email a friend iconprinter friendly iconRediscovering Machu Picchu
Page [ 2 ] of 6

An Ancient Inca Tradition

A story told to some of the early Spanish chroniclers in regard to that distant historical event runs somewhat as follows:

Thousands of years ago there lived in the highlands of Peru a megalithic folk who developed a remarkable civilization, and who left, as architectural records, such cyclopean structures as the fortresses of Sacsahuaman and Ollantaytambo. These people were attacked by barbarian hordes coming from the south—possibly from the Argentine pampas. They were defeated, and fled into one of the most inaccessible Andine cañons. Here, in a region strongly defended by nature, they established themselves; here their descendants lived for several centuries. The chief place was called Tampu Tocco. Eventually regaining their military strength and becoming crowded in this mountainous valley, they left Tampu Tocco, and, under the leadership of three brothers, went out of three windows (or caves) and started for Cuzco. (see Markham's "Incas of Peru," Chapter IV)

The migration was slow and deliberate. They eventually reached Cuzco, and there established the Inca kingdom, which through several centuries spread by conquest over the entire plateau and even as far south as Chile and as far north as Ecuador.

This Inca empire had reached its height when the Spaniards came. The Spaniards were told that Tampu Tocco was at a place called Pacaritampu, a small village a day's journey southwest of Cuzco and in the Apurimac Valley. The chroniclers duly noted this location, and it has been taken for granted ever since that Tampu Tocco was at Pacaritampu.

The Significance of "Windows"

Tampu means "tavern," or "a place of temporary abode." Tocco means "window." The legend is distinctly connected with a place of windows, preferably of three windows from which the three brothers, the heads of three tribes or clans, started out on the campaign that founded the Inca empire.

So far as I could discover, few travelers have ever taken the trouble to visit Pacaritampu, and no one knew whether there were any buildings with windows, or caves, there.

It was part of our plan to settle this question, and Dr. Eaton undertook the reconnaissance of Pacaritampu. He reports the presence of a small ruin, evidently a kind of rest-house or tavern, pleasantly located in the Apurimac Valley, but not naturally defended by nature and not distinguished by windows. In fact, there are neither windows nor caves in the vicinity, and the general topography does not lend itself to a rational connection with the tradition regarding Tampu Tocco.

The presence at Machu Picchu of three large windows in one of the most conspicuous and best-built structures led me to wonder whether it might not be possible that the Incas had purposely deceived the Spaniards in placing Tampu Tocco southwest of Cuzco when it was actually north of Cuzco, at Machu Picchu.

The Incas knew that Machu Picchu, in the most inaccessible part of the Andes, was so safely hidden in tropical jungles on top of gigantic precipices that the Spaniards would not be able to find it unless they were guided to the spot. It was naturally to their advantage to conceal the secret of the actual location of Tampu Tocco, a place which their traditions must have led them to venerate. The topography of the region meets the necessities of the tradition: The presence of windows in the houses might readily give the name Tampu Tocco, or "place of temporary residence where there are windows," to this place, and the three conspicuous windows in the principal temple fits in well with the tradition of the three brothers coming out of three windows.

The interest in this historical problem, connected with the fact that at Machu Picchu we had a wonderfully picturesque and remarkably large well-preserved city, untouched by Spanish hands, led us to feel that the entire place needed to be cleared of its jungle and carefully studied architecturally and topographically.

Difficulties of the Approach to Machu Picchu

We decided to make a thorough hunt for places of burial and to collect as much osteological and ethnological material as could be found. Our task was not an easy one.

The engineers of the 1911 expedition—H. L. Tucker and P. B. Lanius—who had spent three weeks here making a preliminary map, had been unable to use the trail by which I had first visited Machu Picchu, and reported that the trail which they used was so bad as to make it impossible to carry heavy loads over it.

We knew that mule transportation was absolutely impracticable under these conditions, and that it was simply a question of making a foot-path over which Indian bearers could carry reasonably good-sized packs.

The first problem was the construction of a bridge over the Urubamba River to reach the foot of the easier of the two possible trails.

The little foot-bridge of four logs that I had used when visiting Machu Picchu for the first time, in July, 1911, was so badly treated by the early floods of the rainy season that when Mr. Tucker went to Machu Picchu at my request, two months later, to make the reconnaissance map, he found only one log left, and was obliged to use a difficult and more dangerous trail on the other side of the ridge.

Knowing that probably even this log had gone with the later floods, it was with some apprehension that I started Assistant Topographer Heald out from Cuzco early in July, 1912, with instructions to construct a bridge across the Urubamba River opposite Machu Picchu, and make a good trail from the river to the ruins—a trail sufficiently good for Indian bearers to use in carrying our 60-pound food-boxes up to the camp and, later, our 90-pound boxes of potsherds and specimens down to the mule trail near the river.

Some Rapid Bridge Building

At the most feasible point for building a foot-bridge the Urubamba is some 80 feet wide. The roaring rapids are divided into four streams by large boulders in the river at this point. The first reach is 8 feet long, the next nearly 40 feet, the next about 22 feet, and the final one 15 feet.

For material in the construction of the bridge Mr. Heald had hardwood timber growing on the bank of the stream; for tools he had axes, machetes, and picks—all made in Hartford—and a coil of manila rope. For workmen he had 10 unwilling Indians, who had been forced to accompany him by the governor of the nearest town. For "guide, counsellor, and friend" he had an excellent Peruvian soldier, who could be counted on to see to it that the Indians kept faithfully at their task. In describing his work, Mr. Heald says:

"The first step was the felling of the timber for the first two reaches. That was quickly done and the short 8-foot space put in place. Then came the task of getting a stringer to the rock forming the next pier. My first scheme was to lay a log in the water, parallel to the bank and upstream from the bridge, and, fastening the lower end, to let the current swing the upper end around until it lodged on the central boulder. On trying this the timber proved to be so heavy that it sank and was lost.

"We next tried building out over the water as far as we could. Two heavy logs were put in place, with their butts on the shore and their outer ends projecting some 10 feet beyond the first span. The shore ends were weighted with rocks and cross-pieces were lashed on with lianas (sinewy vines), making the bridge about 4½ feet wide, as far as it went. Then a forked upright 10 feet high was lashed and wedged into place at the end of the first pier.

The Crossing Achieved

"A long, light stringer was now pushed out on the completed part and the end thrust out over the water toward rock No. 2, the end being held up by a rope fastened around it and passing through the fork of the upright.

"This method proved successful, the timber's end being laid on the rock which formed our second pier. Two more light timbers were put across this way, and then a heavy one was tried, part of its weight being borne by the pieces already across by means of a yoke locked in the end. This and another piece were successfully passed over, and after that there was little trouble, crosspieces being used to form the next and shorter span.

"On the second day of work we finished the bridge about noon and started making a trail up the hill under the guidance of a half-breed who lived in the vicinity. After the first quarter mile the going was very slow. Not only did the steepness of the slope and the tangled condition of the cane jungle retard us, but the men were very much afraid of snakes, a fear which proved itself justified, for one of them was very nearly bitten by a little gray snake about 12 inches long.

"The second day's work on the trail took us to the city. The path was still far from being finished, though. There were many places which were almost vertical, in which we had to cut steps. Up these places we now made zigzags, so that there was comparatively little difficulty in climbing.

"On the first day I had set fire to the cane in order to clear the trail. This fire did not clear much, however. On the second day I was about a quarter of a mile behind the workmen, or rather above them, when suddenly Tomas (the Peruvian soldier mentioned above), who was with me, said: 'Look, they have fired the cane.' Sure enough, they had started it, and in a minute it had gained headway and was roaring up toward us. The flames reaching 15 or 20 feet into the air.

Page [ 2 ] of 6