How Geographic
Re-Created Machu Picchu for New Map

D.L. Parsell
National Geographic News
April 17, 2002


View a gallery that shows the steps in the mapmaking process: Go>>

The remarkably preserved ruins of Machu Picchu, high in the Andes of Peru, are one of the most famous archaeological landmarks in the world. But what did the Inca city look like in its heyday, some 500 years ago?

Mapmakers at National Geographic had to answer that question when they set out a year ago to re-create the site for a new illustrated map. Now, they have produced what they say is the most complete and detailed view of the ancient city ever done.

"It's never been done at this level of detail before. People may have reconstructed a single house, but not the whole thing," said Patricia Healy, a researcher in Geographic's maps division.

It was an especially challenging task because the Inca had no system of writing and left no written records.

Healy visited libraries and scholarly collections looking for reconstructions of the ruins. "The only thing I found were a lot of children's book illustrations," she said. "But we started completely from scratch, for accuracy."

The map—the latest in a series on "Great Peoples of the Past"—is a supplement to the May issue of National Geographic.

The Machu Picchu illustration shows a bird's-eye view of the entire city, embellished with activities typical of Inca life.

The Inca regarded many features of nature—mountain peaks, earth, rivers, and sky—as sacred and possessed of supernatural powers. So designer Sally Summerall and the map team decided to show Machu Picchu during the sacred Inca festival of Intiraymi, held during the June solstice.

Led by an Inca nobleman, who stands atop a high platform carved from rock (the intiwatana), celebrants are shown raising tumblers of beer in tribute to the sun, which is worshipped as a god. Overhead, two condors—also sacred—swoop by, as a parade of colorfully clad llamas enters the walled city, farmers dig with sticks and hand tools on the terraced hillsides, and workers stock food in a warehouse built to ensure that no one in the region goes hungry.

Attention to Detail

Healy had the painstaking task of tracking down and verifying all the factual details that the design team and the artist, Robert Giusti, needed to produce the illustration of Machu Picchu. Every detail had to be checked and re-checked for accuracy.

Hundreds of books, articles, photographs, maps, and other records were consulted. Some insight into daily activities of the Inca came from a series of illustrations by a Spanish chronicler, Huamÿn Poma, who was a descendent of Inca nobility.

Continued on Next Page >>


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