Primary Source of Incan Masonry

Gate Structures at Rumiqolqa
Gate Structures at Rumiqolqa. Håkan Svensson (Xauxa)

Rumiqolqa (spelled variously Rumiqullqa, Rumi Qullqa or Rumicolca) is the name of the major stone quarry used by the Inca Empire to construct its buildings, roads, plazas and towers. Located approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) southeast of the Inca capital of Cusco in the Rio Huatanay valley of Peru, the quarry is on the left bank of the river Vilcanota, off the Inca road leading from Cusco to Qollasuyu. Its elevation is 3,330 meters (11,000 feet), which is slightly below Cusco, at 3,400 m (11,200 ft). Many of the buildings in the royal district of Cusco were constructed of finely cut "ashlar" stone from Rumiqolqa.

The name Rumiqolqa means "stone storehouse" in the Quechua language, and it was used as a quarry in highland Peru perhaps beginning in the Wari period (~550-900 AD) and up through the latter part of the 20th century. The Inca period Rumiqolqa operation probably spanned an area of between 100 and 200 hectares (250-500 acres). The main stone at Rumiqolqa is bedrock, a dark grey horneblende andesite, made up of plagioclase feldspar, basaltic horneblende and biotite. The rock is flow-banded and sometimes glassy, and it sometimes exhibits conchoidal fractures.

Rumiqolqa is the most important of the many quarries used by the Inca for constructing administrative and religious buildings, and they sometimes transported building material thousands of kilometers from the point of origin. Multiple quarries were used for many of the buildings: typically Inca stonemasons would use the closest quarry for a given structure but transport in stone from other, more distant quarries as minor but important pieces.

Rumiqolqa Site Features

The site of Rumiqolqa is primarily a quarry, and features within its boundaries include access roads, ramps and staircases leading to the different quarrying areas, as well as an impressive gate complex restricting access to the mines. In addition, the site has the ruins of what were likely residences for the quarry workers and, according to local lore, the supervisors or administrators of those workers.

One Inca-era quarry at Rumiqolqa was nicknamed the "Llama Pit" by researcher Jean-Pierre Protzen, who noted two rock art petrogylphs of llamas on the adjacent rock face. This pit measured about 100 m (328 ft) long, 60 m (200 ft) wide and 15-20 m (50-65 ft) deep, and at the time Protzen visited in the 1980s, there were 250 cut stones finished and ready to be shipped still in place. Protzen reported that these stones were hewn and dressed on five of the six sides. At the Llama Pit, Protzen identified 68 simple river cobbles of various sizes which had been used as hammerstones to cut the surfaces and draft and finish the edges. He also conducted experiments and was able to replicate results of the Inca stonemasons using similar river cobbles.

Rumiqolqa and Cusco

Thousands of andesite ashlars quarried at Rumicolca were used in the construction of palaces and temples in the royal district of Cusco, including the temple of Qoricancha, the Aqllawasi ("house of the chosen women") and Pachacuti's palace called the Cassana. Massive blocks, some of which weighed over 100 metric tons (about 440,000 pounds), were used in construction at Ollantaytambo and Sacsaywaman, both relatively closer to the quarry than Cusco proper.

Guaman Poma de Ayala, a 16th century Quechua chronicler, described a historic legend surrounding the building of the Qoriqancha by Inka Pachacuti [ruled 1438-1471], including the process of bringing extracted and partially worked stones up into Cusco via a series of ramps.

Other Sites

Dennis Ogburn (2004), a scholar who has dedicated some decades to investigating Inca quarry sites, discovered that carved ashlars of stone from Rumiqolqa were conveyed all the way to Saraguro, Ecuador, some 1,700 km (~1,000 mi) along the Inca Road from the quarry. According to Spanish records, in the final days of the Inca Empire, the Inka Huayna Capac [ruled 1493-1527] was establishing a capital at the center of Tomebamba, close to the modern town of Cuenca, Ecuador, using stone from Rumiqolqa.

This claim was upheld by Ogburn, who found that a minimum of 450 cut ashlar stones are currently in Ecuador, although they were removed from Huayna Capac's structures in the 20th century and reused to build a church in Paquishapa. Ogborn reports that the stones are well-shaped parallelepipeds, dressed on five or six sides, each with an estimated mass of between 200-700 kilograms (450-1500 pounds). Their origin from Rumiqolqa was established by comparing the results of XRF geochemical analysis on uncleaned exposed building surfaces to fresh quarry samples (see Ogburn and others 2013). Ogburn cites the Inca-Quechua chronicler Garcilaso de la Vega who noted that by building important structures from the Rumiqolqa quarry in his temples in Tomebamba, Huayna Capac was in effect transferring the power of Cusco to Cuenca, a strong psychological application of Incan propaganda.


This article is a part of the guide to Quarry Sites, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Hunt PN. 1990. Inca volcanic stone provenance in the Cuzco province, Peru. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 1(24-36).

Ogburn DE. 2004. Evidence for Long-Distance Transportation of Building Stones in the Inka Empire, from Cuzco, Peru to Saraguro, Ecuador. Latin American Antiquity 15(4):419-439.

Ogburn DE. 2004a. Dynamic Display, Propaganda, and the Reinforcement of Provincial Power in the Inca Empire. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 14(1):225-239.

Ogburn DE. 2013. Variation in Inca Building Stone Quarry Operations in Peru and Ecuador. In: Tripcevich N, and Vaughn KJ, editors. Mining and Quarrying in the Ancient Andes: Springer New York. p 45-64.

Ogburn DE, Sillar B, and Sierra JC. 2013. Evaluating effects of chemical weathering and surface contamination on the in situ provenance analysis of building stones in the Cuzco region of Peru with portable XRF. Journal of Archaeological Science 40(4):1823-1837.

Pigeon G. 2011. Inca architecture : the function of a building in relation to its form. La Crosse, WI: University of Wisconsin La Crosse.

Protzen J-P. 1985. Inca Quarrying and Stonecutting. The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 44(2):161-182.

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Hirst, K. Kris. "Rumiqolqa." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Hirst, K. Kris. (2020, August 25). Rumiqolqa. Retrieved from Hirst, K. Kris. "Rumiqolqa." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 24, 2021).