for National Geographic News
A temple thought to have once housed idols and mummies has been unearthed near an ancient Inca site in Cusco, Peru.
The temple was discovered outside the ruins of a stone fortress known as Sacsayhuaman, which is thought to have been built by a pre-Inca culture called the Killke around 1100 A.D.
The fortress was later occupied and expanded by the Inca, experts say, and its ruins are now a UN World Heritage site.
Scientists who found the temple say its discovery upends theories that the Sacsayhuaman complex was used strictly for military purposes.
"We are in the process of investigating, but we are very excited about what we have found," said Washington Camacho, director of the Sacsayhuaman Archaeological Park.
"We believe that the temple we have found was used for ceremonial purposes."
The temple covers some 2,700 square feet (250 square meters) and contains 11 rooms thought to have held idols and mummies, Camacho said.
(See a video of the temple ruins.)
The temple contained "funeral structures," he added, and was found next to "an enormous rocky formation" that researchers speculate was used as a "sacred place" prior to the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.
Early Inca Clues
Christina Conlee, an anthropologist at Texas State University who was not part of the excavation, said that the team's theory about the site's ceremonial use seems valid, based on evidence cited in recent media reports.
"I think the discovery is potentially important, because although we know quite a bit about the later Inca Empire, the early Inca and origins of their culture are less well known," she said.
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