Science based RC in CAT 2015 was taken from BBC News magazine
The Inca Road is one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering in the world. By the 16th Century it had helped transform a tiny kingdom into the largest empire in the Western hemisphere. Incredibly, it was constructed entirely by hand, without iron or wheeled transportation.
“When you look at Machu Picchu in Peru – that wonderful structure on top of the mountain that millions of tourists visit every year – what most people don’t see and unfortunately don’t know, is that the real marvel is underneath it all,” says Jose Barreiro, co-curator of The Great Inka Road (the Smithsonian uses the Quechua spelling of Inca).
The dry stone monument sits on top of a complex irrigation system of culverts and channels that control the flow of water into fountains that still work today. And while archaeologists have known that for some time, the exhibition reveals the extent of the Inca understanding of water and how they applied the same technology to road building.
“Every year, water destroys many modern roads. But the Inca roads tend to stay,” says Barreiro. “The constructions were built with seismic events in mind and that’s what engineers today are excited to study – how we can benefit from that knowledge.” Sustainability was the key to success. The Incas paid attention to local conditions, using local materials and working with the landscape.
On steep terrain they built steps to dissipate the water’s energy and counter erosion. At high altitudes they paved the way with local stone to protect the surface from ice and snowmelt, and when they needed supporting walls they left holes for the water to drain. “The Incas took care to preserve the environment and the road is a part of Mother Nature,” says Ramiro Matos, the exhibition’s lead curator and a native Quechua speaker.
But ironically, it was the Inca Road that hastened the demise of its creators. When the Spanish reached the Pacific coast in 1532 the empire was weakened by internal fighting and smallpox. And the same road that had given the Inca unprecedented access to every part of their kingdom now did the same for the conquistadors.
Within a year they had consolidated their rule and stripped Cusco of its power, establishing Lima as the new colonial capital. The Qhapaq Nan fell into disrepair. Routes that had been vital to the Inca communities were disregarded by the Spanish who were more interested in accessing the fallen empire’s gold and silver mines.