The Inca Trail Pilgrimage

      The famous Inca site of Machu Picchu attracts thousands of visitors every day. People come from all over the world, eager to see the postcard images of the gorgeous city in person. Whether by train, bus or foot, the journey to Machu Picchu can be considered a modern-day pilgrimage. In fact, there is much evidence that Machu Picchu has been a pilgrimage site since it’s creation. The Inca Trail, still heavily trafficked today by hikers and tourists, provided a spiritual journey for Incas as they walked toward Machu Picchu.

      Between the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, there are plenty of routes that would have been easier to build or walk than the Inca Trail. However, the difficulty of the trail and its closeness to mountains such as Veronica and Salkantay, suggest this trail was designed for religious purposes and special occasions (Cardinal 2017). Incas valued mountains as very holy places and have undertaken religious ceremonies and human sacrifices on mountaintops such as at Mount Llullaillaco (Reinhard and Ceruti 2010). Passing by massive mountains on the Incan pilgrimage was most likely an intentional spiritual decision. Religious ceremonies could have taken place at many of the archaeological sites on the route. Easier routes to Machu Picchu existed but were probably used for nonreligious purposes such as transporting llamas or goods. 

Figure 1: Runkuraqay was a resting point along the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu

      Along the historical journey, some archaeological sites, like Runkuraqay (Figure 1), were resting points for travelers. Another spiritual aspect of the pilgrimage was walking through the Inti Punku (Figure 2), also known as the sun gate. Inti Punku is considered the gateway into Machu Picchu and walking through it offers the first view of the city. Once at the city itself, Incas might have participated in religious ceremonies at temples such as the Temple of the Sun, where Viracocha, the Incan sun god was worshipped (Lathrop 2019).

Figure 2: The Sun Gate was the final portal into the city

      The modern-day pilgrimage on the classic Inca trail is very much marketed towards tourists and is a large source of income for many tour agencies in Peru. Everyone hiking the Inca Trail is required to travel with a guide and to buy a permit. Permits are expensive and need to be bought far in advance, as they are limited to 500 a day to reduce overcrowding of the trail (Whitman 2019). Nonetheless, people try to relive and reimagine the past treks made by spiritual Inca travelers as they hike for four days, ending with the entrance through the sun gate and descending into Machu Picchu. People today will spend much less time at the actual site of Machu Picchu than they spend getting there. Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail remains a popular and important pilgrimage site today, just as it was in the 15th and 16th centuries for the Inca.


Reference List

Cardinal, Nicholle.                                                                                                                                2017 The History of the Inca Trail. Electronic Document,, accessed November 22, 2019.

  Reinhard, Johan and Ceruti, Maria Constanza.                                                                             2010 Inca Rituals and Sacred Mountains: A Study of the World’s Highest Archaeological Sites. Electronic Document,, accessed November 22, 2019.

 Lathrop, Jessica M.                                                                                                                      2019 Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu: History and Facts. Electronic          Document,, accessed November 22, 2019.

Whitman, Mark.                                                                                                                           2019 Inca Trail Availability and Permits. Electronic Document,, accessed November 22, 2019.


Figure 1:

The Inca Trail (Camino Inka): Day Three, Part I (Pacamayo to Qunchamarka)

Figure 2:

Further Readings

On the extended Inca Road System:

Tourism impact on Machu Picchu:

Early Fishing Technologies and Human Diet in East Asia

Humans have been consuming fish for a long time. Two major discoveries in East Asia give insight into some of the earliest technological advancements in fishing.

Figure 1: Partial fishing hook used by early humans in East Timor (Choi 2014). Photograph by Susan O’Conner

One site in present-day East Timor, a small island north of Australia, gives us insight on early fishing techniques. The discovery of fishing hooks made of bone and shell (Figure 1) can be dated back to 42,000 years ago (Choi 2014). These hooks are the oldest ever found (Choi 2014). What is so impressive about these fishing hooks is that they were used to catch tuna, a fish that lives in deep water, moves quickly, and is even difficult to catch today. Early humans developed new techniques in order to catch these fish. The site is at the Jerimalai Shelter (Figure 2) found on the north side of the island (Corbyn 2011). Archaeologist Susan O’Connor spearheaded the dig and found around 38,000 fish bones including fish such as tuna and parrotfish (Zukerman 2011). East Timor is a small island with not many large animals living on it today, so humans living at the site 42,000 years ago most likely relied on fish as their main source of food (Choi 2014). Therefore, humans were forced to adapt and create new technologies, such as deep-sea fishing hooks, to allow them to capture fish in the area. These fishing techniques also give us a further understanding on how humans were able to travel across the ocean for extended periods of time, subsisting on fish during the journey, to get to Australia and other islands (Corbyn 2011). 

Figure 2: The Jerilamai Shelter in East Timor where ancient fish bones and fishing hooks were found. Photograph by Susan O’Conner

Another discovery that furthers our understanding of the development of fishing comes from a site in Northeastern South Korea, where the oldest fishing net sinkers (Figure 3) were found (DeCou 2018). In the Maedun Cave site, archaeologists discovered 14 stones made of limestone with “central grooves” (DeCou 2018). The nets would sink to the seafloor because of this extra weight and would catch fish more efficiently. Thanks to radiocarbon dating, we know these stones to be about 29,000 years old and are “considered to be the world’s earliest” of their kind (Yonhap 2018). Before this find, the oldest stone sinkers were roughly 10,000 years old (DeCou). Humans were using stones to sink nets thousands of years before what we previously thought.

Figure 3: Limestone net sinkers with grooves were found in South Korea (DeCou). Photograph courtesy of Han et al.

With the discovery of these old fish hooks and net sinkers, we now know that technologies in fishing occurred much earlier than previously thought. The findings also increase our understanding of the diet of humans and the types of fish people were eating in East Timor 42,000 years ago and in South Korea 29,000 years ago.


Additional Reading

On the importance of present-day fishing in East Timor

More information on some of the earliest seafaring humans


Choi, Charles Q. 

2014 World’s Oldest Fish Hooks Show Early Humans Fished Deep Sea. Electronic Document,, accessed September 27, 2019.


Corbyn, Zoe

2011 Archaeologists land world’s oldest fish hook. Electronic Document,, accessed September 27, 2019.


DeCou, Christopher

2018 Possible Evidence of World’s Oldest Fishing Nets Unearthed in Korea. Electronic Document,, accessed September 27, 2019.



2018 29,000-year-old net sinkers, world’s oldest, found in Korean cave. Electronic Document,, accessed September 27, 2019.


Zukerman, Wendy

2011 Deep sea fishing for tuna began 42,000 years ago. Electronic Document,, accessed September 27, 2019.



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