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The Water Temple of Inca-Caranqui

Was hydraulic engineering the key to winning the hearts and minds of a conquered people?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Caranqui-opener

 

Tamara Bray of Wayne State University walks through a municipal lot in a suburb of the colonial city of Ibarra, in the Andean highlands of northern Ecuador. At 7,550 feet on the northern slope of Imbabura Volcano, the equatorial sun has an intensity that burns through the occasional cool breeze. Chickens peck in the dirt and we can hear children playing at a school nearby. As we walk through the lot, which is now an archaeological site called Inca-Caranqui, Bray explains that the local people knew this was an ancient settlement long before the first archaeological surveys in the late 1990s. Just across the street stand two walls—one 130 feet long and the other 165—that were built by the Inca. One wall has traces of three trapezoidal doorways with remnants of plaster and pigments. 

 

Ecuadorian archaeologist José Echeverría leads us through the site, down a winding path that follows the low outlines of partially excavated walls. He explains that, in 2006, he was helping clear debris left over from a brickmaking operation when he uncovered some Inca masonry at the east end of the site, which turned out to be part of a large ceremonial pool about 33 by 55 feet in size. It was dug to a depth of four to five feet below the modern ground level and was surrounded by walls about three feet high. The walls and floor were made of finely cut and fitted stone.

 

two-canalsBray and Echeverría believe the pool may date to a period in the early 1500s, shortly after the Inca ruler Huayna Capac had concluded a 10-year war of conquest against the local people, the Caranqui. Legend has it that Huayna Capac had every adult male Caranqui executed. Their bodies were thrown into a lake known today as Yahuarcocha, or the “Lake of Blood,” on Ibarra’s northeast edge. Spanish chronicler Pedro Cieza de León estimated the conflict left 20,000 to 50,000 Caranqui dead.

 

Bray and Echeverría think that in the aftermath of that bloodshed, the Inca built the pool as part of a construction project that was meant to demonstrate their power to their new Caranqui subjects. The ceremonial pool would have represented a considerable investment of wealth and labor by the Inca. It also would have showed their skill as engineers by bringing water from as far as five and a half miles away and demonstrated their mastery over a resource with powerful religious symbolism. 

 

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