Water History Chisled in Stone

Here are two prominent examples of water history that either etched or illustrated in stone.  The first is from a tombstone (in essence it’s 2-D).  It describes the difficulties an engineer had with the construction of a Roman aqueduct (NG History, Nov/Dec 2016, p 56 and 60):

Among the very few sources to shed light on how aqueducts were built is a Roman funerary monument found at the city of Bejaia in Algeria.  This commemorates the life one Nonius Datus, an engineer, and recounts the difficulties he encountered in carrying out his work.  The long text, written after the aqueduct’s completion around A.D. 152, describes how the city’s inhabitants lobbied for an improved water supply.  The process was not as speedy as might have been hoped.  Datus planned the aqueduct’s route around 138.  However, the work was not completed until 152, following a series of setbacks which the monument describes in detail.  Most crucially, the teams of workmen who started excavating the two sides of the tunnel did not meet where they were supposed to.  On another occasion, bandits attacked the site and Datus escaped by the skin of his teeth, naked, battered and bruised.

Even more intriguing is a large rock at the Saywite archaeological site in the highlands of Peru.  It illustrates the workings of an Inca water supply system:

About 47 kilometers east of the city Abancay, in southern-central Peru, lies the archaeological site of Sayhuite or Saywite, described by historians as a center of religious worship for Inca people, who held rituals and ceremonies for the worship of water. The site’s main attraction is a big granite block whose upper surface is ornamented with complex and mysterious figures resembling a three-dimensional relief map of an ancient city.

Saywite Monolith Located in the Highlands of Peru

Saywite Monolith Located in the Highlands of Peru

The Sayhuite Stone is about two meters long and four meters wide. The rock is carved with more than two hundred figures of geometric and zoomorphic shapes, mostly felines, reptiles, frogs, and serpents, that are sculpted into the likeness of a topographical hydraulic model, complete with terraces, ponds, rivers, tunnels, and irrigation channels. The relief map is on the upper surface of what appears to be the bottom half of a huge boulder. The rock is located on top of the hill called Concacha, where it is believed to have been transported since it is not a natural outcrop.

Many scholars and scientists believe that the Sayhuite Stone is a scale model of the Inca empire, and its various regions are represented by the carved figures of animals and other motifs. For instance, the jungles are represented by land animals such as monkey, iguana, jaguar, etc. while the coastal areas are represented by animals like pelicans, crab, shrimp, octopus etc.

While the precise meaning and purposes of this relic remains a mystery, some researchers believe that Sayhuite Stone was used as a scale model to design, develop, test, and document the properties of water flow for irrigation and other water projects, and to instruct ancient engineers and technicians in the concepts and practices of the craft. The rock also appears to be modified several times with new material, either altering the paths of the water or adding new paths altogether. The experiments might have been carried out by pouring actual water over the stone or even liquid mercury, as researcher Dr. Arlan Andrews suspects. There are notches carved along the edge of the stone to allow the liquid to pour out.

To view a 3-D model of the Saywite monolith click here.

This entry was posted in History, Peru, Travel, water and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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