The ancient Incan sanctuary of Machu Picchu is considered one of humanity’s greatest architectural achievements. Built in a remote Andean setting atop a narrow ridge high above a precipitous river canyon, the site is renowned for its perfect integration with the spectacular landscape. But the sanctuary’s location has long puzzled scientists: Why did the Incas build their masterpiece in such an inaccessible place? Research suggests the answer may be related to the geological faults that lie beneath the site.
Using a combination of satellite imagery and field measurements, Rualdo Menegat, a geologist at Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, mapped a dense web of intersecting fractures and faults beneath the UNESCO World Heritage Site. His analysis indicates these features vary widely in scale, from tiny fractures visible in individual stones to major, 175-kilometer-long lineaments that control the orientation of some of the region’s river valleys.
Menegat’s mapping suggests that the sanctuary’s urban sectors and the surrounding agricultural fields, as well as individual buildings and stairs, are all oriented along the trends of these major faults. Tthe underlying fault-and-fracture network is as integral to Machu Picchu’s construction as its legendary stonework. This mortar-free masonry features stones so perfectly fitted together that it’s impossible to slide a credit card between them. The Incas took advantage of the abundant building materials in the fault zone, says Menegat. “The intense fracturing there predisposed the rocks to breaking along these same planes of weakness, which greatly reduced the energy needed to carve them.”
The fault network at Machu Picchu likely offered the Incas some other advantages too, like a ready source of water, Isolation from avalanches and landslides, draining of the site during the intense rainstorms prevalent in the region. (1)
We despise faults.
But any fault can be used as a feature.
What is broken can be the foundation of something new.
What is dead can feed something born.
We love faults.
In order to build something perfect.
Our very existence is based on the quest for that perfection.
And there are points where we believe we have achieved it.
We then build more.
Higher and higher.
To the sky!
A perfect man.
So perfect that we cannot dare to see.
That we are faulty from our foundations.
Able to carry the whole universe on its back…