In the Incan Empire, astronomy was a critical factor in their process of decision making. To learn the exact moment to begin their agrarian year, they had to study the movements of the Sun and the Moon. And what was suspected for many centuries has been confirmed by a Polish-Peruvian team of archaeologists – the ancient city of Machu Picchu was an astronomical observation point. For the first time, the researchers have confirmed this by determining the planetary alignments used by the Incas.
The Religion Under the Sun
During the times of the 9th Inca and the first Emperor, Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, it was decided that there should be a unifying religion under the sun to bond the lands of the vast Incan empire. The nation was diverse, and the Sun god would be what unifies them. Solar observatories were placed in strategic places of the land to validate scientific precision, and the Incas determined the winter and summer solstices which they called the Capac Raymi and Inti Raymi. In Cusco, there was a massive public solar calendar build out of 5-meter high stone pillars. But besides the sun, they also had a lunar calendar that measured time by tracing how much time it took for the moon to resolve fully.
Links to Astronomy
The Incas worshipped different gods and spirits, and their religion closely linked to astronomy. The sky was essential to them, and they saw both the Sun and Moon as gods. They’ve built temples and pillars with such high precision so these heavenly bodies would pass through windows or over the structures on specific days. They studied the stars and grouped them into constellations.
For example, the Inca chief observatory (the Coricancha) was completely covered in gold (both inside and outside) revealing the people’s dedication to the Sun god. Also, the city of Cusco was designed in a way to replicate the sky and point to specific celestial bodies.
The Importance of Constellations to the Inca
The Inca noticed various representations from their daily lives upon looking at the stars. They believed that the highest creator deity, Viracocha, had ensured that all living things were protected and each animal had a corresponding star. The Inca knew the locations of their constellations without the presence of stars.
There were two groups of constellations – the first grouping of stars represented pictures of animals, heroes, and Gods (the Incas linked them in a connect-the-dots way). A constellation known as the Pleiades was seen as a Huaca and believed to be influential over the health and wellbeing of animals. The second group of constellations was the dark spots on the Milky Way which were considered as living animals.
Planetarium Cusco is a great way to explore the Inca cosmovision. The planetarium is located near downtown
Cusco and is the most original planetarium in the world. It offers a one-of-a-kind experience in 3 stages:
First, you can listen to fascinating facts and stories that will help you understand why the Inca civilization observed the sky as they did. The second stage is The Dome where you can see a sky projection of the stars to learn the Incan official constellations. During the third and last stage, you can watch the skies through their professional telescopes to see the constellations, nebulae, planets, and stars (providing the weather conditions allow it.)
If you’d like to visit the ancient observatories of the Inca and learn more about how the Inca saw and understood the sky,