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A new theory about the role of Machu Picchu has been put forward by an Italian astrophysicist. Giulio Magli argues that – rather than being a royal estate – the mountain-top Inca village might have been a “pilgrimage site and a scaled-down version of a mythic landscape“:

In his study, published on the Web site arXiv.org, Magli argues that Machu Picchu’s southeast-northwest layout is meant to replicate the path of the sun across the sky in Inca country, averaged over the course of a year.

Southeast-northwest is also the direction traveled by the first Inca during their mythic journey—again, likely influenced by the sun, which was worshipped as a god.

As a sacred site, Machu Picchu may have been open to commoners and highborn alike, much like a known Inca pilgrimage destination on the Island of the Sun, Magli said.

You can download a PDF of Magli’s paper directly from ArXiv.org. Also note that Magli last year put forward a new theory about the pyramids of the Giza Plateau in Egypt, suggesting that the two largest pyramids were built by Khufu as part of a single, symbolic project.