While in Cusco, Peru, our group took a taxi into the mountains above the city. Located above 11,000 feet, is the archaeological site Tipon which served as an estate for Inca nobility. According to Kenneth Wright (WE&T, Sep 2008):
Tipon could be called an Inca water garden because of its canal hydraulics and related features of terraces, fountains, and drop structures. Tipon was an agricultural center requiring irrigation. The Inca drew upon the technology of past empires and refined the techniques. Water resource development at Tipon harmoniously fit the site’s topography, hydrology, and water needs.
Unlike Machu Picchu, which had an adequate rainfall for crop production, the Tipon site required irrigation. The source of the water was a high-yielding spring with a pure, reliable base flow. The spring was located at the base of a volcanic-rock deposit and its flow was enhanced by an elegant Inca headworks. Again, according to Wright:
September 2000 hydrological surveys found that Inca-formed stone conduits of the Tipon spring extended back into the hillside. Eight separate conduits were noted that served to collect the subsurface flow so that it could be concentrated in one location for ease of handling and distribution.
The distribution system was also well laid out:
The Tipon spring flows 8 meters to a point of bifurcation. The right canal then splits then bifurcates again to create two separate canals. The three canal layout enabled prehistoric water managers to route water to the entire central terrace system lying below the spring.
Tipon’s dramatic focal point is a set of 13 large, irrigated water-garden-type central terraces that stair-step down a former ravine, the terraces being formed by handsome, carefully designed stone walls judged to be among the finest in all of Peru. Near the middle of the terrace complex, a series of elaborate drop structures provide the invigorating sight and sound of cascading water.
A ceremonial fountain lies opposite one of the terraces and would have been a suitable place for holding ceremonies.
To get a better feeling for layout of the Tipon irrigation system, we launched a quad-copter equipped with a camera. We were able to capture some good video before we were finally rained out. We hope to use the video footage and still shots to create a 3-D model of the headworks of the Tipon water delivery system. You can view some of the video footage here.
Tipon is a marvelous archaeological site. While Machu Picchu has a more dramatic Andean location, Tipon’s water system is truly worth a visit, particularly if you are interested in water and/or irrigation and/or engineering history.