City Occupied by Inca Discovered on Andean Peak in Peru

D.L. Parsell
National Geographic News
Updated March 22, 2002

High atop a mountain peak in the Andes of southeastern Peru, a group of explorers has discovered the ruins of a large settlement they think was occupied by the Inca in an early period of their rise to power.

The ruins include tombs and several artificially built platforms that suggest the area was an important burial site and ceremonial grounds for sacred rites. But the team also found the makings of a complete city.

Although it's not clear yet who built the city, or when, experts say the ruins promise new insight into the Inca—and perhaps other early inhabitants of the region, about which little is known.

"We don't know how long it existed, we don't have good carbon[-dating] data. But it shows evidence of early Inca settlement," said Peter Frost, an independent scholar and explorer who led the expedition.

"If that's true, it shakes up theories of Inca expansion because the Inca were not [thought] to be in the region so early," said Frost.

He first sighted the ruins in 1999 while hiking in the region with several companions. He returned last year with a team of archaeologists to map and investigate the site.

Frost said the ruins—many of them well preserved—include an Inca-style wall, agricultural terraces, a granary, cemeteries and funeral towers, animal corrals, and a complex of buildings surrounding a courtyard.

On the surrounding slopes of the summit, known as Cerro Victoria, the team also found the remains of more than 100 circular buildings at elevations of up to 12,500 feet (3,900 meters). The style is thought to be typical of the dwellings of Andeans who occupied the region before the Inca or under Inca rule, but Frost said initial observations point to occupation by the Inca themselves.

The newly discovered settlement is in the southern part of a sparsely inhabited region known as Vilcabamba, named for a local mountain chain. It lies 22 miles (35 kilometers) southwest of Machu Picchu, an ancient citadel that is the most famous Inca landmark. Another important Inca site, Choqequirau, is nearby.

Last Refuge of Inca

Vilcabamba has long been known as the last outpost of the Inca in their attempt to evade conquest by the Spanish, who arrived early in the 16th century in search of gold.

When the Inca ruler Manco Inca and his large army failed to overthrow the Spanish invaders in A.D. 1536, the Inca fled from their imperial capital at Cusco and took refuge in the Vilcabamba wilderness. They lived there for 36 years, until the Spanish finally penetrated the area and killed the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru in 1572, bringing an end to the Inca empire.

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