The Astronomy of Peruvian Huacas

  • Steven Gullberg
  • J. McKim Malville
Conference paper
Part of the Astrophysics and Space Science Proceedings book series (ASSSP)


The Incas honored and venerated many features of both natural and ­man-made landscapes that they felt to be endowed with superhuman powers. In Quechua these shrines were known as huacas, and at the time of the Spanish ­conquest there were thousands of them. Soon after invading the Incan homeland the Spaniards began a campaign against the indigenous religion that included a systematic eradication of huacas. Shrines that were large carved stones and outcroppings survived, ­however, and form part of our study. A number of these were found to have astronomical meaning, marking events such as solstices and equinoxes. Water channels are associated with the majority of astronomical huacas. Ritual stairways are also common features, symbolizing shamanic movement between the three worlds of Incan cosmology.

The Incas built as many as 16 pillars on the horizons of Cusco to mark the positions of the rising or setting Sun on significant dates of the year. All were destroyed. Two pillars above the modern village of Urubamba that escaped the Spanish purge mark the rising Sun at June solstice as viewed from a large granite boulder in the center of the courtyard of the palace of Huayna Capac. Viewed also from the boulder, in the direction of the December solstice sunrise we have located stone structures on the distant summit of Cerro Unoraqui. The major axis of the courtyard of the palace is oriented approximately toward Cerro Unoraqui.


Water Channel December Solstice Granite Boulder June Solstice Origin Myth 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Carlos Aranibar for providing excellent support in the field. We are greatly indebted to Mike Zawaski who assisted the project with theodolite measurements. Nicholas Ashov first drew our attention to the Urubamba pillars. Gary Ziegler, Hugh Thomson, Greg Danforth, Ward Olin, Deb Bouvier, Jessica Gullberg, Steven Gullberg II, Gregory Gullberg and Jesus Villafuerte contributed to our fieldwork. We benefited from the support and encouragement of Xavier Ricard formerly of Centro Bartolome de Las Casas. Our work at Llactapata and Urubamba was undertaken with permission of the Instituto National de Cultura-Cusco.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for AstronomyJames Cook UniversityTownsvilleAustralia

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