Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Inca burial at Machu Picchu

Peruvian archeologists have discovered the first full Inca burial site at Machu Picchu since the famous mountaintop citadel was discovered 90 years ago. "When the citadel of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, 172 tombs with human remains were found, but over the years only bones have been found. It's only now that a complete burial site has been uncovered. The find is significant because of the funeral objects, such as stone and clay pots and five metal objects accompanying the remains of bones of a person, probably a woman."

I've been to Machu Picchu several times and it is, quite simply, one of the most amazing places on earth. Never discovered by the Spaniards because they rode their horses along the valley bottoms and the Inca built their roads high on the mountains, the site has been subject to no end of unsolved mysteries-type documentaries (and to thousands of visits by tourists seeking mystical enlightenment). We used to joke that when archaeologists don't know what something might have been, they say it is ceremonial. But the consumate Andean scholar, John Rowe, found colonial documents that claim the site was the royal estate of Wayna Capac. After succumbing to smallpox just before the Spanish invasion of Peru - contagion travels faster than people - the emperor left two sons. By the time the Spaniards arrived, the empire was in civil war as each son staked claim to the throne. Pre-existing political divisions no doubt aided the Spanish, as less than 200 men managed to bring down an empire of millions. But then again, if you'd never seen horses and hairy men, European armour and weaponry, or attack dogs - all backed by the fervour of the Inquisition - it would probably throw you for a loop.

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