Sacrificial llamas found buried in Peru shed light on Incan rituals
Archaeologists have long known about the common practice in ancient Incan culture to use human sacrifices as offerings to the gods. But it wasn’t until recently that they’d ever found a mummified llama sacrifice — let alone four of them.
According to the Guardian, a team of researchers led by archaeologist Lidio Valdez from the University of Calgary unearthed the mummified remains of four llamas during the excavation of Tambo Viejo, once an important administrative hub for the Incas.
The fur on the llama remains had matted together but still appeared relatively fluffy, highlighting how well-preserved the naturally mummified animals were. Their bodies were decorated in colorful strings and bracelets and are estimated to have been interred between 1432 and 1459.
The study noted that researchers could not identify any cuts or wounds on the llama bodies, suggesting that the animals may have been buried alive.
“Historical records indicate animal sacrifices were important to the Inca, who used them as special offerings to supernatural deities,” said Valdez, who uncovered the llama sacrifices with a team of archaeologists from San Cristóbal of Huamanga University. “This was especially the case of llamas, regarded second only to humans in sacrificial value.”
In addition to the four sacrificial llamas that were found, another decayed llama corpse was discovered separately, indicating there may have been an attempt to loot the burial, which was decorated with feathers from tropical birds. Archaeologists also found the carcasses of decorated guinea pigs at the site.
Further excavations of Tambo Viejo found traces of what seemed to be a massive feast. Researchers uncovered large ovens and other findings which pointed to some sort of celebration.
The new study — published in the journal Antiquity in late October 2020 — suggests that the estimated date of the llama sacrifice about five centuries ago happened during the period after the territory was peacefully annexed by the Incas.
The finding supports the idea that the celebratory feast that took place was likely meant to appease the new resident subjects.
Besides being made as offerings to the gods to bring good health and a bountiful harvest, it seems that animal sacrifices were also used to stake a territorial claim for political purposes.
“The offerings likely were part of much larger feasts and gatherings, sponsored by the state,” said Valdez.
“The state befriended the local people with food and drink, cementing political alliances, whilst placing offerings allowed the Inca to claim the land as theirs.”
Excavation at Tambo Viejo first began in 2018. Since then, in addition to the llama burial discovery, researchers have found the remains of a large plaza and a distinct religious Inca structure called ushnu. They also unearthed a connecting road to the Nazca Valley, where the famous Nazca Lines geoglyphs are located.
Past studies have determined that llamas were significant to Inca culture. While the four-legged animals were hunted for their meat as food, they were also most frequently used as sacrificial offerings, more so than human sacrifices.
The Inca rituals were performed at specific times of the year. A hundred llamas were sacrificed in October to promote a healthy rainy season, and in February another 100 llamas were sacrificed to bring the rainstorms to a stop.
Bernabé Cobo, a colonial-period Spanish chronicler, wrote that the animals were used for different sacrifices based on their colouring. Brown-furred llamas were sacrificed to the creator god, Viracocha, while white llamas were presented as offerings to the sun. Llamas with mixed-coloured coats were sacrificed to the thunder.
It’s clear that each offering made by the Incas had its own significance and purpose.
As the researchers wrote in their study, “Through these ceremonies, the Inca created new orders, new understandings and meanings that helped to legitimise and justify their actions to both the conquerors and the conquered.”
Giant 10-Million-Year-Old Fossil Tree in Peru Reveals Surprises About Ancient Past
A lot has changed over those 10 million years to turn the area from a humid and diverse ecosystem into the more arid and sparse state that it’s in today – not least a shift in elevation from around 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) to 4,000 meters (13,124 feet).
It’s not entirely clear how ongoing climate change is going to affect the Central Andean Plateau and the neighbouring Amazon Basin in the coming years.
In Peru, the Central Andes (or Altiplano) researchers have found a giant tree, a fossil hidden in the plains, and the 10 million years of history that it reveals don’t quite match up with what we thought we know about the ancient climate.
Back when this tree died, a little more than halfway through the Neogene period, the South American climate was much more humid than had previously been thought, based on what this tree fossil reveals.
The researchers say it shows the importance of using plant fossils to work out how our planet’s climate has taken sharp turns in the past – and from that, how it might change again in the future.
“This tree and the hundreds of fossil wood, leaf, and pollen samples we collected on the expedition, reveal that when these plants were alive the ecosystem was more humid – even more humid than climate models of the past predicted,” says palaeobotanist Camila Martinez from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama.
“There is probably no comparable modern ecosystem because temperatures were higher when these fossils were deposited 10 million years ago.”
A lot has changed over those 10 million years to turn the area from a humid and diverse ecosystem into the more arid and sparse state that it’s in today – not least a shift in elevation from around 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) to 4,000 metres (13,124 feet).
Recovered plant fossils that are a mere 5 million years old suggest the majority of the shift had already taken place by then. They show evidence of grasses, ferns, herbs, and shrubs, suggesting a puna-like ecosystem similar to today’s – rather than one that could have supported the growth of huge trees.
In the scale of Earth’s history, that’s a quick shift in a short space of time, caused by movements in the Earth’s lithosphere under South America over many millions of years.
“The fossil record in the region tells us two things: both the altitude and the vegetation changed dramatically over a relatively short period of time, supporting a hypothesis that suggests the tectonic uplift of this region occurred in rapid pulses,” says STRI palaeobotanist Carlos Jaramillo.
It’s not entirely clear how ongoing climate change is going to affect the Central Andean Plateau and the neighbouring Amazon Basin in the coming years, because of complicated feedback loops that might be triggered. But the new findings suggest that in the ancient past, at least, climate and altitude change occurred alongside one another.
The idea that the tectonic uplift helped to cause less rain and drying out of the region is almost the opposite of the conclusions that several other studies have come to.
In some ways, though, a lack of agreement between studies can be as useful as perfect harmony – the gaps show where experts might be getting their calculations wrong, and there are a lot of calculations to make to peer back through 10 million years of history.
“By the end of this century, changes in temperature and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations will again approximate the conditions 10 million years ago,” says Martinez.
“Understanding the discrepancies between climate models and data based on the fossil record help us to elucidate the driving forces controlling the current climate of the Altiplano, and, ultimately, the climate across the South American continent.”
The shockingly unspoiled Peruvian tomb of the Lord of Sipan, Mochican Warrior Priest
In 1987, at an archaeological site in Huaca Rajada near Sipán, on the north coast of Peru, an immense complex of unplundered Moche cultural tombs was uncovered. The most famous tombs were held by the Lord de Sipán, a Mochican warrior priest who, as in the area before, was buried amid the sparkling jewels.
Before discovering the famous Moche leader, archaeologists were met by a Guardian – the remains of a man with a copper helmet and a shield. He was buried in a seated position and his feet amputated to prevent him from leaving his seat. At the time, the researchers had no idea of the opulent riches that lay beyond the Guardian.
Eventually, excavators came upon a tomb, a 5m x 5m chamber, still sealed, with a wooden sarcophagus in the centre – the first of its type to be reported in the Americas. Within the coffin, lay the remains of a man dressed in full royal regalia, surrounded by a plethora of dedicatory offerings that were to accompany him in his afterlife.
An analysis of his regalia and iconographic depictions found in his tomb, suggests that this man was a high ranking Moche warrior-priest and a pre-eminent ruler of the Lambayeque valley. This mighty noble, who was probably viewed by his people as having god-like powers, became known as the Lord of Sipán.
The Lord of Sipán was aged 35-45 years old at the time of his death, and is known to have ruled the Lambayeque Valley in the late 3 rd century AD.
The elite leader was found adorned in gold, silver, and copper jewellery and ornaments, including an enormous crescent headdress with a plume of feathers, a face mask, several pectorals composed of hundreds of shell beads, necklaces, nose rings, ear rings, a gold and silver sceptre, banners of gilded metal sewn onto cotton cloth, and two backflaps, which are trapezoidal sheets of beaten gold that warriors wore attached to the back of their costumes.
The necklaces were made with beads of gold and silver in the shape of maní (peanuts), an important food staple for the Moche. There were ten kernels on the right side made of gold, signifying masculinity and the sun god, and ten kernels on the left side made of silver, to represent femininity and the moon god.
Also buried with the Lord of Sipán were many ceremonial utensils such as tropical sea shells, silver and gold rattles, knives, golden death-masks, gold bells showing a deity severing human heads, three other headdresses, and hundreds of beads. A total of 451 gold, silver, copper, textile, and feather objects were buried with the Lord of Sipán to accompany him in the afterlife.
As excavations progressed, archaeologists soon discovered that the Lord of Sipán was not alone. Buried with the warrior priest were six other people: three young women dressed in ceremonial clothes placed at the head and foot of his coffin (possibly wives or concubines who had apparently died sometime earlier), two robust males with amputated feet on the long sides (possibly warriors who were sacrificed to accompany their lord), and a child of about nine or ten years of age, placed at the head of his coffin.
The remains of a third male was later found on the roof of the burial chamber sitting in a niche overlooking the chamber. There was also a dog, which may have been the Lord of Sipan’s favorite pet, and two llamas, which were probably offerings.
The following year, in 1988, a second tomb was found and excavated near that of the Lord of Sipán, which contained an individual whom archaeologists concluded was also a Moche priest, second only in status to the Lord himself, surrounded by a Guardian and two women.
He was buried with numerous ritualistic objects, including a cup or bowl for collecting the blood of sacrificial victims, a metal crown adorned with an owl with its wings extended, and other items associated with worship of the moon. Around his neck he wore a made from small golden pendants with human faces that strike a variety of expressions.
Discoveries continued to emerge. Buried beneath 16 layers of the finest ornaments and clothing, archaeologists found a third tomb, which was slightly older than the other two.
The golden treasures and ornaments accompanying the deceased revealed that this individual was of the same or similar rank as the Lord of Sipán, and DNA analysis has shown that the two were related. As a result, the archaeologists named this third individual ‘The Old Lord of Sipán’.
The Old Lord was accompanied by a young woman and a Guardian and, while his tomb was more subdued than that belonging to the Lord of Sipán, it contained the finest metalwork found at the site, including many pieces made of thin, hammered plates of gold, and gilded copper and alloys. The ability to do this type of gold alloying was not discovered in Europe until centuries later.
Among the most precious relics were a tiny gold figurine holding a shield and club, wearing a turquoise inlaid shirt, an owl headdress, and moveable nose ornament, and a finely crafted necklace made up of golden spiders.
By 2007, a total of fourteen elite tombs had been found at Huaca Rajada and it seems quite clear that many more are still waiting to be found.
The goods found within them are so extensive that a large museum has been constructed which is entirely dedicated to highlighting this incredible discovery that sheds light on the culture, religion, and technology of the Moche civilization. The Royal Tombs Museum of Sipán was constructed in nearby Lambayeque to hold most of the artifacts and interpret the tombs.
500-Year-Old Mummy of an Incan man wearing a feather headdress found near Lima, Peru
Thousands of Inca mummies, some of them bundled together in groups of up to seven, have been unearthed from an ancient cemetery under a shantytown near Lima in Peru.
Believed to be the largest cemetery from one time period excavated in Peru, lead archeologist Guillermo Cock said as many as 10,000 Incas were possibly buried at the site at Puruchuco in Peru’s Rimac Valley between 1480 and 1535.
But Cock, a Peruvian archeologist, said the site was being destroyed at an alarming rate by humans, including the release of thousands of gallons of sewage daily into the shantytown’s streets that had seeped underground and damaged some mummies.
“The consequences of humanity on these burials are terrible,” said Cock, adding that some of the mummies were riddled with worms. “It was not a pretty sight.”
Cock, who estimates they uncovered the remains of between 2,200 and 2,400 Incas, said the cemetery provided a huge scientific sampling of the Inca people from infants to the elderly and from the rich to the very poor.
“We have what in sociological terms, we would call the perfect sample to project presidential elections. Each social class and group and age is proportionally represented,” Cock told a news conference at National Geographic’s Washington headquarters.
“This will give us a unique opportunity to look into the Inca community, study their lives, their health and their culture,” added Cock, who has been doing archeological work in Peru since 1983 and is an adviser to the Peruvian government.
The Incas once ruled a vast swath of South America stretching from Colombia to Chile but Spain’s Francisco Pizarro and his band of 160 treasure hunters, using cannons and horses, brought that empire to a bloody end in 1533.
Some of the “mummy bundles” contained as many as seven people buried along with their possessions and weighed hundreds of pounds. The bundles have yielded amazing discoveries, said Cock, including well-preserved individuals, a copper mask, a war club, hand-painted textiles, and pottery.
The bodies were not embalmed, he said but were mummified by placing them in dry soil packed with textiles that helped them dry out more quickly.
“The process, although natural, was intentional,” he said.
So far, Cock said only three bundles had been unwrapped in what was a painfully slow, expensive process. It would take generations before the full implications of the find were known.
One of the unwrapped bundles, nicknamed the Cotton King, was made up of hundreds of pounds of raw cotton. Inside was the body of an Inca noble and a baby as well as 70 items including food, pottery, animal skins, and corn.
Among the most interesting discoveries was the number of elite members of Inca society, some of whom were still wearing the elaborate feather headdresses they were buried in. Another striking find was 22 intact and 18 disturbed “false heads,” or falsas Cabezas. These are mummy bundles usually reserved for the elite with a bump on top filled with cotton and resembling a human head, many of them with wigs.
These bundles contain several people, one of them the key person and the remainder probably accompanying him in the afterlife. The bodies of adults are in the traditional fetal position, with their possessions arranged around them.
“Prior to our excavations, only one falsas cabezas bundle from the Inca Period had been recovered by an archeologist, in 1956,” said Cock.
Cock said it was unclear whether all of the bodies in these bundles were related but probably when a key person died his body was put aside until the remainder of his party died and could be buried with him.
“Mummy bundles are like time capsules from the Inca,” said Johan Reinhard, explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society. “The huge number of mummies from one period of time provides an unparalleled opportunity for new information about the Incas.”
About 50,000 to 60,000 artifacts were retrieved from the site and 22 of these are on display at National Geographic, including ancient ceramic pots and patterned textiles. Cock and his team worked at a frenetic pace over the past three years to salvage as much as they could from the cemetery before the shantytown was leveled for development.
The site is known as Tupac Amaru by the 1,240 families who sought refuge there from 1989 after fleeing guerrilla fighting in the Peruvian highlands. Aside from the toll, the cemetery has taken from tens of thousands of gallons of liquid being dumped daily into the ground, other graves were destroyed by bulldozers in 1998.
Shantytown dwellers fought to remain on the site and archeologists turned the area into a giant dig, building bridges for people to cross the streets. Some of the residents joined in the dig. Some of the graves were found very close to the surface, especially in a dusty school playground which had been leveled several years ago.
Seventy thousand years ago, people lived all over South America. Six thousand years ago, people began to construct cities around pyramids, in places like Mesopotamia and China.
The first of these structures in the Americas, between the Andes and the Pacific Oceans, was established 5,000 years ago. Known as Caral, it was a large settlement in the Supe Valley, in what is now Peru. The point is that this gave rise to the first city in the Americas, as well as the most extraordinary archaeological site in the entire world.
Ancient cities all had a common feature, namely their access to freshwater. On the wall, Across-the-board, this is what allowed for the irrigation that was required to form modern cities. In typical fashion, the river in the valley of Caral flowed down from the mountains to the sea.
From this, hoes were then used to dig trenches from the river to the fields. However, since the river only flows between December and April, to have water all year round, they had to build a canal that was fed by two different sources.
Along with the river water, the people of Caral made use of mountain spring water, to hydrate themselves and the plants they depended on. As a result of this, there were soon numerous fruits and vegetables, in a vast oasis, along with acres upon acres of cotton. It must have been an ancient wonder of the world.
Now, although they were expert farmers, the old native Peruvians didn’t know how to fire clay. Instead, they carried things in hand-woven reed baskets. The thing that makes them the most unique, though, is the fact that the Caral-Supe civilization was a peaceful society. That is to say, citizens didn’t own weapons, unlike in almost every other civilization, both ancient and modern alike.
Their overall way of life developed out of a far greater need for welfare than that of warfare. So, the culture didn’t include aggression. Although, it is important to note that, the priests of Caral did engage in human sacrifice.
In this way, they started the tradition of burying people alive in monumental architecture, as would be seen millennia later, in cities like Teotihuacan and Cahokia, in North America. Thus, trapped souls began to serve as protectors of pyramids.
Regardless, Caral was under construction at the same time as the pyramids of Giza, in Ancient Egypt. Like all the other great cities of old, the site was simply enormous.
The temple is included was a 100 foot tall, multiple structures, fire altar platform. This was also accompanied by five smaller ritual pyramids, around a central plaza, complete with an amphitheater. There was also housing for 3,000 permanent residents.
As part of this, major repairs needed to be done every two or three generations. Even though they used rather sophisticated anti-seismic methods of construction, it was still necessary to shore up monuments every few decades. They also had to deal with deadly mudslides, in the process.
Nonetheless, in spite of all the hardships they faced, their peaceful society not only survived, it actually thrived. It was all based on a complex trade network, which went to Ecuador, and even hundreds of miles away, deep in the rain forests. So, the farmers in Caral grew chili peppers and guava, among many other crops.
The most important thing they produced, though, was cotton. Manufacturers used it to make a number of textiles, like clothing and fishing nets. Farmers wore the former, and traded the latter to fishermen, miles away in coastal towns. In this way, people in the aristocratic city-state subsisted mainly on shellfish and dried fish, although they had a fairly diverse diet, overall.
The people of Caral brilliantly capitalized on what could have been a disaster. 5,000 years ago, climate change altered the local seascape in the Pacific Ocean.
After the temperature changed, tuna and other big fish moved on to cooler waters. Meanwhile, anchovies and sardines moved in. These new marine products were caught with nets rather than hooks and lines, as people had been doing with the larger fish. Simply put, it became easier to catch smaller fish, in far greater numbers.
In this way, the greater number of fish that were being caught, with the use of more and more nets, allowed for greater and greater surplus, which drove the economy. This made Caral the central trading hub, in the first major marketplace in the Americas.
As the mother civilization of the New World, the Caral-Supe society set the stage for Native American civilizations, far and wide. Without even knowing how to make pottery yet, they were already expert herbalists. They chewed coca leaves with lime, to enhance the cocaine. They also painted each other with an aphrodisiac, made from the achiote plant. Then, they engaged in orgiastic religious festivals.
The natives were flute-playing lovers, not blade-wielding fighters. Everything they did was based on cooperation, not competition. This is how they lived in peace, for a millennium, from 2600 BCE to 1600 BCE. However, all good things seem to come to an end.
Unfortunately for the people of Caral, every few decades, earthquakes would routinely break up the mountains. As a consequence of this, rubble would get swept away by torrential rains. This would then wash into the river, and out into the ocean. So, after a couple of centuries, the silt built up and sealed off the flow of water.
This completely filled the life-giving bays with sand, which prevailing winds then blew inland. Thus, with each passing year, the dunes grew bigger and more menacing on the horizon. In the end, the once fertile fields were all reclaimed, by the inhospitable desert, once more.
Gigantic 2,000-Year-Old Killer Whale Geoglyph Found in Peru Desert
Archeologists have rediscovered a giant geoglyph of the killer whale that has been carved to a desert hillside in the remote Palpa region of southern Peru for over fifty years.
According to researchers, the 230-foot orca figure, called in ancient Peruvian soul a strong semimythical creature, could be over 2,000 years old, researchers say.
It is said to be one of the oldest geoglyphs in the Palpa region, older than those in the Nazca region known for its vast collection of ancient ground markings– the Nazca lines – which include animal figures, straight lines, and geometric shapes.
Archaeologist Johny Isla, the head of Peru’s Ministry of Culture in Ica province, which includes the Palpa and Nazca valleys, explained that he saw a single photograph of the orca pattern for the first time about four years ago. He’d seen it while researching studies of geoglyphs at the German Archaeological Institute in Bonn.
The photograph appeared in an archaeological catalog of geoglyphs printed in the 1970s, which was based on research carried out in Palpa and Nazca by German archaeologists in the 1960s, Isla said.
But the location and size of the orca geoglyph were not well-described in the catalog, Isla told Ancient Origins in an email.
As a result, he said, the glyph’s whereabouts in the desert hills of the Palpa Valley, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) south of Lima, were by then unknown to local people or to scientists.
After returning to Peru, Isla looked for the orca geoglyph on Google Earth and then on foot. “It was not easy to find it, because the [location and description] data were not correct, and I almost lost hope,” he said. “However, I expanded the search area and finally found it a few months later,”
After documenting the rediscovery, Isla led a team of six specialists from Peru’s Ministry of Culture in an effort to clean and restore the orca geoglyph in March and April this year.
Before the restoration, the geoglyph was disappearing due to erosion and the passage of time. “Being drawn on a slope, it is easier [for it] to suffer damage than [for] those figures that are in flat areas, such as those of the Nazca Pampa,” he said.
The creators of the orca drew it on the hillside in negative relief by removing a thin layer of stones to form the outline of the figure. This is similar to the technique used by the people of the Nazca culture to create geoglyphs from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 800.
But some contrasting parts of the rediscovered pattern, such as the eyes, were created out of piles of stones, the researchers said. This technique was used by people of the older Paracas culture, who occupied the region from around 800 B.C. to 200 B.C.
Soil tests have indicated that the orca geoglyph dates from around 200 B.C. The style of the pattern and its location on a hillside, rather than on a plain, suggest that it may be one of the oldest geoglyphs in the region, said one of Isla’s colleagues, Markus Reindel of the German Archaeological Institute, in an interview in a German newspaper.
Isla said that before the restoration in 2017, it would have been hard for a layperson to see the orca. “With the eyes of an archaeologist, and after having seen the photo in the catalog and later in Google Earth, it was not very difficult,” he said. “However, [for] the eyes of a person without these advantages, it was a bit difficult.”
Archaeologists find a 3,000-year-old megalithic temple in Peru
A 3,000-year-old megalithic ‘water cult’ temple used for fertility rituals has been discovered in Peru by a team of Peruvian archaeologists.
The religious monument is over 131ft long and is located in the springs of the Zaña Valley river about 500miles from Lima, the modern capital of Peru.
Inside the temple archaeologists found a square with an alter that was likely used to offer important fertility rituals with water taken from the Zaña Valley river.
It should be noted that this is the first megalithic temple made from large stones discovered in this area. It was situated between two rivers and joined together to give rise to the current Zaña River, which is currently dry most of the year.
A cult that worships water
As per the archaeologists, it is an interesting find as it is the only known megalithic architecture in the Lambayeque region, which is known for desert landscape as well as dry forests. Secondly, it’s built by the earliest “great religion of ancient Peru.”
It should be mentioned that the water cult, whose members used to worship the water, built this megalithic temple in an area where a new river rises as a kind of “territorial symbolism.”
Edgar Bracamonte, an archaeologist with the Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum in Peru and one of the researchers involved in this excavation program said that this ancient temple dates back 3,000 years, to the Formative period, which was generally seen as the beginning of about 2000 BCE and lasted until about 200 CE.
Ancient inhabitants used to predict rains
Bracamonte stated that the location of the temple, between the rivers and the presence of the surrounding “pocitos,” or small wells indicate that ancient inhabitants of this region used to predict rainy seasons.
In addition, he also mentioned that the location also shows the importance of water to the people of the Formative period, which is an era of spectacular social transformation marked by the development of social stratification and monument building.
The archaeologists revealed that the 3000-year-old temple was built by using different sizes of large, carved rocks, which were moved to the area from mountains located over three kilometers away. It is believed that the temple has been abandoned around 250 BC.
Used as a burial ground by Chumy people
Later, the site was used by Chumy people as a burial ground. Archaeologists found 20 tombs belonged to the Chumy people, while one belonged to a man buried during the Formative period. Bracamonte said that the adult male was buried with a ceramic bottle that had two spouts and a bridge handle.
The team of archaeologists found that the megalithic temple was occupied in three stages, while the first stage is between 1500 BC and 800 BC, when people built the structure’s foundations from clay, the second stage is when the temple was built with influences from the pre-Inca civilization known as the Chavin, between 800 BC and 400 BC.
The third stage is when people added circular columns that were used to hold up the temple’s roof, between 400 BC and 100 BC.
City of Gold: The lost city of Paititi may be the Most Lucrative Historical Find
Many explorers have died searching for Paititi: the Lost City of Gold and many became convinced that the city was hidden in the last undiscovered regions of the Amazon. The infamous journeys to discover Paititi was also what inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to write “The Lost World.”
Much has been documented about the divine sense of quest to discover this magical kingdom. From treasure hunters to archaeologists and explorers, Paititi has until now remained the subject of lore and tribal legend spread through generations. But now, a remote location in the Peruvian Amazon thought to be the legendary Lost City has been discovered and is the target for a professional expedition taking place this summer.
Inca traditions mention a city, deep in the jungle and east of the Andes area of Cusco which could be the last Incan refuge following the Spanish Conquest. The Spanish conquistadors pillaged Cusco for its gold and silver, they only discovered a small amount of bounty in the capital, and the bulk of the mass treasure has never been found. Just recently a Spanish Galleon that sunk over 300 years ago, was discovered off the coast of Columbia and possibly holding billions of dollars worth of treasure looted from Peru.
In 2001, Italian archaeologist Mario Polia discovered the report of a missionary named Andres Lopez in the Vatican archives. In the document, which dates from 1600, Lopez describes in great detail, a large city rich in gold, silver, and jewels, located in the middle of the tropical jungle called Paititi by the natives. Lopez informed the Pope about his discovery and the Vatican has kept Paititi’s location secret for decades.
Paititi: Last City Of The Incas
To understand the research, we must first know what Paititi is. Paititi is most commonly believed to be the last refuge of the Incas. After substantial research, scientists believe Paititi may have been home to the Chachapoyas, warriors and skilled builders ruled by the Incas in the north Cusco region.
Until the arrival of the Spaniards in South America in 1532, there was the Inca Empire , Tavantisuyu (“Four Corners” in Quechua), which was the most potent political structure on the continent. Governed from its capital, Cusco, it controlled vast areas covering parts of Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. The Inca civilization , although very developed in political, administrative, and urban respects, lacked the use of horses, armor, and firearms for war. Armed with just bows and arrows, the Inca warriors were no match for Francisco Pizarro , the brutal Spanish conquistador. With only two hundred followers, Pizzaro was able to capture the Inca emperor, Atahualpa, and force his warriors to retreat. The remnants of Inca royalty escaped to Vilcabamba, situated in the jungle-covered lowlands northwest of Cusco.
But after a few decades, their small state fell, and the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru, was captured and executed. Thus, the final chapter of the Inca story came to an end. In the following centuries, the ruins of Vilcabamba and its whereabouts slipped into oblivion with the forest gaining the upper hand.
Meanwhile, various legends and testimonies began to appear, pointing to the existence of another significant undiscovered center of Incan civilization — Paititi. According to some of the legends, it should be located in the wild, uncharted region northeast of Cusco. Over hundreds of years, many explorers have tried to find Paititi by exploring the region with old maps and accounts. However, the harsh environment, wildlife, and terrain have so far prevented any relevant discoveries regarding where Paititi actually is.
This is where Paititi Research is changing the game. Instead of blindly venturing into uncharted territory, we have first completed extensive research. This scientific approach to exploration is already yielding many positive results.
The Science Used To Narrow Down Where Paititi May Be Hidden
The difficult part about searching for Paititi is that the region is mostly uncharted, many parts of the terrain are impassible, and the vegetation is thick and obstructive. Due to these conditions, Paititi Research used remote sensing and geo-information systems (GIS) for their research. The first provides up-to-date information about the most inaccessible areas from artificial earth satellites. The second provides tools for the organization of data and a thorough geospatial analysis .
Based on specialized software, such as PostGIS, Earth Engine, and QGIS, Paititi Research created a multi-user GIS and a dedicated database that melted together all sorts of data concerning Paititi. It includes satellite and aerial images (e.g., GeoEye-1, RapidEye, and UAVSAR), old and modern maps, written and verbal testimonies, results of other expeditions, authentic documents, and legends. This conglomerate of information resulted in unprecedented outcomes and allowed Paititi Research to perform sophisticated geographic analyses. For example, the team assessed the morphometric characteristics of the terrain, modeled water flows, calculated incoming solar radiation, explored landscapes in 3D, etc. The analysis of all this data was essential in order to narrow down the area that could contain Paititi.
A map of the river network in the target region was crucial to finding Paititi. The literary sources, old maps, and verbal accounts mentioned rivers as landmarks. Therefore, to study and apply the information in these sources, a map with river names was needed. By using a digital elevation model (DEM), Paititi Research built a river network and labeled the river names. The screenshot above shows the process of georeferencing old maps with the distinct meanders of known rivers.
Another important feature needed in the maps was the morphometric relief characteristics of potential areas. Mountainous environments constrain movement, so settlements cannot be made on terrain with certain slopes. Several studies in the Alpine Region already confirmed this idea. Therefore, the surface steepness of ancient and modern settlements in the area of interest, such as the ruins of Vilcabamba and settlements in the valley of the Yavero River, were studied. It was found that all places that were settled had a slope grade of less than twenty degrees. This significantly reduced the areas that could contain Paititi.
In addition, a solar radiation map was also created. Areas with too little solar radiation are unfavorable for life. Therefore, Paititi Research created a solar radiation distribution map. The team used the radiation levels of modern settlements and existing ruins to narrow down the possible areas containing Paititi even further. To be able to interpret all of these maps better, Paititi Research used three-dimensional modeling.
Finally, from the maps discussed above, thematic maps were created. These maps include the Passability Map and the Settlement Suitability Map. The Passability Map was created using surface slope and tree density. This map shows areas where people can and cannot walk on foot and was used for planning the Paititi Research team’s expedition routes. Dark green areas in the map correspond to highly passable areas, while red means “impassable.”
Furthermore, Paititi Research created the Settlement Suitability Map using the slope steepness, and solar radiation maps explained earlier. This map shows flat and well-lit areas that are suitable for human activities which could contain Incan archaeological sites. The picture below demonstrates a Fragment of the Settlement Suitability Map in the area around Machu Picchu.
As you can see, the famous Incan site is situated in a “green” zone, which means that the area is suitable. Red corresponds to highly unsuitable regions. The initial area of our research was approximately 1300 km 2 (502 square miles). After mapping settlement suitability, we reduced the research area dramatically. Focusing on highly suitable zones, the team studied high-resolution imagery in different spectral ranges: visible, near-infrared, and microwave. This revealed patterns and structures that were interpreted as potential archaeological sites. Some of them are indicated below. These three pictures cover the same area but highlight different aspects: multi-spectral optical image, settlement suitability map, and a radar image.
Another exciting result of the Paititi Research team’s work was the Potential Inca Road Network map. Using terrain parameters, satellite imagery, and already known ruins and Inca trails, the team managed to reconstruct the ancient Inca road system for the region of their study. This map can also be explored and investigated for archaeological sites. The GIS screenshot below shows a fragment of the map with discovered Inca trails (continuous orange lines) and reconstructed paths (dashed lines), overlaid on a high-resolution satellite image.
Paititi Research’s Expedition to Find The Lost Incan City
Since the beginning of 2017, Paititi Research has collected, analyzed, and evaluated a considerable amount of materials originating from their research. The team found some potential sites and considered six of them as Paititi Candidates. In June 2019, they organized a land expedition to obtain new information, refine the digital research model of Paititi, and examine their possibilities and equipment. The expedition started in Cusco, Peru. From Cusco the expedition team traveled to Choquecancha and finally, Rio Yavero. Throughout the journey, the team was faced with injuries, wildlife, and the harsh environment of the Andes. In Choquecancha, uncharted Incan terraces were found, shown earlier in this report, thus demonstrating that there are many Incan sites yet to be found.
As a result of this expedition, Paititi Research selected one of the six Paititi Candidates, on which they are now focusing all their efforts. To consolidate the outcomes of their research, the Paititi Research team is working on a paper for a peer-reviewed journal. At the same time, they are establishing relationships with Peruvian universities to get support for the final expedition, which will confirm or disprove their findings.