I remember growing up, after church on Wednesday or Sunday evenings, looking into the sky and picking out constellations of stars out of the sky. Even though I certainly couldn’t see all the stars, I remember being able to easily spend 5 minutes just looking up, observing what can only be described as a universal marvel. Sadly, due to the light pollution around Norman (and really most of the US and urban areas), looking into the sky, marveling at the stars, just isn’t really an option anymore. I might be able to pick out a handful of the brightest stars in the sky, but the rest are obscured, hidden by the luminescent excesses emitted by our cities.
While I could consider myself impressed and engaged by the stars as a child, that wonder pales when compared to the importance of the astronomical bodies in Inka society. Steven Gullberg, an OU professor who has spent years researching how Inka architecture was influenced by the positions and movements of cosmological phenomena, gave a summary of his research on October 15 over Zoom. Within this presentation, it was remarkable to observe just how much of Inka culture was centered around the sky. For example, some of the Inka’s major cities, including Machu Picchu, were oriented with respect to each to mirror how the sun’s position would change throughout the year. The equinoxes were days of celebration for the Inka, and the sun was used to track when both agricultural and religious activities ought to occur. While today perhaps the starts hold more allure, for the Inka, the sun was both the literal and metaphorical bringer of life, and therefore occupied an incomparable position within society.
While the sun was the most important astronomical body for the Inka, the Milky Way could, perhaps, be described as the most fantastically significant. It was a visual representation of parts of the Inka’s mythology of the cosmos and is clearly a magnificent representation of the beauty one can find in nature. I’ve never seen the Milky Way, but I hope I get the chance one day, maybe while hiking an ancient Inka road through the depths of the Andes.