Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Amazing Ruins of South America – Part I

A reader recently inquired about our opinion of the ruins found in both South and Central America and if they were the same quality and accomplishment. Since the answer has taken far more space than a simple “Comment” response, we are posting this as a full article, as it is quite revealing regarding these ancient ruins.
Ruins of the Mayan Temple grounds at Tulum upon a cliff along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya

    Briefly stated, as amazing as the ruins are in Mesoamerica, and having personally visited numerous sites down there the difference of Andean Peru is quite striking, the ruins found in South America are far superior and much more amazing than those in Mesoamerica. In fact, Ephraim George Squier, the American archaeologist, newspaper editor, and U.S. Commissioner to Peru—famous for his work with Edwin H. Davis on the book Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, published in 1848, which was a landmark work in American scientific research of the study of the prehistoric Mound Builders in North America, as well as an early development of archaeology as a scientific discipline, and which became the Smithsonian Institution’s Contributions to Knowledge series—has said of the ruins in South America:
    And I may say, once and for all, carefully weighing my words, that in no part of the world I have seen stones cut with such mathematical precision and admirable skill as in Peru, and in no part of Peru are there any to surpass those which are scattered over the plain of Tiahuanaco” (Squier, Peru: Incidents of Travel and Exploration in the Land of the Incas, 1877, Harper & Brothers, New York, p279].
    Ever since the time of the discovery (or rediscovery) by Hiram Bingham of Machu Picchu in 1911, and Percy Harrison Fawcett’s disappearance while searching for the lost city of Paititi in 1925, followed by several others later on, the remarkable megalithic ruins of ancient Peru have fascinated archaeologists and tourists like no other in the Americas. Of greatest interest has been the remarkable workmanship and precision of the megalithic stone cutting and dressing techniques employed by the ancient Peruvians that amaze scholars, travelers and construction experts even today.
    Compare the difference between standard stonework found in the various pyramids and buildings of ancient Mesoamerica and Andean Peru:
Stonework of ancient Mesoamerica. Note the typical stone cutting method and standard rectangular or rounded stones

    As impressive as their work was for a period around the beginning of the Christian era, consider the remarkable, unequaled stonework of Andean Peru that stretches nearly six hundred years before that of Mesoamerica.
Stonework of ancient Andean Peru. Note the intricate cuts and angles of stone fitted so tightly without mortar that not even a thin knife blade can fit between the stones

    The megalithic architecture of the Andean altiplano of Peru and Bolivia is indeed remarkable. It has the same clear and neat lines that only ancient Egypt was able to express, and then only briefly over the course of the IV Dynasty of the Old Kingdom. Yet, very often, what is labelled as “Inca architecture” has nothing whatsoever to do with the Incas, a people conquered by the Spanish conquistadores in 1533 and whose empire stretching over much of today’s Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and parts of Argentina that lasted for a little over a hundred years since the late 13th Century A.D. to the beginning of the 15th Century A.D. Indeed, most architectural historians and archaeologists have now come to recognize in the megalithic architecture of the Peruvian and Bolivian highlands the legacy of much older civilizations, including the Wari and the Tiwanaku empires, whose history already stretched back several centuries (perhaps even millennia) by the time the Incas became lords of the land. 
    It is not that the stonework found in Mesoamerica is not impressive, because it is—a remarkable fete for a people of that era; it just does not equal what was accomplished before that in South America.
Just consider the difference in expertise and technical ability between the (left) Mesoamerican block cutting, and the (right) Andean Peru twelve-angled block cutting of about the same period of time

    Over the last couple of decades, architectural historians such as Jean Pierre Protzen, Architectural Design and construction principles of ancient civilizations, graduate of Diplôme d'Architecture, University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and current University of California, Berkeley, professor who teaches courses on design theories and methods, logics of design, and research methods, whose current research interests include the logics of design, design planning, and construction principles of ancient civilizations, particularly Pre-Columbian South America, and Stella Nair, U.C.L.A. professor of Indigenous Arts of the Americas, have addressed the mystery of how a civilization with evidently no knowledge of the wheel and which only possessed rudimentary copper tools and chisels could have quarried, transported, dressed and fitted enormous blocks of hard granite, porphyry and andesite stone with the almost supernatural precision that one can see in the ancient sites of Peru and Bolivia.
    Even though their experiments have been able to shed some light on the techniques that, even with very rudimentary tools, could have been used to craft perfectly planar surfaces, accurate right angles and millimeter wide joints, many aspects of ancient Andean stone cutting and architecture remain unexplained.
Examples of vitrified stone in temple structures in Cuzco (City of Nephi) at Sacsayhuaman. Note the shiny surface due to extreme heat in the vitrification process. It should be noted that the body stone is limestone, but the surface is more complicated—it’s spectrum shows similarity to Wollastonite, which forms when impure limestone is subjected to high pressures and temperatures

    So far, very little analysis has been done to determine the composition of the vitrified layer and whether it is chemically or physically different from the stone itself. Some samples collected from a set of vitrified caves and tunnels at a site called Tetecaca, above the city of Cusco were purportedly analyzed by the University of Utrecht, Holland. Microscope photographs have revealed two clearly distinct regions, the vitrified layer and the stone underneath. The presence of a transition layer, which is also clearly visible in photographs, suggests however that the vitrified surface and the stone body are not separate but are indeed one and the same, although the surface of the stone has certainly undergone a physical transformation.
    If, however, the chemical composition of the surface layer, which currently appears to be at least partially different from that of the body stone since it contains elements not present in the natural rock samples, it would suggest that a kind of glaze composed of mostly silica was applied to the stone under conditions of extreme heat and pressure (Jan Peter de Jong, Evidence of Vitrified Stonework in the Inca Vestiges of Peru). And if these results were confirmed with more evidence from other sites, it remains to be explained how a similar glaze could be applied to the stone and how the required temperatures (well above 1900ºF) and pressures could be reached and maintained in the open air outside of a large furnace—on the other hand, there are those, including Brian Dunning, a member of the National Association of Science Writers, who claims that blacksmiths had furnaces of that period that reached some 2400ºF. Evidently, there was no lack for expertise in the arts of building smelting fires or keeping them hot.
(See the next post, “The Amazing Ruins of South America – Part II,” for more information regarding the vitrification of stones in the area of Sacsayhuaman above Cuzco in Peru)


  1. Del.. your post stated: ".... have addressed the mystery of how a civilization with evidently no knowledge of the wheel and which only possessed rudimentary copper tools and chisels could have quarried, transported, dressed and fitted enormous blocks of hard granite, porphyry and andesite stone with the almost supernatural precision that one can see in the ancient sites of Peru and Bolivia."

    My question is this: If the Nephites were the ones that built these fantastic structures in Peru.. how did they end up in Bolivia as well?

    1. MrNirom. I am confused. Why would it be a problem to have Nephite structures in both territories that are currently the countries called Peru and Bolivia?

  2. Western Bolivia is where Lake Titicaca is located (half in Peru, half in Bolivia) and Tihuanaco (Tiwanaku) and Puma Punku--that is the part of Bolivia that is associated with the Nephites (nothing else, but it is a big part of the Bolivian ruins area)