauer illuminates, “One example (of durable construction) is an entire section of wall that still remains in the city of Cuzco. These walls were not made vertical, but slightly inclined” (Bauer, 2010, p.128). Although the phrase refers to Cusco, as mentioned above, the characteristics that both cities’ constructions share enable us to predict that both cities have been constructed with similar techniques and therefore having similar resistance to the variables of humid climate, earthquakes and tourism. The inclination degree of the walls helped the structures resist more weight and remain still during earthquakes. Additionally, we conducted other research and found out that some Incan walls were made out by uniting big pieces of rock just by polishing them so that they can fit perfectly with each other. For instance Calliope book states, “ The stones were so carefully cut and fitted together that even today a knife blade cannot be inserted between them” (Baker, March 2000, p.18). These walls are very solid and their chances of falling down are very minimal, as the book a Calliope states “Some of these gigantic stones in Cuzco’s buildings, such as those used in Sacsayhuaman´s foundation, weighed as much as 126 tons a piece” (Baker, March 2000, p.18). As a group, we gathered information about how the structures of Machu Picchu have resisted erosion and tourism-caused effects due to its increase in popularity. However, there are also strong pieces of evidence such as that Machu Picchu has been damaged in the last few years due to natural conditions such as weather and tectonic plate movements. Still, Machu Picchu has been maintained in pretty good conditions despite this significant increase in tourism. Machu Picchu´s maintenance is important for other touristic locations with similar characteristics because it has proven that offering sustainable tourism is possible while maintaining the ruins in good conditions. Machu Picchu’s constructions resistance depends on the engineering techniques which have been proven to maintain durable structures . Similarly, tourists´ respect for the sites is important to sustain a good image about Machu Picchu. After finalizing the research, there is still a question that can still be discussed. Given that Machu Picchu’s structures have been proven to be resistant, why aren’t modern engineering practices guiding their designs based on planning that has been proven sustainable like Machu Picchu ones.

References

Balaguer, A. (2008). Machu Picchu. Americas, 60(2), 6-13.

De la Puente, S. (2017). Sun Temple Trail [Cell Phone Photograph] Self-Published

De la Puente, S. (2017). Machu Picchu [Cell Phone Photograph] Self-Published

Larrea, A. (2017). Streets in Cusco [Cell Phone Photograph] Self-Published

Larrea, A. (2017). Ruins in Machu Picchu [Cell Phone Photograph] Self-Published

Larrea, A. (2017). Machu Picchu [Cell Phone Photograph] Self-Published

Malcom C. Jensen. Newman, S. P. (1992). The Incas (1st ed., North/South American Indian tribes). New York, New York: Franklin Watts.

Waryncia, L., Bakker, R. F., & Baker, C. F. (Eds.). (n.d.). The Incas of Peru (Calliope, V.10, N.7, March 2000.).

Machu Picchu (Photo Credit: Sara de la Puente)

Created By
Ana Paula Larrea
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