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Thought I'd go with a triple play and publish the third, in as many days, MOT on bridges since they seem to be a pretty popular topic.  

I posted Friday's MOT and eeff posted Saturday's MOT, both dealing with bridges.  I noticed comments in both diaries about having "just seen an article" or "just read this or that" about a bridge or "just stumbled upon a photo" of a bridge and I was struck that we seem to have "a group something" going on. Something more than synchronicity, but not quite at the level of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, but that could be a topic for another day -- or not.  

Friday evening, I happened across a story about the last Incan handwoven bridge in existence and the story of how MIT students are studying and re-creating these incredible suspension bridges.  I had no other inspirations for a topic so you will have to channel your inner Indiana Jones and traipse along with me today.

Photobucket Here it is, the last remaining Incan handwoven bridge, known as Keshwa Chaca,  as it crosses the Apurimac Canyon along the main road north from Cuzco in Peru.  The bridge spans 118 feet and hangs 220 feet above the canyon's rushing riverwaters.

Using natural fibers found within the local vegetation, Incan women would braid small, thin ropes which the men would then braid into large support cables, similar to a modern day steel suspension bridge. Handwoven bridges such as this one lasted as long as 500 years and were given such importance that anyone caught tampering with them was put to death.

Time and weather takes a toll, and over time, the bridges decayed and were often removed, leaving this single testament to Incan engineering.  

In 2003, this previously sagging bridge was repaired; blessed, using a traditional Incan ceremonial bridge blessing and stands in good condition today.  

Although a modern bridge is nearby, the residents of the region keep their ancient traditons alive by repairing and renewing the bridge annually, in June.  In ancient times this type of effort would have been a form of tax.  Nowadays, the work is performed in honor of their ancestors and the Pachamama (Earth Mother).  Both Nova and BBC have filmed documentaries about the keshwa chaca and the area is becoming a bit of a tourist attraction.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers a course called "Materials in Human Experience" which illustrates this engineering university‚Äôs approach to archaeology, combining materials science and experimentation with the traditional fieldwork of observing and dating artifacts. Students weave cable and construct smaller versions of these suspension bridges during the course.  Once completed, they stretch the bridge across a dry basin between two campus buildings.

Heather Lechtman, an archaeologist of ancient technology who helped develop the M.I.T. program, said that:

[in learning] how objects were made, what they were made of and how they were used, we see people making decisions at various stages, and the choices involve engineering as well as culture.

Once again, I'm providing links for further reading and awesome photos for those who have an interest:

NY Times article "How the Inca Lept Canyons" which covers the MIT bridge building program.

A Flickr slideshow and galleryalong with a material list from the MIT bridge building program.

Last Handwoven Bridge article - contains more photos.

Incredible Photo Album detailing the re-building of the keshwa chaca.

Originally posted to JaxDem on Sun Jan 29, 2012 at 03:30 AM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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