New Inca Ceremonial Complex Discovered in Peru May Contain Evidence of Human Sacrifice
Explorer and writer Miguel Gutierrez Garitano, along with a team of Spanish researchers, has just announced a finding that could revolutionize Incan Andean archeology, if it is confirmed. The team has located at least 55 enclosures in the mountains of Vilcabamba, Peru, about 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) northwest of the city of Cuzco.
"On the highest mountain in the area, in a place that could only be discovered by satellite imagery. The ruins, previously unknown to science and found by research and the use of remote sensing techniques, may be related to the Inca kingdom of Vilcabamba. We may have also collected evidence proving the existence of the rite of Capacocha, or human sacrifices, in the upper area of the sanctuary, which experts say would be a revolutionary discovery. Apart from that we have also located an Inca necropolis with dozens of tombs in caves.”
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Espiritu Pampa Inca ruins, a pre-Inca and Inca archaeological site located in the district of Vilcabamba that could be related to the newly discovered enclosures and burials. (AgainErick / CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Incas of Vilcabamba
It should be remembered that the Incas of Vilcabamba were those that offered the greatest resistance to the Spanish invasion in Choquequirao: the last refuge of the Incas.
Choquequirao is a Quechua word that means “ Cradle of Gold” and the site sits strategically on top of a mountain over 3,000 meters (984.3 feet) high. Called the “S acred sister” of Machu Picchu, due to the architectural similarities between the two, it is believed that Choquequirao - with its buildings, terraces, platforms, ceremonial plazas, temples, reservoirs, canals, long stairs, and important network of roads, was also an important religious, commercial, and cultural center of the region.
When Francisco de Toledo arrived in Peru, he decided to address the issue of the Incas stronghold at Vilcabamba as a top priority. Thus, in 1572 he sent troops to the area in order to destroy this force of resistance. Tupac Amaru fought the invading forces, resulting in fierce battles until the last Inca ruler was eventually captured and executed.
Choquequirao, the last force of resistance of the ancient Inca empire against the Spanish. (Mark Rowland / CC BY-ND 2.0)
From the Satellite to the Ground
Now, four different expeditions, a gut feeling, and a thorough job of tracking satellite imagery have resulted in this important discovery of what is more thought to be an Inca sanctuary.
It all started when Ruth Jimenez, the team's geologist, observed what looked like rectangular enclosures in a satellite image. “I thought almost certainly that it was the classical distribution adopted by some ceremonial centers,” she told El Pais.
Beginning in September, work started on the ground, as Miguel Gutierrez said:
“We ascended to the top the mountain and we walked to the most important points set by remote sensing techniques. The results exceeded our expectations. We were able to photograph many rectangular enclosures which were probably buildings dedicated to worship or associated with it (such as ‘tambos’ or inns to accommodate participants in the rituals). We also found Inca roads, stairs and steps, caves, huacas (relics in the form of carved stone) ushnus (platforms), and numerous tombs in caves at the base of the mountain."
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Archaeologists may have also found evidence of the ritual of Capacocha on this mountain in the form of two connected buildings located near the top. These buildings are identical to those appearing at the Llullaillaco volcano, which supposedly served to prepare children before the last ritual of sacrifice. There is also a platform of rocks nearby, which could be the location of the sacrificed children’s buried remains.
“Normally this kind of ritual (where preferably but not exclusively virgins were sacrificed) was carried out to prevent famine or natural disasters and at festivals marking the death of the Inca, for example,” Miguel Gutierrez explained.
Some of the recently discovered ruins believed to be part of a ceremonial complex or sanctuary. (Rafa Gutierrez / El País)
For his part, the archaeologist Iñigo Orue believes that "The whole mountain is organized as a huge complex and the scope of which cannot be known for certain until an archaeological excavation of massive proportions is completed.”
Next summer the team hopes to return to Peru to start a new campaign and learn more about this impressive new site.
Featured image: Some of the skeletal remains discovered at the site. (Rafa Gutierrez / El País)
By: Mariló TA
This article was first published in Spanish at https://www.ancient-origins.es/ and has been translated with permission.