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Ancient "Lost City" Discovered in Peru, Official Claims

Kelly Hearn
for National Geographic News
January 16, 2008
 
Ruins recently discovered in southern Peru could be the ancient "lost city" of Paititi, according to claims that are drawing serious but cautious response from experts.

The presumptive lost city, described in written records as a stone settlement adorned with gold statues, has long been a grail for explorers—as well as a lure for local tourism businesses.

A commonly cited legend claims that Paititi was built by the Inca hero Inkarri, who founded the city of Cusco before retreating into the jungle after Spanish conquerors arrived.

On January 10 Peru's state news agency reported that "an archaeological fortress" had been discovered in the district of Kimbiri and that the district's mayor suggested it was the lost city.

Mayor Guillermo Torres described the ruins as a 430,000-square-foot (40,000-square-meter) fortification near an area known as Lobo Tahuantinsuyo.

Few other details about the site were offered, but initial reports described elaborately carved stone structures forming the base of a set of walls.

The state media report quotes Torres as saying the area will be "immediately declared" a cultural tourism site.

Officials from the Peruvian government's Cusco-based National Institute of Culture (INC) met with Torres on Tuesday, according to Francisco Solís, an INC official.

"It is far too early to make any definitive judgments," Solís told National Geographic News. "We are going to dispatch a team to investigate."

Officials expect more details to emerge in the coming days, he said.

Legend of Paititi

Paititi is believed to have been located somewhere east of the Andes Mountains in the rain forest of southeastern Peru, southwestern Brazil, or northern Bolivia (see map).

In 1600 a missionary reported seeing a large "city of gold" in the region where Paititi is believed to have been built, according to archival records discovered by an Italian archaeologist in 2001.

However, the location of the newfound site falls counter to where historical records indicate Paititi should be, Solís said.

Officials were nonetheless intrigued by the possibilities, he added.

The first task will be to determine if the newfound ruins are the work of the Inca or pre-Inca ethnic groups, Solís said.

(Read related story: "80 Ancient 'Cloud Warrior' Skeletons Found in Peru Fort" [September 26, 2007].)

Gregory Deyermenjian, a U.S.-based psychologist and explorer who has led many expeditions to investigate the Paititi legend, said many people in the tourism-rich region of Cusco have embraced the legend as a business promotion.

But he said the claims could have merit, as there are still many important sites to be found.

"It is a bit off the beaten path but still within the Inca's reach," Deyermenjian said. "I'm very interested to know more."

Daniel Gade, professor emeritus in geography at the University of Vermont, cautioned about jumping to conclusions.

"Paititi is frequently the first thing people mention when something like this is found," Gade said, adding that there are many ruins in the jungle regions of the area.

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