Discovery of mass tombs near Machu Picchu may shed light on the ancient city

September 16th, 2008 - 3:01 pm ICT by ANI  

National Geographic

Washington, September 16 (ANI): The discovery of eighty skeletons and stockpiles of textiles, found in caves near the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru, may shed light on the role that the so-called Lost City of the Inca played as a regional center of trade and power.
According to a report in National Geographic News, researchers found the artifacts and remains at two sites within the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park in southeastern Peru.
The remains, most of which were found in May 2008 at a site called Salapunku, probably date to 500 to 550 years ago, according to Francisco Huarcaya, the site’’s lead researcher.
Due to extensive looting, however, as much as 75 percent of the fabrics found wrapped around the remains are in “bad shape,” he added.
So far, only the heads and shoulders of most of the bodies have been uncovered, said Fernando Astete, head of the park.
“The head and shoulder bones are seen first, because the Inca buried their dead (sitting) in the fetal position,” he explained.
Formal excavations will soon begin at both sites. Huarcaya plans to exhume the remains of five people at Salapunku later this month.
“The modest funerary wrappings, made of vegetable fiber, and the simple grave objects, including unadorned ceramics, suggest that the dead unearthed at Salapunku were peasant farmers,” Huarcaya said.
Weavers have been found accompanied by their weaving baskets, balls of thread, looms, and textiles, according to Guillermo Cock, an expert on Andean cultures.
Textiles found at the second site, called Qhanabamba, discovered in August 2008, may also provide clues to the social rank of the dead.
According to Astete, peasants were more likely to have been buried with textiles made from llama wool, while wool of the vicuna relative of the llama-was reserved for nobility.
Human remains are rare near Machu Picchu, and the wet mountain climate makes textiles uncommon finds.
“Finding organic material in the mountains is significant because it’’s so scarce,” said Cock. “The humidity from rain decomposes individuals and textiles,” he added. Analysis of the bones should also reveal age at death, sex, cause of death, diet, and perhaps even the dead’’s occupations, said Astete.
“We should be able to tell whether these people carried large burdens to help construct terraces, for example. Their bones will be bent, not straight. They will have deformities,” he explained.
“Bones will also tell us about their diets and diseases. A fracture would reveal an accident,” he added.
Built around 1460, the city of Machu Picchu seems to have been abandoned after the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, though it was never found by the conquerors.
According to Cock, the new discoveries promise to shed light on the mystery of the ancient city and its role within the Inca empire. (ANI)

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