• The Gaudie

Machu Picchu may have been purposely built on a fault line

Recent satellite images may explain why Machu Picchu was built in a remote location.

Photo by Carlos Garcia Granthon (Getty Images)

by Nidhiyaa Anagananthan

In a recent meeting of the Geological Society of America, Brazillian scientist Rualdo Menegat presented new satellite images and field measurements of the ancient Incan architect located on the peaks of the Andes. Machu Picchu was revealed to have been built on a network of fault lines spanning 110 miles that lay underneath the archaeological site.


Machu Picchu was revealed to have been built on a network of fault lines spanning 110 miles that lay underneath the archeological site.

The answer as to why it was built in such a remote location, approximating to 8000 feet above sea level, might lie in the faults that extend thousands of miles underneath the site. These faults are tectonic fractures in two blocks of rock that span the whole citadel. The opposite orientations of these fault lines, each running northeast to southeast or northwest to southeast, intersect beneath Machu Picchu to form an ‘X’ and are responsible for causing rises in the area.


“Machu Picchu’s location is not a coincidence,” says Menegat. “It would be impossible to build such a site in the high mountains if the substrate was not fractured. It is part of a practice of building settlements in a high rocky place.”


These fractures created weak zones in the region, allowing water to flow and channelling meltwater from ice and snow to provide the necessary resources for the residents. They were also used to drain any excess water during floods and thunderstorms, therefore preventing any damage to the structures. These fault lines allowed the residents to acquire easy resources, but also to preserve and protect the site from natural disasters.


The architects utilized these fractures in the citadel to build structures akin to stairs around it, with fault lines greatly reducing the energy required to carve edifices. The architectural qualities of Machu Picchu make it more important in understanding other Incan sites and structures—for example, Ollantaytambo, Pisac and Cusco were discovered to have been built on similar fault lines. This also stress the importance of protecting both Machu Picchu and other archaeological sites from over-tourism, vandalism and theft, with recent plans for a new airport in the area only increasing the risk.


Now, this newly-unveiled information may not mean that the Incans had deep knowledge about plate tectonics, but rather sought out these fractured areas for architectural advantages. While the fault lines certainly made it easier for Incan architects, this does not undermine their title as great stone builders. The citadel is still a world heritage site that fascinates tourists and scholars alike, with all travelling from various ends of the world to admire it.

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