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Stone blocks discovered at the Inca quarry at Cañete, Peru.    Source: PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture

Lost Inca Road Network and Stone Quarries Uncovered in Peru

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In the province of Cañete, Peru, archaeologists have unearthed Inca stone quarries and a previously unknown road network at Cerros de Quilmaná and Cerro Quinta Freno. These quarries played a crucial role in supplying construction materials for the walls of Inca sites, of the ‘Imperial Inca’ type. A network of roads and pathways were designed to facilitate the transportation of intricately sculpted stone blocks.

Significant Stone-Working Hub and Massive Road Network

The sites included El Huarco in Cerro Azul and Vilcahuasi in San Luis de Cañete. Researchers have emphasized that these routes underscore the quarries' significant function as a stone-working hub and production center within the Inca Empire during the 16th century. It has been described as “the first and only Inca ashlar [large square-cut stones] quarry on the Peruvian coast”.

“The discovery of this network of Inca roads and the quarries offer valuable research opportunities, revealing new insights into the technology of the Inca master stonemasons, in addition to the extraction, carving and polishing of lithic blocks that were used in various imperial works,” said a press release by the Peru Ministry of Culture.

Historically, the Inca Empire boasted an extensive road network spanning over 40,000 kilometers (25,000 miles), representing one of the most sophisticated transportation systems in pre-Columbian South America. While initially utilized by the Conquistadors during the colonial period to reach the capital city of Cusco, the impracticality of horses and ox carts in challenging terrains led to the eventual abandonment of much of the network.

Part of the Inca road network cutting through the Peruvian coastal mountains. (PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture)

"Although studies are still in process, it is likely that these blocks have been moved from Cañete to Paredones de Nasca on the Peruvian coast, more than 300 kilometers away, through the Inca trail, known as the 'Camino de los Llanos', adds the statement.

Crucially, the road and path network offers valuable insights into the transportation of both quarried and crafted stone to the Inca settlements situated in the coastal regions. An archaeological expedition is slated for 2024 with the primary objective of surveying the quarries.

Section of trail constructed by the Inca. (PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture)

Section of trail constructed by the Inca. (PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture)

Incas and Quarries: A Long-Association

Inca quarries were pivotal sites integral to the construction endeavors of the Inca civilization, where they sourced the essential raw materials for their architectural marvels. These quarries, strategically situated in proximity to construction sites, played a vital role in supplying the stones required for crafting temples, palaces, fortresses, and the intricate agricultural terraces that characterized Inca architecture, according to a study published by the The University of California Press.

Blocks of ashlar cut stone at one of the quarry locations. (PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture)

Blocks of ashlar cut stone at one of the quarry locations. (PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture)

The Inca demonstrated exceptional skills in stonemasonry, utilizing various types of stones such as granite, limestone, and andesite. One distinctive feature of Inca quarries was the advanced techniques employed in the extraction and shaping of stones. Using tools crafted from bronze and stone, the Inca would carefully extract large stone blocks from the quarries, later refining and fitting them at the construction sites to seamlessly integrate into the overall design of their structures.

The logistical challenge of transporting these massive stones from the quarries to the construction sites was facilitated by an intricate road network featuring ramps, stairs, and pathways. This sophisticated transportation system was designed to navigate various terrains, ensuring the efficient movement of heavy stone blocks across the expansive Inca Empire. Quarry sites of note were scattered throughout the Andes mountains of Peru, with Ollantaytambo being a prominent location near the famed Inca capital of Cusco.

Top image: Stone blocks discovered at the Inca quarry at Cañete, Peru.    Source: PQN/ Peru Ministry of Culture

By Sahir Pandey

References

Ordonez, C. 2023. They discover, for the first time, final stage quarries of the Inca empire on the coast of Peru. Available at: https://elmercurio.com.ec/2023/12/10/descubren-por-primera-vez-canteras-de-etapa-final-del-imperio-inca-en-la-costa-de-peru/.

Milligan, M. 2023. Inca quarries and road network found in Cañete. Available at: https://www.heritagedaily.com/2023/12/inca-quarries-and-road-network-found-in-canete/149901.

Peru Ministry of Culture. Dec 2023. Ministry of Culture registers Inca quarries in Cañete. Available at: https://www.gob.pe/institucion/cultura/noticias/879235-ministerio-de-cultura-descubre-y-registra-canteras-incaicas-en-canete

 
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Sahir

I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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