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March 18, 2002

Lost Incan settlement found in Peru

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LIMA, Peru (AP) – Explorers have found the extensive ruins of an Inca village, complete with human remains, sprawled spectacularly across a mountain in southern Peru, the expedition leaders said Monday. 

The ancient settlement clings to the slopes of a rugged peak in a region of the Andes Mountains where the Incas hid after the Spanish conquest. It consists of more than 100 structures, including a ridge-top truncated pyramid, ceremonial platforms and a five-mile-long channel.

British author Peter Frost, who led an eight-member expedition to the area last year, said it is the largest Inca site found since 1964 when American explorer Gene Savoy discovered Vilcabamba, considered the capital of the empire’s jungle refuge.

“Few, if any, Spanish conquistadors ever reached the southern part of Vilcabamba,” Frost said in an interview. “This site may ultimately yield a record of Inca civilization from the very beginning to the very end, undisturbed by European contact – an unparalleled opportunity.” 

The Incas ruled Peru from the 1430s until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532, constructing stone-block cities and roads and developing a highly organized and militarized society. 

The settlement is 290 miles southeast of Lima and about 24 miles southwest of Machu Picchu, Peru’s most famous Inca ruins and its top tourist destination. 

Frost, 56, who writes about Inca history and guides hiking tours in the Andes, first saw ruins in 1999 while leading an adventure trek nearby. He returned in May 2001 with a monthlong expedition sponsored by the National Geographic Society. 

“The site turned out to be far more extensive than we expected,” said Alfredo Valencia, a Peruvian archaeologist who participated in the dig. “It’s spread over six square kilometers (2.4 square miles) and is up around 11,000 feet on very steep terrain, and its natural beauty is stunning.”

Frost believes the Incas, who worshipped snowcapped mountain peaks, settled there because of the spectacular views of surrounding ranges. He also thinks the inhabitants worked at a silver mine about a mile away. 

Since the expedition, the team has been studying pottery, stone instruments and human remains collected at the site. The ceramics were decorated with crisscross designs typical of the Incas. 

The site, a four-day walk from the nearest road, has several cylindrical, aboveground funeral towers, where elite may have been entombed. The mausoleums had been heavily looted, Frost said, but skeletons were found in other underground chambers.

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