Moray: The Sacred Laboratory Of The Incas

Moray Ruins in Peru
Not far from the salt pans of Salinas (see The Salt Pans of Salinas, Peru) are a complex of three large, circular, terraced craters known as Moray, an unusual Incan archaeological site just off the dusty Peruvian plateau. The amphitheatre-like depressions are about 50 kilometers northwest of Cusco, just down the road from the small town of Maras and 600 meters above Urubamba and the Sacred Valley of the Incas. The consensus on the site is that it was some kind of experimental area for improving crop yield. You could call it the Sacred Laboratory of the Incas.

Arriving at the Moray site is quite an experience. We walked to the edge of the plateau and looked down to the lowest, innermost, concentric circle in the largest depression – a distance of about 100 meters. We walked down the crude, stone steps carefully, as the height of each terrace was about six feet. (see short video below) From the top of the plateau to the bottom of the largest depression took us about 30 minutes of walking.

Like the Romans, the Incas conquered and assimilated a great many tribes in their sphere of influence. Much of this was aided by the Inca road network, which helped communication, trade and political administration. In addition to subduing conquered tribes and plundering, it appears that the Incas were interested in science as well.
The site was apparently designed by the Incas to take advantage of the natural depressions below the level plain and duplicate Andean, jungle and semi-tropical environments for the growth of various plant species. Pollen studies indicate that soils from each of these regions was imported by the Incas to each of the large circular basins. In the largest crater, there is a network of water channels that reach the bottom that were used to irrigate the experimental crops. The depth and orientation of the craters with respect to wind and sun creates a temperature difference of as much as 15 °C (27 °F) between the top and bottom. The theory is that the large temperature difference was possibly used by the Incas to study the effects of different climatic conditions on crops. It is believed that the Incas could grow over 250 plant species at Moray.

We climbed out of the main crater and huffed and puffed our way back to the top. We looked back down and in my mind I superimposed vegetation over the terraces and Inca scientists taking measurements and recording observations. The Incas were around for less than 100 years prior to Spanish conquest but they accomplished a lot during that time. Watching tourists climb in and out of the Sacred Laboratory of the Incas, I wondered what Peru might be like today if the Incas had not run into the guns, germs and steel of the Spanish.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting read, Jason. Anything about the Incas is always a fascinating read.