for National Geographic News
Dozens of exquisitely preserved Inca mummies are being recovered from a barren hillside on the outskirts of Peru's bustling capital city, Lima. In a matter of months a highway will roar past the ancient cemetery.
"By now we have over 40 [mummy bundles] and the number increases every day," said Guillermo Cock, a Lima-based archaeologist.
Cock and his team were contracted by the city government to comb the hillside for any unknown archaeological remains prior to construction of the road, which is the final phase of a project to ease traffic congestion in Lima.
Three days after their excavations began on March 3, the team found the cemetery. The bundlescocoons of one or more adult and child mummies wrapped together in layers of textilesdate back more than 500 years to the Inca Empire.
"Given the proximity to the city and the tradition of looting in the area, we are really surprised that this is mostly undisturbed, mostly intact, mostly unlooted. Only a few bundles have suffered damage by human action," Cock said.
The newfound site is on the northwestern edge the largest Inca cemetery ever excavated, Puruchuco-Huaquerones. With the support of the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration, Cock recovered thousands of mummies and artifacts at Puruchuco-Huaquerones between 1999 and 2001.
Johan Reinhardthe National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence who discovered the Inca "ice maiden" mummy on the frozen summit of Peru's Mount Ampato in 1995said the new discovery will likely extend the already important finds from Puruchuco.
"Until they found the Puruchuco site, there hadn't been that many Inca burials excavated scientifically," Reinhard said. "It's great they are getting this stuff before it is destroyed."
The site that Cock's team excavated several years ago lay beneath the sprawling shantytown of Tupac Amaru, which was settled in the 1980s by refugees escaping guerilla activity in the mountains.
The excavation of Tupac Amaru took place along city streets and in neighborhood parks. Several of the mummy bundles and artifacts were damaged by humidity caused by wastewater seeping into the soils. Other graves were looted before the archaeologists could reach them.
By contrast, the new site sits on a hill that has long been marked for a road that will feed traffic onto a new highway ringing Lima. As a result, the Tupac Amaru community could not build on the area, so humans have scarcely impacted the newfound ancient Inca cemetery.
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