Rocks and the Ancient Inca

Before working on BURIED I really didn’t know much about the Inca. I knew they lived in Peru, in the high mountains of the Andes, and I’d of course seen lots of dreamy photos of Macchu Picchu and llamas with tassles. Oh, and of course there’s that Disney movie. Kronk was surely based on a historical figure, right?

But after months of research there’s one thing I now know for sure: above all else it seems the Inca were big fans of rocks. Big rocks, round rocks, square rocks, little sissy rocks… pretty much any kind of rock. They dragged rocks over great distances to build their homes, they hauled rocks up steep mountains to build castles and temples, they carved rocks to match the silhouettes of mountains of celestial significance, and they did all of it–all of it!!– without iron tools, draught animals, the wheel, mortar, or a written language. Their rock building techniques are still something of a mystery to modern day archaeologists.

Inca Walls at Sacsayhuaman near Cusco, Peru

 

NOVA even put out a short documentary in 1997 called The Secrets of Lost Empires (Disc 3) that explores efforts to replicate Inca building methods by leading researchers in the field. According to the film, how did the ancient Inca carved 15 ton boulders? With a great deal of patience, human labor… and more rocks.

Inca 1: How are we going to carve this giant rock? All we’ve got is wood, bone, and rock.

Inca 2: Hey! I know! Let’s use this other rock!

The Inca were clearly doing something right; the walls that survived the Spanish conquistadors have withstood dozens of earthquakes in the last 500 years (while the colonial buildings on top of them have repeatedly collapsed. Ha! Take that, Spanish conquistadors!) Archaeologists have an idea of Cusco’s original layout, but, like the present-day city of Alexandria, there’s very little to show for its original splendor.

Inca walls still standing in modern Cusco, built without mortar or the use of iron tools.

 

Now part of my job as the illustrator for BURIED is to do a spread that depicts ancient Cusco. And for someone who needs to draw a recreation of the original city, a simple archaeological map of scattered foundation lines isn’t all that much to go on. I thought that perhaps I might track down an ink sketch or two from an artistic conquistador’s journal, but the only source image of the city on record is this painting by a Spanish monk, completed after the earthquake of 1650 about 100 years after Pizarro conquered the Inca. In other words, this doesn’t look much like Cusco as the Inca knew it.

Earthquake Painting in Cusco's Cathedral, Peru, from 1650.

 

The only other illustration leads available to me were the existing foundations of the Temple of the Sun at the Coriancha. Plated in with hundreds of sheets of gold and home to Inca kings and priests, the Coriancha sat at the heart of Cusco and was of course Pizarro’s first place of pillage. Today the foundations of the Coriancha still stand and bear the weight of the Church of Santo Domingo, and (luckily for me!) is the site of ongoing restoration inside the walls of the Church. Between tourist photos online and an archaeologist’s recreated drawing, I could begin to conceive of what this small part Cusco might have originally looked like.

Coriancha, the Temple of the Sun. The original foundation is the dark gray stone beneath the modern church.

 

Recreated drawing of Coriancha from the book ANCIENT CUZCO: HEARTLAND OF THE INCA by Brian S. Bauer

 

First I used the photos and the drawing above to make a quick clay model to draw from for my roughs (it’s terribly useful to turn a model in space, and it’s also a welcome break from sketching!) The drawings themselves were easy, but I was quickly frustrated by how un “city-like” the Coriancha appeared. The small handful of steeply sloped buildings felt terribly underwhelming compared to the vast expanse of Copan or Tenochtitlan. (In the case of Copan, the city was abadoned to the jungle, and in the case of Tenochtitlan there was indeed an artistic conquistador on the scene. No such luck with Cusco.)

Clay Model of the Temple of the Sun.

 

Sketch of the Coriancha.

 

Sketch of the Coriancha.

 

Sketch of the Coriancha.

 

In the end I chose to shift the angle of the drawing, focusing on the view of the Coriancha from below. A little wisp of smoke and some sun breaking through the clouds in the final drawing will help increase the drama of the scene, and I’m much happier with the city spanning the full width of the page spread. And look at all of that beautiful Inca rock that I get to draw for the book!

Final Sketch of the Coriancha.

 

Coming soon: more on the Maya! Stay tuned!

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