Christine Fiori has built an international reputation as an expert on the Inca Road, but she isn’t an archaeologist or historian.
She is the associate director of the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech, where she has taught since 2007.
While modern construction is the focus of her everyday world and foundation of her professional experience, what truly sets Fiori apart from her peers is her research into ancient engineering.
Fiori, with support from the National Science Foundation and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C., led the first detailed engineering study on the Inca Road. She has spent four years studying sections of the 700-year-old passage with an international team of researchers and students.
The Inca Road runs from Quito, Ecuador, to Santiago, Chile, traversing rainforests, deserts, and mountains as it climbs from sea level to an altitude of 14,000 feet. While simple in appearance, the road is engineered to stand the test of time; it still serves as a critical connection between small villages throughout the region.
Fiori’s work is building a new understanding of how ancient engineers worked with the environment to simply and effectively build lasting structures.
Modern road construction often relies on modifying the landscape by blasting through rock, which can result in landslides. Because the Inca relied on working within their environment, following the contours of the land and controlling the water flow around it, their road still stands today.
The research has important implications for understanding the construction methods employed by the Inca.
In November, Fiori discussed how civil engineers can apply ancient engineering concepts as a featured speaker at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian Symposium on Inca Engineering. She then immediately departed for Peru where she provided expert commentary for the Science Channel’s show “Strip the City,” which aired in March.
Fiori is also making an impact at an international level as a catalyst for formal research and publication on the Inca Road. When Fiori’s research first began, there was very little published information available.
She is now encouraging researchers in South America toward further work and publication on Incan engineering and creating opportunities for college students to get involved in research on the topic. To aid in the preservation and recognition of the road, she is also working with the American Society of Civil Engineers to have the Inca Road named one of UNESCO’s engineering heritage sites.
One of the key researchers involved with Fiori’s Incan engineering research is Clifford J. Schexnayder, a professor emeritus from Arizona State University and Fiori’s mentor, with whom she co-authored the textbook, “Construction Management Fundamentals.”
Fiori and Schexnayder are currently designing an exhibit on the Inca Road for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
Fiori’s knowledge of the road is hard won. It was earned over multiple years hiking the Inca Road, often covering five to 10 miles each day at high altitudes with equipment packed on donkeys and llamas, taking measurements, setting up satellite communications, and sleeping on the ground.
While she credits many of her achievements with “being in the right place at the right time,” her knowledge of building techniques and her open mind to examine the engineering behind something a little out of the ordinary made her the perfect person to take on the challenge.