The brilliant engineers of Machu Picchu


Machu Picchu is always one of those places I keep in mind to go visit some day. With an elevation of 8,000 ft. above sea water, sheer cliff drops on all sides, and with neighboring peaks all around, makes it a breathtaking sight I can’t wait to experience in real life.  Aside from the physical beauty of it, there’s also the historical mystique of the Incas who once lived their.  What really threw me recently was watching a nova program that aired on Feb. 2 titled The ghosts of Machu Picchu, when they started talking about the engineering of the underground drainage systems.  I was flabbergasted to realize what a feat it must have been, and how they executed their designs perfectly to insure that Machu Picchu still stands today, and for many years to come.  Built on the site where it stands today is an astonishing accomplishment that would challenge any modern day engineers, even with all their measurements and paper work.  They had the incredible foresight to think about the environmental disasters that would occur with heavy precipitation that cause floods, erosion, and landslides.  All the extra granite scraps leftover from building the actual foundation were used deep underground as drainage systems.  They built multiple terraces to prevent water runoff by creating multiple levels of rich top soil, granular soil, and finally the granite scraps.  The water would then quickly absorb into the ground and would secure their foundation from eroding.  Even in the city plaza their were drainage holes on all sides of the walls to prevent water from collecting and pooling.  They also engineered an incredible canal system of fresh water with just the right angle, to cause a slow steady flow into the city that stretched on for 2,500 ft.  Enough water to supply a population of 10,000  people.  These canals also supplied water for the visually spectacular fountains within the plaza walls. They accounted for heavier rainfall by overflow drainage leading into their irrigation fields.  The engineers of Machu Picchu were geniuses in hydrology where nothing they did was by accident.  Modern technology have a lot to learn from the miracles of a historical site that has withstood time, and a highly volatile mountain slope for more than 450 yrs, thanks to the brilliance of well thought out drainage systems.

-Anne-Marie A.

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