Monday, March 28, 2016

Amulon – No Fortress City

There are two particular mountain peaks in the vicinity of the famed Pikchu range (where the highest peaks allow the gods to touch the earth), called Huayna Picchu (in Quechuan “New Peak/Mountain”) and Machu Picchu (“Old Peak/Mountain”), although there is some belief that in this case “macho” should be interpreted as “age,” or “Aged Peak or Mountain” because of its legendary sacred nature. Situated at about 7,700 feet above the Urubamba Valley, lying in a topographical saddle between the two peaks, it is well protected from view below.  
The two cities of Picchu were built along a saddle on adjacent mountain peaks
Today, the stone-built hanging city rests in an almost perfect state of preservation atop the verdue-crowned mountain amidst the tangled Montana east of Cuzco past the fortress of Pisac. Below is the Urubamba gorge through which the Urubamba River flows, one of the myriad of headwaters of the amazon that over the centuries has cut through the heartland of this Vilcabamba Range.
    In seeing Machu Picchu from the adjacent peak of Hyayna Picchu, which is reached by an unusual series of steps cut into the solid rock up the mountain for about a thousand feet, it is obvious that Machu Picchu could not have been an inaccessible fortress for a determined enemy who could have found its conquest no great problem. It’s major defensive drawback is its fresh water supply is in the canyon gorge 2000 feet below. Anciently, the site had a three-inch flume used to bring water down from its higher mountain sources, but the size would not have supplied more than a hundred people—which would have sufficed the priests and their wives and about twice their number of children during the dry season.
    According to Victor W. Von Hagen, Machu Picchu was not the “Lost City of the Incas” as it has been called, that Hiram Bingham claimed was the fortress of Vilcabamba where thousands of fierce Inca warriors had for years eluded the Spanish and forged a new empire (Highway of the Sun, Duell, Sloan and Pearce, New York, 1955, pp110-111).
    As late as 1955 when visited by Von Hagen the area north and beyond Machu Picchu, and immense empty land in a remote, wild region of cold high uplands and hot tropical valleys known as the Vilcabamba where steep mountains of extreme relief that served as a jungle border, was still considered “The vast Geographical Unknown, covered with mountains, foliage and clouds."
    This steep mountainous region of extreme relief that served as a jungle border with altitudes varying from tropical river bottom canyons below 6560 feet to mountain heights on up to almost 19,685 feet, where a thick cloud forest vegetation covers much of the area up to around 13,123 feet.  
Even today it is considered one of the most mysterious places on Earth—located on the spine of a jungle cloaked granite peak towering some 2000 feet above the entrenched meandering of a roaring river below, it is frequently shrouded in misty clouds pierced by the powerful equatorial sun. Constructed from precisely sculptured granite blocks carefully joined with the projecting exposed stone of the surrounding mountain without mortar, and so precisely cut and wedged so closely together, that a credit card cannot be inserted between them, much like the construction of Sacsahuaman and the older buildings of Cuzco. However, the small houses that are joined together like a large ground-level apartment complex, is far less accomplished and made of smaller, rounded rocks with far less expertise in their construction, though still impressive in their overall design and purpose.
    It is interesting that in all the ancient Peruvian buildings where no mortar was used and the stones cut and fitted so precisely together, it is claimed that when an earthquake occurs, the stones are said to “dance”—they bounce through the tremors and then fall back into place. Without this building method, many of the best known buildings would have collapsed long ago.
    The point being, Machu Picchu, though called a Citadel today, was never built to be a fortress, it has not defensive walls, though heavily terraced, and its main buildings are not walled. There are no ditches, no ramparts, no towers, nothing at all that would be considered a citadel or fortress in the true sense of the word. It is, however, built high on a peak, but as indicated earlier, never could have withstood any type of siege, or even an attack with much effect.
    Its main reason for being where it is seems to be for remaining unseen in an out-of-the-way, hard-to-get-to area. A perfect fit for the City of Amulon. The apartment-like complex of houses, built by different hands, it would seem, than the rest of the stonework structures, or at least for a different purpose with "hurry" an apparent requisite, seems to bear testament that they were more hurriedly built, and done so strictly for a place to house several independent families.
Even today there are areas all over Andean Peru that are completely isolated because of the terrain where there are no settlements, villas or cities, miles upon miles in between occupied areas
    It is sometimes hard to think in today’s world that a place could be so isolated as to provide protection for a fairly large group of people that would have been sorely hunted by two very large military forces, yet one needs to continually keep in mind about the difficulty of travel in the land 2000 years ago before roads, trails, or even paths, in an isolated, unpopulated area. As we have mentioned several times, no matter the location, most of the time ancient man was limited to his direction of travel based upon the topography and terrain of his environment.
    As an example, when Friar Gabriel de Oviedo of Cuzco was trying to reach the mysterious Vilcabamba to offer peace overtures to the new Inca king Tupac Amaru, the Inca cut the suspension bridge over the Apurimac River at Huampu, 60 miles northeast of Cuzco. Unable to get across the swift-current to the other side of the river, and having no other passes or routes available to him, friar Gabriel returned the 60 miles to Cuzco to approach the region to the northeast by the only other route known by way of the Urubamba, which led via the fortress of Ollantaytambo lying a few miles downstream from Yucay. There he took the pass of Panti-calla, where he crossed the great suspension bridge that hung across the Urubamba Range and came to the headwaters of the Pampaconas River were he made contact with the Inca. It took him nearly a 200-mile trip to get the 60 miles to the Inca stronghold.
    Again, the point is, that the city of Amulon did not need to be a fortress or citadel, it only needed to be out of the way and back or up where foot traffic seldom, if ever, passed, and the city itself out of view from any distant vantage point. The Machu Picchu peak easily provided that need, and was actually not that far from the cities of Nephi, Shilom and Shemlon and therefore not out of range of a reconnoiter or surreptitious visit for the kind of supplies the priests might need from time to time that they could steal by night from the Nephites (Mosiah 21:21).
Those who burned Abinadi suffered the same death by fire along with their descendants
    However, they were not to escape the punishment that Abinadi prophesied upon them and their descendants (Mosiah 13:10), and true to his word, “those rulers who were the remnant of the children of Amulon caused that they should be put to death, yea, all those that believed in these things. Now this martyrdom caused that many of their brethren should be stirred up to anger; and there began to be contention in the wilderness; and the Lamanites began to hunt the seed of Amulon and his brethren and began to slay them; and they fled into the east wilderness. And behold they are hunted at this day by the Lamanites. Thus the words of Abinadi were brought to pass, which he said concerning the seed of the priests who caused that he should suffer death by fire.


  1. It should be noted too that the elevation of Machu Picchu was at a lower elevation than it is today since the foundation would have laid in BC times. Even then it would still have been very isolated. Kind of like the James gang robbers roost. Ira

  2. As much as a good fit as it seems, it is hard to believe that the small group of priests and later Lamanite wives could have constructed the megalithic (older and higher quality) part of Machu Picchu.

  3. erichard: I don't believe they did, at least not all of it. We don't know how long they were there, though it must have been several years. When you see Machu Picchu, it seems evident it was built in stages, with the rough work of the residential houses obviously built in a hurry or with less ability than the larger megalithic work later on. One of those things, I suppose, we will never know for sure until more information is available to us.

  4. Personally, I don't imagine the priests of Noah having any real construction skill set. They were leeches, living in comfort off of the work and taxation of the citizens. When they fled, they would have hidden, but most likely had no experience in building. In fact, they tilled the land, food being an absolute necessity, but later abandoned their land to go with the Lamanites. Amulon was then set to rule over Alma's people in the land of Helem where he made the righteous Christians into beasts of burden. It is much more likely that Alma's group contained experienced builders and laborers, they having come from the working populous of the City of Nephi. They too would have chosen a hiding place rather than a fortress. They would also be relatively near the Land of Nephi (Cusco). They are a much better fit for the kind of labor intensive building and terracing that is found in Machu Picchu. It is more likely that Amulon only enjoyed in the spoils of their labor while Alma's people were there, and after the righteous fled to the Land of Zarahemla. Eventually Amulon and his priest buddies were hunted and killed by the Lamanites because of their wicked actions, but I have a hard time believing it was those priests who built such a city in their contentious lifetimes. Again...they were leeches, not builders.

  5. Todd: You may be right, it is something we will probably never know. On the other hand, Noah would not have become king until he was well into his age, possibly 40 or even 50 years of age, but certainly over 30, since we have no indication that his father Zeniff died at an early age, but probably, as most kings, lived out his normal life. Thus, the Priests of Noah would have been chosen form both his contemporaries as well as probably his buddies who he had known growing into adulthood, etc. And unlike our lives today, all young people were trained in an occupation mostly by their fathers (or were apprenticed to others), and since these people returning to the city of Nephi, etc., were not in a society where easy living would have been possible, since they returned and worked to restore the buildings, etc., of two cities and built more, it is likely that these priests, before being appointed in their mid-adulthood by Noah, would have been workers of some type, it is not unreasonable to assume they had skills they could have used to accomplish such a task. Besides, being on their own, they would not have been lazy and indolent or they would have died out in the years on their own. Consequently, it is likely they built some type of city before stealing their future wives and settling down. Men, even indolent ones, generally settle down when marrying and raising a family, and become workers at least to the degree of providing for themselves and their family.
    Besides, if you have ever been to Machu Picchu, you will notice two distinct type of building methods that went on there. One is the series of connected houses we’ve mentioned in conjunction with these priests, which is rather crude and quite simple by comparison, all made with small stones, stacked in place. The other is a very detailed building skills found elsewhere in southern Peru like that of Cuzco, etc., requiring a time-consuming shaping of large to giant rocks to fit. To anyone connected with the building industry or rockwork the difference is overwhelming and obviously suggests to entirely different construction methods. Most tourists spend the majority of their time there looking at and marveling over the larger, more intricate work rather than the lesser, simpler work of less detail and interest—thus, leaving the complex with a feeling of great ability and effort.

  6. (Continued)
    This is not to say that the artisan capability was not found in all of Machu Picchu construction, only that much of it, meaning the connected housing, is of lesser quality and in some comparisons, quite lacking by comparison.
    As for the leeches, they became leeches and wine-bibbers, etc., once they fell into the easy-life-style of Noah’s priests where they did not have to work for a living or obtain their own food from their own hand. But that is not to say they were such before being so appointed, especially considering the age and under the circumstances where hard work and survival molded energetic and tough lives, even in the young and young-adults. Certainly, not like today, but more like in this country from the 1600s onward for several centuries. One of the dangers we all make from time to time is to judge a past age by our present age—it simply cannot be done with much accuracy. People today, under 40 have no comprehension of what it was like between World War I and World War II, or even later. All my seven children from age 53 down to age 38 were raised at a time of much peace and tranquility—by comparison, my entire life was growing up during wars, from World War II, through Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East conflicts. The oldest of my 30 grandchildren is barely out of college, having been taught his entire life by liberal, often anti-American, anti-capital, anti-heritage teachers and professors. Each general is different and the generations of the Nephites who grew up in this group that returned to Nephi living amongst a hereditary enemy of Lamanites, would have grown up very different than any generation we would have known, and certainly had to fend for themselves with a physical occupation that could provide a living for them, protection from dangers we have never experienced, etc. I seriously doubt that any of them grew up with an easy life, free from work and learning a skill or several skills, and were lazy, indolent and worthless until they would have become completely provided for by others, such as Noah’s priests.

  7. Thanks for your feedback and insight, Del. We may never know (in our lifetimes) whether Machu Picchu was the city of Amulon, or the city of Helam, or completely unrelated to either (luxury estate for emperor Pachacuti...pffft). Though it is a nice match in terms of distance from Cusco, being a non-fortress "hidden city", and the likelihood of a Lamanite army discovering the city while in pursuit of Limhi's people through a logical escape route (must be logical since Amulon's people and Alma's people were both found in that same pursuit).

    When I look at possible Book of Mormon lands, I can't help but look in terms of the scars that would be left by the size and scope of the stories. That is why I love your blog, because when looking at civilized populations in the millions, with references to large city and government infrastructure, cities with walls, road systems, trading, large scale wars, metallurgy, landscape-altering events, etc. happening in a time period exceeding the age of our own great nation, then it would certainly leave a scar. The world may be blind to the meaning of what they're seeing, but 1000 years of a robust civilization like the Jaredites and another 1000 years of Nephites would leave a mark.

    Likewise, when looking at two possibilities for the origins of a city like Machu Picchu, I consider which story is most likely to leave a mark that would endure for so many years. A) Amulon and the priests of Noah, who felt privileged and had lived some of their lives in idleness, plus their kidnapped wives, possibly numbering two or three dozen people (regardless of work ethic), or B) 450 righteous men and women (Mosiah 18:35) under the leadership of Alma who "...also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support." (Mosiah 18:24) I look at those two in terms of which would leave a mark, and I see option “B” being much more plausible. Amulon certainly would have worked for survival, and the scripture says that the wicked priests tilled the earth. However, Amulon abandoned his own settlement to instead rule over Helam. Thus I imagine that he was much more interested in governing a city built by 450 industrious people than what his own companions had eked out while hiding. Alma's people were described this way : "And they pitched their tents, and began to till the ground, and began to build buildings; yea, they were industrious, and did labor exceedingly." (Mosiah 23:5)

    The record doesn't say how old Amulon was, his pre-Noah skill set, or that he did anything more than "...begun to possess the land of Amulon and had begun to till the ground" by the time he was discovered by the Lamanites. (Mosiah 23:31)

    That is why Machu Picchu looks more to me like a scar left by Alma's 450 than a scar left by a group of displaced and disgruntled priests. Though I know you have another location in mind for Helam. I'm not trying to convince anybody, just explaining why I think one possible explanation is more plausible than another, based upon my own understanding of the story.

  8. (continued)

    Though hatred is a strong motivating factor for war and subjugation, it usually acts as fuel for a stronger motivation to take what somebody else has built, if it is better than what you have. That is especially true if you've convinced yourself that you're entitled. That is why the Lamanites kept coming to attack the Nephites for hundreds of years, even over very inconvenient distances, because on top of hatred, they saw that the Nephites had built cities, raised herds, and cultivated the land (in many cases with impressive terracing). To people described as "an idle people" who love war, taking something that they themselves are unwilling to build is a huge temptation. I imagine that Amulon was not the kind of person to take the time to build a city of stone on a mountain top, but definitely the kind of guy to take it from the industrious people who did, and then to oppress them.

    But I completely concede that I could be wrong. Thanks for allowing me a place to share my thoughts. It's very much appreciated, since discussion of such things is understandably discouraged in the Sunday School setting. The topic of Book of Mormon geography is not as interesting to most of my peers as it is to me. It's odd how such discussions are almost considered taboo, even among believers. A place like this on the web is very refreshing. Thanks!