Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 45.djvu/845

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ASTRONOMY OF THE INCAS.

ASTRONOMY OF THE INCAS.
By M. JEAN DU GOURCQ.

THE traveler who in these days penetrates to the high plateaus of upper Peru and Bolivia, explores the basin of Lake Titicaca, and returns to Cuzco, is struck with the great number of ruins, hieroglyphic inscriptions, broken pottery work, and huacas which he meets at every step. They are the relics of the fanaticism of the conquerors and of their unbounded rapacity. Of the magnificent palaces adorned with gold and silver, the temples of the sun glistening with jewels, and the astronomical columns which stood at all points in the country from La Paz to Anito, there remain nothing but fragments of crumbled walls, an infinite number of pieces of bricks, deformed and mutilated statues disintegrated by time, blocks of granite and basalt standing in the deserted fertile lands like black ghosts, and at long distances apart a few tombs which have been forgotten by the Spaniards. The monuments standing at Tyahuanaco and on steep hills difficult of access, and in the archipelagoes of Lake Titicaca, although dilapidated and also victims of the hands of iconoclasts, deserve serious attention on account of their relatively good state of preservation.

Popular superstition has, furthermore, contributed no little to preserve the ruins of Lake Titicaca from complete spoliation.

Why are not more pains taken to send out scientific expeditions to these regions, to study the ancient civilization of the Incas? A work might be undertaken there of like nature with that which has been accomplished in Egypt by Champollion and Mariette Bey. Much that is valuable has been done there, it is true; but the whole story is still far from being told, and I am confident that huacas have many secrets and surprises in reserve for us. The astronomy of the Incas, a curious side of Peruvian civilization, while it has been lightly touched upon by some of the American reviewers and superficially noticed by a few explorers, is yet almost wholly unknown to us. Some even, of whom Mr. Wiener is one, have gone so far as to deny that astronomy existed among these peoples, or to reduce it to simple rudimentary notions. Yet we have only to keep our eyes open in passing through the country, or to consult the contemporary annals of the conquest, to be assured that their science was not a mere chimera or a legend invented to amuse. It would be strange, indeed, if a people whose only cult was the worship of the stars had not been moved to study the nature, movements, and phenomena of the heavenly bodies, and had not attempted to explain them in some way.