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Machu Picchu's Stairway of Fountains

By JULIAN SMITH

Saturday, December 29, 2012

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One of the most spectacular examples of Inca hydraulic engineering is the "Stairway of Fountains," built sometime after 1450 at the city of Machu Picchu. The fountains supplied the city's inhabitants with clean, fresh water. The first challenge the Inca faced was how to bring water from a pair of rain-fed springs almost half a mile away from the first fountain. At the main spring, Inca engineers built a 48-foot long permeable wall that concentrated the seeping water into a stone-lined canal. The canal also collected water from a second, smaller spring. Water flowed to the city through the canal, which averaged five inches wide and five inches deep, and had an average grade of about 3 percent. Hydraulic engineer Ken Wright calculates the system could carry up to 80 gallons per minute—twice as much water as the springs' typical peak flow—to prevent overflows.

 

machu-picchu-spout.jpgThe canal passed under the city's outer wall, through the agricultural zone, and under another wall into the residential zone, where it flowed through a series of 16 fountains. Each fountain had a spout designed to shape a jet of water that was the perfect size for filling an aryballo, the clay water jug of the ancient Andes. The fountains were linked by stone channels that formed a 180-foot-long cascade of water with a total vertical drop of 65 feet. The first fountain was next to the emperor Pachacuti's residence, allowing him first access to the water. All the fountains, including Pachacuti's, were publicly accessible except the last one, which was located inside the Temple of the Condor.

 

The result was a controlled, dependable public water supply that protected the hillside architecture from erosion. "Nothing like it exists," says hydraulic engineer Charles Ortloff, "in an urban setting at other royal residence sites or at other Inca settlements."

 

Julian Smith is a contributing editor at ARCHAEOLOGY

 

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The Water
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Orkney's Artists

By KATE RAVILIOUS

Thursday, March 19, 2015

 

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Inside Structure 10, also known as the “cathedral,” the discovery of ancient grinding stones, containing little hollows and the remains of pigments, indicates that the paints daubed on the walls and brushed onto the pots at the Ness of Brodgar complex were made by grinding down locally derived minerals and mixing them with animal fat or egg white to create a paste. “The nearby island of Hoy is known to produce hematite [an iron ore used to make different colored pigments], and not far away from the Ness there is a known source of galena, a lead-bearing ore that can produce a white pigment,” says Scott Pike, an archaeological geologist from Willamette University in Oregon, who has been analyzing the Ness paintwork. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy carried out by Pike and his team has shown that the colors are chemically distinct from the stone walls, confirming that they were painted on and not naturally occurring.

 

Neolithic-Orkney-Painted-StoneworkIt seems that only certain parts of the walls were painted (such as the stones surrounding a door), and only a small percentage of the pots were colored. What the colors signified remains a mystery. “These colors are sometimes taken as a strong reference to the self, the body, and its fluids, but colors such as red, white, and black could also refer to fire and its transformative effects. Certain colors and patterns could also have signified ownership,” says Roy Towers of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

 

Meanwhile, the carved artwork emerging from the Ness of Brodgar is puzzling archaeologists. A huge variety of types of inscriptions has been found across the site, but some of the most elaborately carved stones were found in dark corners and deep recesses, where they wouldn’t have been fully visible. Possibly the act of carving the stone was more important than viewing it afterward. Meanwhile, some of the faint scratchings are barely visible with the naked eye, leading to speculation that the bold designs may have been scratched through pigment.

 

 

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Tomb Architecture

 

 

Tomb Architecture

By KATE RAVILIOUS

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Neolithic-Orkney-Chambered-Tomb-UnstanThe progression in architecture seen at the Ness of Brodgar mirrors the architectural progression seen in Orkney’s Neolithic tombs. The very earliest tombs, such as the ones on the Calf of Eday, an outlying island, are simply small oval rooms with radial divisions—scaled-down versions of the earliest buildings at the Ness of Brodgar. These are followed by “stalled” tombs, rectangular structures with stone piers creating a series of “stalls” down either side, such as the Midhowe tomb on the island of Rousay. These clearly reflect the rectangular buildings with internal stone piers seen at the Ness of Brodgar. Finally, the stalled tombs give way to “chambered” tombs, which consist of a central room with an entrance passageway and side chambers coming off of it, such as nearby Maes Howe, which is aligned with the winter solstice so that the setting sun shines down the entrance passageway on the shortest day of the year. At the Ness, this final phase is reflected by the “cathedral” (Structure 10), which has the same interior shape and alignment as Maes Howe.

 

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Neolithic-Orkney-Carved-Slab
Orkney's Artists

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