Geographic Overview of the Marcahuasi Plateau

Javier Ruzo

Located in the high peaks of the western slopes of the central Peruvian Andes, the Marcahuasi Plateau, at nearly 14,000 feet above sea level- equally challenges the works of the gods and the destinies of the common man.

If we draw a straight line between the mountain and the shores of the Pacific Ocean it would not represent in the least the steep rise in altitude that conditions human scales to innumerable variables in climate and geography.  There are no plains between rivers nor river deltas useful to agricultura. There are only powerful mountains and Deep crevasses and canyons.

This scenery repeats itself valley upon valley and with each mountain top from the Tarapaca dessert in northern Chile to the dessert of Sechura, more tan one thousand kilometers to the north of Marcahuasi. More tan two thousand kilometers of sub-tropical coastline coupled with the Humboldt current coming from the frigid south give rise to an incredible degree of biodiversity in the sea  as well as a thick cover of fog along the coast which is present almost continuosly throughout the year.

Thus we may imagine dozens of parallel tracks from mountain tops to the sea shores, divide done from the other by deep abysses; each of them with its own household gods, sanctuaries and crops united through a thin thread of sacred waters descending from the heights.

This is exactly where our narrative begins.

Between the harshness of the frigid Puna (at altitudes above 10,000 feet) and the temperate coastal strip one of the emblematic human civilizations was born. All the difficulties we have mentioned did not deter the military and cultural expansión of the diverse kingdoms that arose there up to the time of the Inca Empire. Most surprising: an encompassing grid of symbols intertwined with the geographical génesis of the sacred Andean space arose in which reciprocity on a social and festive level produced a common cosmological visión among the peoples tied to their particular geography.

These considerations are needed in order to address the inevitable axiom which applies to every human being attempting to classify the history of time and human culture as a permanent state – there is no such thing as permanency in any human context.

During the past 20-30 years archaeological studies of sites along the central coast of Peru have uncovered the remains of cultures dating from 2,500 BC that were as complex as they have been unknown. With this knowledge we can now focus on the influence of altitude and climactic parameters that have decisively affected cultural development  in ancient Peru.