Percy Fawcett’s younger son, Brian Fawcett, reports the following story, told to him by a friend:
Some years ago, when I was working in the mining camp at Cerro de Pasco (a place 14,000 feet up in the Andes of Central Peru), I went out one Sunday with some other Gringos to visit some old Inca or Pre-Inca graves – to see if we could find anything worth while. We took our grub with us, and, of course, a few bottles of pisco and beer; and a peon – a cholo – to help dig.
Well, we had our lunch when we got to the burial place, and afterwards started to open up some graves that seemed to be untouched. We worked hard, and knocked off every now and again for a drink.
I don’t drink myself, but others did, especially one chap who poured too much pisco into himself and was inclined to be noisy. When we knocked off, all we found was an earthenware jar of about a quart capacity, and with liquid inside it.
‘I bet its chicha!’ said the noisy one. ‘Let’s try it and see what sort of stuff the Incas drank!
‘Probably poison us if we do,’ observed another.
‘Tell you what, then – let’s try it out on the peon!’
They dug the seal and stopper out of the jar’s mouth, sniffed at the contents and called the peon over to them.
‘Take a drink of this chicha,’ ordered the drunk. The peon took the jar, hesitated and then with an expression of fear spreading over his face thrust it into the drunk’s hands and backed away.
‘No, no, senor,’ he murmured. ‘Not that. That’s not chicha!’ He turned and made off.
The drunk put the jar down on a flat-topped rock and set off in pursuit. ‘Come on boys – catch him!’ he yelled. They caught the wretched man, dragged him back, and ordered him to drink the contents of the jar. The peon struggled madly, his eyes popping. There was a bit of a scrimmage, and the jar was knocked over and broken, its contents forming a puddle on the top of the rock. Then the peon broke free and took to his heels.
Everyone laughed. It was a huge joke. But the exercise had made them thirsty and they went over to the sack where the beer-bottles lay.
About ten minutes later I bent over the rock and casually examined the pool of spilled liquid. It was no longer liquid; the whole patch where it had been, and the rock under it, were as soft as wet cement! It was as though the stone had melted, like wax under the influence of heat.
There is an ancient tradition that the buildings at Great Zimbabwe in Africa were constructed ‘when the stones were soft’. This expression is also found among the Maoris. One possible interpretation is that it refers to a method of temporarily softening the stone.
Modern ‘experts’ scoff at anecdotes and traditions such as these. They argue that the quarries where the Incas cut their stones are known, and stones can be found there in all stages of preparation. However, the fact that some stones were cut with ordinary tools does not necessarily mean that they all were. A variety of techniques may have been used.
The proper scientific attitude would be to put these traditions to the test instead of mindlessly dismissing them. After all, it is no secret that certain plants (e.g. in the Alps) that are ecologically adapted to life in rock crevices secrete acids to soften the rock.
In the 1930s, while studying mining and construction techniques, engineer J.L. Outwater examined a temple at Mitla, in Oaxaca, Mexico. This temple is ornamented by about 30,000 thin, flat pieces of stone.
These tile-like pieces were derived from trachyte, a dense, durable rock that does not split easily like slate. He discovered a huge stone cauldron near a quarry and wondered whether the Maya had soaked stones in some chemical to soften them before making their tiles.
Researcher Maurice Cotterell, too, believes that pre-Inca and Inca stonemasons possessed the technology to soften and pour stone
Some plants that are ecologically adapted to life in rock crevices (and this is a common phenomenon among alpine plants) secrete acids to soften the rock. Thus they gain a greater foothold in their niche. It may well be possible that the Peruvians knew of a few such plants from observation.
Especie: Ephedra andina
Nombre vulgar: Pingo-pingo