The Search for Burial Caves
The next day all the workmen were allowed to follow their own devices, and they started out early on a feverish hunt for burial caves. The half dozen worthies whom we had brought with us from Cuzco returned at the end of the day tattered and torn, sadder and no wiser. They had hewed their way through the jungle, one of them had cut open his big toe with his machete, their clothes were in shreds, and they had found nothing.
But the Indians who lived in the vicinity, and who had undoubtedly engaged in treasure-hunting before, responded nobly to the offer of a prize, and came back at the end of the day with the story that they had discovered not one, but eight, burial caves, and desired eight soles. This was the beginning of a highly successful effort to locate and collect the skeletal remains of the ancient inhabitants of Machu Picchu. Fifty-two graves in and near this ancient city were excavated by Dr. Eaton, our osteologist, and fully as many more were afterward located and explored under the supervision of Mr. Erdis, the archeological engineer. The greatest number of these graves were in caves under the large boulders and projecting ledges of the mountain side, and the method usually followed by the osteologist in exploring them was, first, to photograph the entrance of the cave from without, after which the grave was opened and its contents carefully removed. Measurements were taken and diagrams were made to show the position of the human skeletons and the arrangement of the accompanying pottery, implements, ornaments, and bones of lower animals.
In a few instances it was possible also to photograph the interiors of graves.
Contents of the Burial Caves
In some of the caves only the most fragmentary skeletal remains were found; in others only the larger bones and a skull or two; while others contained not only nearly complete skeletons, but pots in more or less perfect state of preservation, and occasionally pieces of bronze. In this way a large and valuable collection was made of human skeletons, pottery, and other artifacts of various materials, including some of the tools probably used by the Inca or pre-Inca stone-masons in the more intricate parts of their work.
Before dismissing the subject of the ancient graves, it may be noted that the custom seems to have been, whenever possible, to bury the dead in the sitting position, with the knees raised. In a very few instances bodies were interred in crudely fashioned "bottle-shaped graves." While engaged in this work the collectors were greatly annoyed by the venomous serpents of the region, and several of these serpents were killed and preserved in alcohol.
The burial caves occur generally on the sides of the mountain below the ruins. As they are in well nigh inaccessible locations and more or less covered with dense tropical jungle, the work of visiting and excavating them was extremely arduous, and it is most highly to the credit of those engaged in it that so many caves were opened and so much material gathered. Practically every square rod of the sides of the ridge was explored. The last caves that were opened were very near the Urubamba River itself, where the ancient laborers may have had their huts.
It is too early as yet to give any generalizations with regard to the anatomical characteristics of the Machu Picchu people as evidenced by their skeletal remains. A few of the skulls show decided marks of artificial deformation, but most of them are normal.
Mr. Erdis eventually made the discovery that by digging at least 18 inches underground, at the mouths of small caves, under large boulders, within 200 yards of the Three Window Temple, he was almost sure to find one or two articles of bronze, either pins, tweezers, pendants, or other ornaments.
Selecting two of the most reliable workmen and offering them a sliding scale of rewards for everything they might find of value, he succeeded, in the course of four months' faithful attention to the details of clearing and excavating, in getting together about 200 little bronzes, a lesser number of pots, and 50 cases of sherds. The nature of the more interesting finds can be better understood by the accompanying photograph. This material is now all in New Haven, where it is to be arranged by Dr. Eaton and Mr. Erdis.
What Clearing the Jungle Revealed
The change made in the appearance of Machu Picchu by the four months of clearing and excavating is graphically brought out by comparing the pictures on pages 404, 424, 432, and 499 with those on pages 433, 434, 490, 498, and 512, the one set taken either before the work began or early in its stages and the latter taken at the end of the season. It is most sincerely to be hoped that the Peruvian government will not allow the ruins to be overgrown with a dense forest, as they have been in the past.
Although the buildings are extremely well built, there is no cement or mortar in the masonry, and there is no means of preventing the roots of forest trees from penetrating the walls and eventually tearing them all down. In several cases we found gigantic trees perched on the very tips of the gable ends of small and beautifully constructed houses. It was not the least difficult part of our work to cut down and get such trees out of the way without seriously damaging the house walls.
Considering all the pains that we took to preserve the ruins from further spoliation by the dense vegetation, it was with frank and painful surprise that we read in the decree issued by the new Peruvian government, in connection with giving us permission to take out of Peru what we had found, a clause stating that we were not to injure the ruins in the slightest particular, and that we must neither deface nor mutilate them. I could not help being reminded of the fact that we had spent two days of one workman's time in erasing from the beautiful granite walls the crude charcoal autographs of visiting Peruvians, one of whom had taken the pains to scrawl in huge letters his name in thirty-three places in the principal and most attractive buildings.
We were greatly aided in the work of clearing the ruins by having with us for two months Lieutenant Sotomayor, of the Peruvian army, whose presence was due to the courtesy of President Leguia. Lieutenant Sotomayor took personal charge of the gang of Indians engaged in clearing the jungle and drying and burning the rubbish. As long as he was allowed to remain with us he did his work most faithfully and efficiently. It was with regret that we found he was relieved from duty at Machu Picchu in September.
An Ideal Place of Refuge
Although it is too early to speak definitely in regard to the civilization of Machu Picchu, a short description of the principal characteristics of the city may not be out of place.
Machu Picchu is essentially a city of refuge. It is perched on a mountain top in the most inaccessible corner of the most inaccessible section of the Urubamba River. So far as I know, there is no part of the Andes that has been better defended by nature.
A stupendous cañon, where the principal rock is granite and where the precipices are frequently over 1,000 feet sheer, presents difficulties of attack and facilities for defense second to none. Here on a narrow ridge, flanked on all sides by precipitous or nearly precipitous slopes, a highly civilized people—artistic, inventive, and capable of sustained endeavor—at some time in the remote past built themselves a city of refuge.
Since they had no iron or steel tools—only stone hammers—its construction must have cost many generations, if not centuries, of effort.
Across the ridge, and defending the builders from attack on the side of the main mountain range, they constructed two walls. One of them, constituting the outer line of defense, leads from precipice to precipice, utilizing as best it can the natural steepness of the hill.
Beyond this, and on top of the mountain called Machu Picchu, which overlooks the valley from the very summit of one of the most stupendous precipices in the cañon, is constructed a signal station, from which the approach of an enemy could be instantly communicated to the city below. Within the outer wall they constructed an extensive series of agricultural terraces, stone lined and averaging about 8 feet high. Between these and the city is a steep, dry moat and the inner wall.
When the members of an attacking force had safely negotiated the precipitous and easily defended sides of the moat, they would still find themselves outside the inner defenses of the city, which consisted of a wall from 15 to 20 feet high, composed of the largest stones that could be found in the vicinity—many of them huge boulders weighing many tons. This wall is carried straight across the ridge from one precipitous side to the other. These defenses are on the south side of the city.
The Town Was Invulnerable
On the north side, on the narrow ridge connecting the city with Huayna Picchu, strong defensive terraces have been strategically placed so as to render nil the danger of an attack on this side. Difficult to reach at best, the city's defenses were still further strengthened by the construction of high, steep walls wherever the precipices did not seem absolutely impassable.
Inside the city the houses are crowded close together, but an extensive system of narrow streets and rock-hewn stairways made intercommunication comfortable and easy.
On entering the city, perhaps the first characteristic that strikes one is that a large majority of the houses were a story and a half in height, with gable ends, and that these gable ends are marked by cylindrical blocks projecting out from the house in such a way as to suggest the idea of the ends of the rafters. The wooden rafters have all disappeared, but the ring-stones to which they were tied may still be seen in some of the pictures.
These ring-stones consist of a slab of granite, about 2 feet long and 6 inches wide by 2 inches thick, with a hole bored in one end, and were set into the sloping gable wall in such a way as to be flush with the surface, although the hole was readily accessible for lashing the beams of the house to the steep pitch of the gables. There were usually four of these ring-stones on each slope of the wall. Dr. Eaton found this to be also a feature of the Choqquequirau architecture, only in that city the number of ring-stones is larger per gable.