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Archaeologists discover previously unknown structures among the ruins of Machu Picchu

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Archaeologists discover previously unknown structures among the ruins of Machu Picchu

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Hidden deep in the Peruvian jungle and shrouded in thick foliage, archaeologists have uncovered a series of long-forgotten structures among the sprawling ruins of Machu Picchu.

Cutting through foliage isn’t easy, but such finds are becoming more common thanks to a combination of two technologies: lasers that can “see through” obstacles, and drones that help archaeologists explore places that humans sometimes cannot easily reach.

A dozen small structures have been identified within 8 km of the main remains of the 15th-century Inca city, on the outskirts of a ceremonial site called Chachabamba, according to a study published in the January edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science. .

The scientists used a type of remote sensing technology known as light detection and ranging, or lidar, which bounces laser pulses off surfaces to detect features and map their outlines.

A lidar view of the Vilcanota Valley and Chachabamba. (B. Emielewski)

Lidar scanning, a relatively new tool in archaeology, is becoming an essential way for scientists to study areas that were once too dangerous or inaccessible. In 2019, a laser scan revealed a vast network of ancient Mayan farms in a Belize rainforest. Years earlier, lidar had helped archaeologists discover a lost city in Honduras.

The Machu Picchu finds, which include parts of a water system that passed through the area, provide new insights into the Inca civilization and the role of ceremonial complexes at Machu Picchu.

“Only very privileged people could go to Machu Picchu, because it was a very special place,” said Dominika Sieczkowska, deputy director for organization and development at the Center for Andean Studies at the University of Warsaw, who conducted the research. “When you went there, you had to stop at Chachabamba for a spiritual bath in order to be clean and pure to get to Machu Picchu.”

Chachabamba, which is in the Vilcanota Valley, centers on a main stone altar surrounded by 14 baths, which Sieczkowska says were most likely used for ritual ablutions. Water from the site flowed through a complex network of canals fed by the Urubamba River.

Archaeologists discover previously unknown structures among the ruins of Machu Picchu

 | News Today

Ceremonial sector at Chachabamba. (D. Sieczkowska)

The site is difficult to survey, as the area is mostly overgrown, with archaeological ruins set deep in the jungle. To find out what was under the forest canopy, Sieczkowska and scientists from Wroclaw University of Science and Technology in Poland and Peru’s Ministry of Culture used drones equipped with special lasers to drill through the foliage.

The lidar scans revealed about 12 structures, all located about 60 feet from the main ceremonial part of Chachabamba.

“They were so close and we didn’t even know they were there,” Sieczkowska said.

Laser scans also revealed stone channels running partly underground that supplied water to the entire Chachabamba site. The researchers then developed models based on the slope and depth of the channels to recreate how the water may have flowed to the various ritual baths.

Archaeologists discover previously unknown structures among the ruins of Machu Picchu

 | News Today

LiDAR launch at the bottom of the Vilcanota Valley. (D. Sieczkowska)

Sieczkowska said much remains unknown about how the new structures around Chachabamba were used, but they may have been residences for people who oversaw the ceremonial site.

Archaeologists plan to conduct further research at Chachabamba, including excavation of interesting features that have been identified in lidar scans.

“The idea was to dig out some of the structures, but because of the pandemic we had to cancel our plans for the time being,” Sieczkowska said. “But maybe, maybe, we’ll get there next year.”

Archaeologists discover previously unknown structures among the ruins of Machu Picchu

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