The Inca people of the Andes had a special relationship with rock. Stone informed their entire culture, and was key to their empire-building success. This special relationship extended to the topography as well as to the huge stones they transported and worked so endlessly.
The Inca finally met their doom at the hands of the Spaniards, who had iron weapons and firearms, and also from smallpox, leaving us without much knowledge of certain aspects of their civilization. This has led to some speculation, but the real mystery is not so much how they accomplished their feats of stone-working, but why.
For one thing, it wasn’t so much aliens who helped them build their walled cities. It was skill, patience, and conscripted labor. By some estimates, there could be 30,000 workers on a major construction site at any one time.
Carolyn Dean’s book titled “A Culture of Stone” goes into some of this in greater detail. You’ll have to get used to vocabulary words such as “pisciform”, “petrous embodiments” or “petrous articulations”, “lithic monuments”, and “numinous”… and here’s a word I didn’t know:
Mark English has also traveled to the Andes where the Incan empire flourished, and as an architect he was fascinated by the Incan land-management applications, including curved terraces and water channels.
They also shaped rocks for surveillance, and for observing the seasons.
According to Carolyn Dean, the Inca thought rocks were people… but not all rocks, and not all the time. Rocks weren’t “idols” as we understand them. A special rock did not have to look like what it embodied. What was important was that they were not representational.
The civilizing expansion of the Inca brought order, imperial control, territorial surveillance, and the visible presence of the state. No, they weren’t nice people. They were hated by those whom they conquered, and they sacrificed children at special places by bashing their heads in.
The Incas accepted that stones could display volition and personality. Stones could become tired, and refuse to be transported. In some cases, the land itself was seen as belonging to a particular stone.
Some Inca building techniques and features are iconic. Walls included several types of coursing, and some had rocks at the base so huge that it seems impossible that they could have been moved and shaped by human hands.
Much remarked, the Incas did not use the arch. Instead, they created trapezoidal windows and niches, and sometimes tilted walls as well. This often gives visitors the sense of walking through abstract sculptures. Sometimes these forms have been imitated by more recent designers, albeit in other materials.
According to Carolyn Dean, finely dressed stone walls signified order, and the presence of the Inca state.
Many of the Incan structures, built by conquered peoples, were torn down as soon as the Spaniards defeated the hated overlords. (Eduardo Galeano, in his trilogy “Memory of Fire”, retells an incident where one group sent their tribute as a bamboo cylinder of live lice.)
Today, many former Incan ruins serve as the foundation of Spanish buildings.