For centuries, it was held up as the preeminent example of Inca polygonal stone masonry: the famous 12-angle stone.
The massive jigsaw piece is carved with 12 angles to fit perfectly with the stones around it in a monumental foundation on Hatun Rumiyoc Street in Cusco. It is widely believed to have once been part of the palace of Inca Roca, the sixth Sapa Inca ruler of the Kingdom.
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The 12-angle stone’s iconic curves are a mainstay of the Peruvian esthetic. It extends beyond Peru’s borders, from tourist lounges and kitsch hostal lobbies all the way to haughty university classrooms in the United States and Europe.
Art historian Adam Herring wrote about it in an excellent semiotic study, Shimmering Foundation: The Twelve-Angled Stone of Inca Cusco.
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda referred to its angled form as “rocky petals,” Herring noted, and a young Ché Guevara called it “an ingma in stone.”
Countless businesses, including Peru’s most important railroad concession, PeruRail, and beer company, Cuzqueña, have engraved the stone into their corporate identities.
Now comes news just released by Peru’s Ministry of Culture that, far from the tourist Mecca that is Cusco, in an isolated Inca ruins called Inkawasi de Huaytará, archaeologists have discovered a carved stone with 13 angles.
That’s right, thirteen.
The 13-angle stone is built into a complex system of irrigation channels that researchers believe was used in ritual ceremonies.
It is located in one of two interconnected fountains, with fine coursed stonework, that run straight, then zigzag to slow the flow of water, and ultimately feeds into the Viscacha River.
Ritual management of water was a central feature of the Inca, who — like dozens of Andean civilizations that preceded them— viewed springs, lakes and mountain glaciers as sacred, living deities.
So, what to make of this discovery.
“Move over, Cusco’s famed 12-angle stone,” was the quip that Peruvian Times led with in its story about the 13-angle stone. But only a quip it was.
The 13-angle stone is part and parcel of the great Inca structures found not only in Cusco, but throughout the vast Inca territory that stretched along the spine of the Andes from modern day Ecuador and Colombia to Chile and Argentina.
It is another example of “stylistically consistent, technically superlative, and surpassingly labor-intensive, monumental architecture,” to borrow a phrase from Prof. Herring.
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