FAQFAQ   SearchSearch   MemberlistMemberlist   UsergroupsUsergroups   ProfileProfile   Log in to check your private messagesLog in to check your private messages 
Untangling the Mystery of the Inca

Post new topic   Reply to topic    Fortean Times Message Board Forum Index -> Earth Mysteries - historical and classical cases
View previous topic :: View next topic  
Author Message
Psycho Punk
Joined: 19 Aug 2003
Total posts: 21783
Location: Dublin
Age: 0
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 04-01-2007 16:14    Post subject: Untangling the Mystery of the Inca Reply with quote

Untangling the Mystery of the Inca

The ancient Andean empire built great cities but left no written records – except perhaps in mysterious knotted strings called khipu. Can an anthropologist and some mathematicians crack the code?
By Gareth Cook

Incan civilization was a technological marvel. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1532, they found an empire that spanned nearly 3,000 miles, from present-day Ecuador to Chile, all served by a high-altitude road system that included 200-foot suspension bridges built of woven reeds. It was the Inca who constructed Machu Picchu, a cloud city terraced into a precarious stretch of earth hanging between two Andean peaks. They even put together a kind of Bronze Age Internet, a system of messenger posts along the major roads. In one day, Incan runners amped on coca leaves could relay news some 150 miles down the network.

Yet, if centuries of scholarship are to be believed, the Inca, whose rule began 2,000 years after Homer, never figured out how to write. It's an enigma known as the Inca paradox, and for nearly 500 years it has stood as one of the great historical puzzles of the Americas. But now a Harvard anthropologist named Gary Urton may be close to untangling the mystery.

His quest revolves around strange, once-colorful bundles of knotted strings called khipu (pronounced KEY-poo). The Spanish invaders noticed the khipu soon after arriving but never understood their significance – or how they worked.

Once, at the beginning of the 17th century, a group of Spaniards traveling in the central Peruvian highlands east of modern-day Lima encountered an old Indian carrying khipu that he insisted held a record of "all [the Spanish] had done, both the good and the bad." Angered, the Spanish burned the man's khipu, as they did countless others over the years.

Some of the knots did survive, though, and for centuries people wondered if the old man had been speaking the truth. Then, in 1923, an anthropologist named Leland Locke provided an answer: The khipu were files. Each knot represented a different number, arranged in a decimal system, and each bundle likely held census data or summarized the contents of storehouses. Roughly a third of the existing khipu don't follow the rules Locke identified, but he speculated that these "anomalous" khipu served some ceremonial or other function. The mystery was considered more or less solved.

Then, in the early 1990s, Urton, one of the world's leading Inca scholars, spotted several details that convinced him the khipu contained much more than tallies of llama sales. For example, some knots are tied right over left, others left over right. Urton came to think that this information must signal something. Could the knotted strings also be a form of writing? In 2003, Urton wrote a book outlining his theory, and in 2005 he published a paper in Science that showed how even khipu that follow Locke's rules could include place-names as well as numbers.

Urton knew that these findings were a tiny part of cracking the code and that he needed the help of people with different skills. So, early last year, he and a graduate student, Carrie Brezine, unveiled a computerized khipu database – a vast electronic repository that describes every knot on some 300 khipu in intricate detail. Then Urton and Brezine brought in outside researchers who knew little about anthropology but a lot about mathematics. Led by Belgian cryptographer Jean-Jacques Quisquater, they are now trying to shake meaning from the knots with a variety of pattern-finding algorithms, one based on a tool used to analyze long strings of DNA, the other similar to Google's PageRank algorithm. They've already identified thousands of repeated knot sequences that suggest words or phrases.

Now the team is closing in on what might be a writing system so unusual that it remained hidden for centuries in plain sight. If successful, the effort will rank with the deciphering of Egyptian hieroglyphics and will let Urton's team rewrite history. But how do you decipher something when it looks completely unlike any known written language – when you're not even sure it has meaning at all?

URTON WORKS A FEW MINUTES' WALK from Harvard Yard, in a redbrick building with dark wooden doors and copper gutters that also serves as the university's Museum of Natural History. But his fifth-floor office is more Lima than Cambridge. Behind his modest desk hangs a Peruvian pan flute. Spanish-language posters adorn the walls. The space is awash in earthy browns – straw-colored carpet, a darker shade for the faux-clay clock face – offset by colorful weavings hung from every wall. Each object is a memento from his many trips to South America to track down khipu.

Today at least 750 khipu survive, scattered about in museums and private collections. Each one has a long primary cord, typically about a quarter-inch in diameter, from which hang smaller "pendant" cords – sometimes just a couple, sometimes many hundred. The pendant cords are tied in a series of neat, small knots. Originally dyed in rich colors, the average khipu has now faded so much it resembles a dirty brown mop head.

How could the Inca have used strings to write? In a sense, any written text is just a record of physical actions. You put a pen to paper and then choose from a prescribed set of options how to move and when to lift up. Each decision is preserved in ink. The same can be done with string. The writer makes a series of decisions, recorded as a knot that can then be read by anyone who knows the rules.

Back in the '20s, Locke began with the observation that the Inca tied their khipu with three types of knots. There is a "figure-eight" knot, which represents one of something. There are "long" knots, with two to nine turns, representing those numbers. And there are "single" knots, which represent tens, hundreds, thousands, or ten thousands, depending on where they fall on the string. When a khipu is placed flat on the ground, the bottom row is the ones place and successively higher rows stand for higher places. So, the number 327 would have three single knots in the hundreds place. A little lower would be two single knots. Lower still would be a long knot with seven turns.

Most anthropologists assumed that was all there was to it – until 1992. That's when Urton spent a day looking at khipu in the American Museum of Natural History in New York with his friend Bill Conklin, an architect and textile expert. As he studied the cords, Conklin had an isn't-that-funny insight: The knots that connect the small pendant strings to the primary cord are always tied the same way, but sometimes they face forward and sometimes backward. Startled, Urton soon noticed additional construction details – such as whether a fiber had been dyed to have a bluish or a reddish tint. All told, Urton has found seven additional bits of binary information that might signal something. Perhaps one means "read this as a word, not a number." Perhaps the binary code served as a kind of markup language, allowing the Inca to make notes on top of Locke's number-recording system. And perhaps the 200 or so anomalous khipu don't follow Locke's rules because they've transcended them.

Most Incan scholars are intrigued by Urton's ideas, though a few skeptics have noted that he has not produced any proof that his binary code carries meaning, much less that the khipu contain narratives. The Harvard professor concedes that some of the information he's looking at may not signal anything. But he is convinced the khipu have stories to tell, and he has some history on his side. José de Acosta, a Jesuit missionary sometimes called the Pliny of the New World, wrote a description of the khipu at the end of the 16th century. In it, he describes how the "woven reckonings" were used to record financial transactions involving hens, eggs, and hay. But he also noted that the native people considered the khipu to be "witnesses and authentic writing." "I saw a bundle of these strings," he wrote, "on which a woman had brought a written confession of her whole life and used it to confess just as I would have done with words written on paper."

EGYPTIAN HIEROGLYPHICS, LINEAR B, ancient Mayan writing – all of the great decipherments have been accomplished by a combination of logic and intuition, persistence and flexibility. Decoding scripts is not like looking for a combination that will open a lock. It's more like rock climbing: You find a foothold, push up, and hope another presents itself.

Jean-Jacques Quisquater – a tall man with a thin crown of wispy white hair – would like to join the pantheon of puzzle solvers. Quisquater directs a large cryptography laboratory at Belgium's historic Catholic University of Louvain, where he is known for his work on securing smartcards. In the fall of 2003, he came to MIT for a yearlong academic sabbatical. At the time, he had been thinking nostalgically of a trip to Greece 40 years before when he saw the famous undeciphered Phaistos Disc, a small red-brown disc from deep in the second millennium BC covered on either side with a spiral of glyphs – a fish, a shield, an olive branch. Quisquater hoped to find something equally romantic and challenging to work on.

When he heard about the mystery of the khipu, he was immediately enthralled. He soon met Urton, and they teamed up with a father-son pair of MIT computer scientists, Martin and Erik Demaine. The group began chatting, with the mathematicians offering detailed plans about how to sort the data.

The team agreed that one of Quisquater's graduate students, Vincent Castus, would first try an analysis known as a suffix tree. The method uses a computer to identify all the blocks of characters in a text that repeat themselves. Thus, the word Mississippi would yield several repeated blocks, including issi, iss, and ss. Suffix trees are used in genetic analysis to find the shortest unique pattern in a sample of DNA.

With the khipu database loaded onto his iMac, Castus worked to build a suffix tree from the knots, leaving aside the more complicated binary data on this first pass. He began in May 2006. By October he had worked out all the details and found an astonishing number of repeats: 3,000 different groups of repeated five-knot sequences. Shorter patterns appeared even more often. He found several pairs of khipu linked by large numbers of matches, suggesting that they could be related.

None of this tells us whether the khipu contain words or stories. It's possible the researchers have found khipu that just happen to include repeated number sequences that are not interesting for any particular reason, or that some khipu are deliberate copies of others.

But Urton suspects there's more to it than that. He knows repetition is the code-breaker's great friend. A Cold War sleuth noticing an oft-used sequence might guess it stood for Moscow or Khrushchev. Recognizing repeated place-names was one of the first steps in deciphering the ancient Mycenaean script Linear B. Now the team has a key for all the khipu in the database, allowing them to instantly identify whenever a particular sequence appears. They also have a list of common short sequences – the most obvious candidates for words.

The team had previously made one breakthrough in identifying connections between knots, thanks to Brezine, who has a background in mathematics and just happens to be a weaver on the side. The master of the khipu database, she wanted to find examples of strings with numbers that added up to sums on another khipu. So she developed a simple algorithm and combed through the data.

Her efforts identified a handful of interlinked khipu that had been uncovered together in a cache in Puruchuco, an archaeological site near Lima. The khipu looked like records kept by three successively higher levels of Incan administrators. Add the numbers on one khipu and the sum is found on another, with that sum in turn found on a third. Imagine, for example, that they depict the results of a census. The village counts up its people and then forwards the total to the district. The district records the numbers from several villages and then forwards the results up to the provincial head. Urton and Brezine do not know what is being counted (people? llamas?), but their 2005 Science paper showed for the first time that information flowed between the khipu.

They have also identified what may be the first word. The two higher-level khipu in the census example use an introductory sequence of three figure-eight knots (1-1-1) that does not appear on what they assume is the village-level khipu. Perhaps only the upper layers have the sequence because it is a label for a particular place, used when compiling information from many locations. Maybe, they suggest, the first symbol to be read off a khipu means this: Puruchuco.

Quisquater's team, meanwhile, is now working on another, even more ambitious way of extracting clues. It depends on thinking of each knot as a node and each khipu as a network and the links being lengths of string.

One of the surprises from the burgeoning new field of network theory is that the role of a particular node can be summarized – in a deep and meaningful way – by a single number. A good example of this is Google's PageRank algorithm. The power of the company's search engine comes from its ability to rank Web pages by relevance. On the Web, a link runs from one page to another, like an arrow. The algorithm interprets that as the first page voting for the second one. Votes flow from across the Internet, like streams joining rivers, eventually pooling at the eBays of the world.

The analysis that the team plans for these khipu networks doesn't exactly mimic PageRank. After all, the string links between knots aren't unidirectional like arrows; one knot doesn't point to another. But the concept is the same: If you think about a big mass of information as a network, and analyze it as a network, looking for the thousands of small and big ways that different piles of information relate to one another, you can see things that you wouldn't notice otherwise.

Vincent Blondel, a Belgian mathematics professor who is a friend of Quisquater's, recently helped work out the math behind an approach that allows a computer to calculate degrees of similarity between nodes in two separate networks. Like PageRank, the procedure uses voting, but it assigns each node many scores instead of one and employs a more complex scheme for calculating the totals. Type "baseball" into Google and its spiders will race over the Internet, look at links, and spit back that is the 11th most useful site for you and is the 22nd. If Quisquater's algorithm were used on the Web, it would return a slew of numbers, some of which would show similarities between different nodes – or knots. So you'd see that the Yankees and Mariners sites are similar because both receive feeds from and have outgoing links to the homepages for 29 teams.

When Quisquater's algorithm is used on khipu, it will reveal knots or groups of knots that always play a certain role in relationship to others. These might be labels or formatting signs. For example, it may turn out that some of the khipu start with sets of knots that say something like "read this as a calendar." Or collections of khipu may have similar networks of closely related knots, perhaps signaling that they originate from the same geographic area. Or it could even turn out that the anomalous khipu will all have some pattern that signifies "read this as a story." The results from this technique should come in sometime later this year, and they will provide valuable clues, even if they don't immediately crack the Inca paradox.

URTON'S GREAT INSIGHT has been to treat the khipu not just as a textile or a simple abacus but as an advanced, alien technology. Sitting on a poncho draped over the couch in his office, Urton describes a formative trip to a remote Bolivian village where he worked with traditional weavers. Observing these women spin and ply yarn into multicolored tapestries with elaborate symmetries, he caught a glimpse of the Incan mind at work. For an expert weaver, fabric is a record of many choices, a dance of twists, turns, and pulls that leads to the final product. They would have seen a fabric – be it cloth or knotted strings – a bit like a chess master views a game in progress. Yes, they see a pattern of pieces on a board, but they also have a feel for the moves that led there.

"You can see inside of it," Urton says.

It would be all too easy to dismiss the khipu as the work of a less advanced civilization, one that didn't develop guns, iron, or wheels. But for more than a decade, Urton has assumed that the khipu are evidence of Incan sophistication in ways we have still not grasped.

Acosta, the 16th-century Jesuit missionary, believed this. He traveled throughout the Americas and recorded several observations of khipu in use. He described religious converts memorizing prayers using khipu-like devices made of small stones or kernels of corn. He also described people in a churchyard completing difficult calculations "without making the slightest error … Whoever wants may judge whether this is clever or if these people are brutish," he wrote, "but I judge it is certain that, in that which they here apply themselves, they get the better of us."

Gareth Cook ( is a science reporter at The Boston Globe. He won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on stem cells.
Back to top
View user's profile 
Psycho Punk
Joined: 19 Aug 2003
Total posts: 21783
Location: Dublin
Age: 0
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 27-03-2007 10:10    Post subject: Reply with quote

Llama dung mites track Inca fall
By Christine McGourty
BBC science correspondent

The abundance of mite fossils reflects past livestock populations

Enlarge Image

Scientists believe they have found a new way to track the rise and fall of some ancient civilisations - by studying fossilised mites that thrive in the dung of their livestock.

A team from America, France and Britain have been studying mites from the soil in the Andes in Peru and say the tiny creatures can provide clues to changing patterns of trade and of disease epidemics through history.

The researchers made the discovery, announced in the Journal of Archaeological Science, while studying mud cores from a lake near the town of Cuzco, the heart of the former Inca Empire.

Dr Mick Frogley, of Sussex University, UK, said: "We were looking at the lake sediments for evidence of climate change, but we found so many of these mites it piqued our interest."

The tiny bugs - not much more than a millimetre across - are related to domestic dust mites often found in carpets or mattresses.

Some species live exclusively in moist grassland and pastures where they break down vegetable matter, including the droppings of grazing animals.

When the scientists started to record the numbers of mites, they obtained a plot with a very distinctive pattern.

Spanish signature

"It couldn't have been better if we'd made it up," Dr Frogley told BBC News. "It was that good."

They found a huge increase in the number of fossil mites as the empire expanded from the Cuzco area in the early 1400s. A sudden drop in numbers corresponded with the collapse of the native population after the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors.

The researchers cored for the mites in old sediments

Enlarge Image

Historical accounts from the time also document that two-thirds of the llamas in the Cuzco area died of skin diseases.

Studying ancient civilisations can be difficult when they have left no detailed written records behind. But the researchers say they now have a new tool for examining the fortunes of native populations in the Andes.

The mite methodology could have more wide-ranging applications in the study of economic and social changes in other cultures through history.

"The Inca were a test-bed," said Dr Frogley. "Now, the findings have given us confidence to look further back into the past at civilisations that pre-date the Inca.

"A lot less is known about their economic and social structures and why these other cultures disappeared from the archaeological record. The technique could help find some answers."

He said it could also be used to study the Viking occupation of Greenland, which was also an animal-based economy.
Back to top
View user's profile 
Resistance is futile!
Joined: 05 Aug 2005
Total posts: 171
Location: out of my mind, thank you!
Age: 59
Gender: Female
PostPosted: 29-03-2007 06:18    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hey, this is cool---looks like the Inca outfoxed us all!

Here we were thinking the poor things never learned to read or write--and all the time it might have been staring us right in the face!!

I can't wait to see the results!!

I bet some of those knots read:

"Boy, are these conquistadors stupid!!" LOL! Laughing
Back to top
View user's profile 
Vogon Poet
Joined: 08 Nov 2007
Total posts: 1568
Location: Western Sydney, Australia
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 26-08-2010 01:06    Post subject: Reply with quote

Village high in the Andes protects ancient Inca puzzle

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE RAPAZ, Peru — The route to San Cristóbal de Rapaz, a village 13,000 feet above sea level, runs from the desert coast up hairpin bends, delivering the mix of exaltation and terror that Andean roads often provide. Condors soar above mist-shrouded crags. Quechua-speaking herders squint at strangers who arrive gasping in the thin air.

Rapaz's isolation has allowed it to guard an enduring archaeological mystery: a collection of khipus, the cryptic woven knots that may explain how the Incas — in contrast to contemporaries in the Ottoman Empire and China's Ming dynasty — ruled a vast, administratively complex empire without a written language.

Archaeologists say the Incas, brought down by the Spanish conquest, used khipus — strands of cords made from the hair of animals such as llamas or alpacas — as an alternative to writing. The practice may have allowed them to share information from what is now southern Colombia to northern Chile.

Few of the world's so-called lost writings have proved as daunting to decipher as khipus, scholars say, with chroniclers from the outset of colonial rule bewildered by their inability to crack the code. Researchers at Harvard have been using databases and mathematical models in recent efforts to understand the khipu (KEE-poo), which means "knot" in Quechua, the Inca language still spoken by millions in the Andes.

Only about 600 khipus are thought to survive. Collectors spirited many away from Peru decades ago, including about 300 held at Berlin's Ethnological Museum. Most were thought to have been destroyed after Spanish officials decreed them to be idolatrous in 1583.

But Rapaz, home to about 500 people who subsist by herding llamas and cattle and farming crops such as rye, offers a rare glimpse into the role of khipus during the Inca Empire and long afterward. The village houses one of the last known khipu collections still in ritual use.

Mystery, ritual persist

Even here, no one claims to understand the knowledge encoded in the village's khipus, which are guarded in a ceremonial house called a Kaha Wayi. The khipus' intricate braids are decorated with knots and tiny figurines, some of which hold even tinier bags filled with coca leaves.

The ability of Rapacinos, as the villagers are called, to decipher their khipus seems to have faded with elders who died long ago, though scholars say the village's use of khipus may have continued into the 19th century. Testing tends to show dates for Rapaz's khipus that are well beyond the vanquishing of the Incas, and experts say they differ greatly from Inca-designed khipus.

Even now, Rapacinos conduct rituals in the Kaha Wayi beside their khipus, as described by Frank Salomon, an anthropologist at the University of Wisconsin who led a recent project to help Rapaz protect its khipus in an earthquake-resistant casing.

One tradition requires the villagers to murmur invocations during the bone-chilling night to the deified mountains surrounding Rapaz, asking for the clouds to let forth rain. Then they peer into burning llama fat and read how its sparks fly, before sacrificing a guinea pig and nestling it in a hole with flowers and coca.

Rapacinos have faced serious challenges. A government of leftist military officers in the 1970s created economic havoc with nationalization, sowing chaos exploited by the Maoist guerrillas of the Shining Path, who terrorized Rapaz into the 1990s, effectively shutting it off from significant contact with the rest of Peru.

Throughout, perhaps because of the village's high level of cohesion and communal ownership of land and herds, Rapacinos preserved their khipus in their Kaha Wayi.

"They feel that they must protect the khipu collection for the same reason we feel that we have to defend the physical original of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution," said Salomon.

Modern life intrudes

Despite Rapaz's forbidding geography, changes in the rhythm of village life are emerging that may alter the way Rapacinos relate to their khipus.

About a year ago, villagers say, a loudspeaker replaced the town crier. And a new cellphone tower enables Rapacinos to communicate more easily with the outside world. Those changes are largely welcome. More menacing are the rustlers in pickup trucks who steal llamas, cattle and vicuñas, Andean members of the camel family prized for their wool.

The most immediate threat to the khipus may be from Rapaz's tilt toward Protestantism, a trend witnessed in communities large and small throughout Latin America. Some 20 percent of Rapacino families already belong to new Protestant congregations, which view rituals near the khipus as pagan sacrilege.

Far from Rapaz, the pursuit to decipher khipus faces its own challenges, even as new discoveries suggest they were used in Andean societies long before the Inca Empire emerged as a power in the 15th century.

In Rapaz, villagers guard their khipus the way descendants of those in the West might someday protect shreds of the Bible or other documents if today's civilizations were to crumble.

"They must remain here, because they belong to our people," said Fidencio Alejo Falcon, 42. "We will never surrender them."

Andrea Zarate contributed reporting from Lima, Peru.
Back to top
View user's profile 
Vogon Poet
Joined: 08 Nov 2007
Total posts: 1568
Location: Western Sydney, Australia
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 05-10-2010 02:45    Post subject: Reply with quote


Machu Picchu reveals new secrets: Inkaraqay

October 3, 2010

Only ever seen by a few people over the past century, the Inca site of Inkaraqay located on an inaccessible and nearly vertical side of the Huayna Picchu mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu, is only now being revealed to the wider world.

With the appearance of a fort hanging on to the sheer drop that gives way to the Vilcanota river and the well-known moon temple below, its huge walls and terraces covering 4,500 square metres are actually agricultural in nature.

Machu Picchu reveals new secrets: Inkaraqay

October 3, 2010

Only ever seen by a few people over the past century, the Inca site of Inkaraqay located on an inaccessible and nearly vertical side of the Huayna Picchu mountain that overlooks Machu Picchu, is only now being revealed to the wider world.

With the appearance of a fort hanging on to the sheer drop that gives way to the Vilcanota river and the well-known moon temple below, its huge walls and terraces covering 4,500 square metres are actually agricultural in nature.

Accompanying the five levels of farming terraces is a ritual platform dedicated, as with the temple nearer the mountain’s foot, to the worship of the moon.

“The architecture of these terraces is superior to even those of Machu Picchu itself,” says Piedad Champi, resident archaeologist. Specially designed water channels appear and disappear from terrace to terrace, bringing running water to every area without fail.

“This was one of the sectors that provided food that they ate in Machu Picchu. It’s connected through a series of stairs that go to the Moon Temple and then around Huayna Picchu“, explains Champi, himself of the opinion that Machu Picchu was a retreat for emperor Pachacútec.

More and plenty of pictures:
Back to top
View user's profile 
What a Cad!
Joined: 13 Dec 2008
Total posts: 26565
Location: Under the moon
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 05-12-2010 10:15    Post subject: Reply with quote

Peru: 'sensational' Inca find for British team in Andes
Discovery of sacred ancestor stones has archaeologists 'dancing a jig'
Dalya Alberge The Observer, Sunday 5 December 2010

A British team of archaeologists on expedition in the Peruvian Andes has hailed as "sensational" the discovery of some of the most sacred objects in the Inca civilisation – three "ancestor stones", which were once believed to form a precious link between the heavens and the underworld.

The find, which was made on an isolated Andean mountainside, provoked joy among local specialists and the experts present from, among others, the British Museum, Reading University and Royal Holloway, University of London. No examples of the stones were thought to have survived until now.

"It was a very moving moment," said Dr Colin McEwan, the British Museum's head of the Americas, as he recalled seeing the stones for the first time.

Dr Frank Meddens, research associate of Royal Holloway, who was also on the expedition, said they had "danced a little jig on top of the mountain" after discovering the objects that they had only read about in 16th-century Spanish documents. Smile

The Incas would have been just as overawed. The conical-shaped stones were among the most significant items in Inca society and religion. Key elements in ritual events, they were thought to facilitate a connection between different realms of the world – the celestial and the underworld of the ancestors – with the Inca king, as the divine ruler, acting as intermediary. And they were considered more precious than gold.

"This is a whole new category of object. It is nothing short of sensational," said McEwan of the three stones in red and white Andesite, a hard, granite-like rock, which were excavated some 2.5 metres beneath an Inca stone platform. The platform too was recently excavated and is a structure of distinctive stonework that once symbolised the imperial control of conquered territories.

The site – at Incapirca Waminan – is one of 20 undocumented high-altitude Inca ceremonial platforms explored by the archaeologists around the Ayacucho basin. Such sites were potent imperial symbols of religious and political authority as the Incas expanded outwards from Cuzco, a sacred city of temples and palaces in the central Peruvian Andes.

Ancestor stones represented deities, ancestors and the sun, and were imbued with supreme symbolic significance. They were greeted with incomprehension by Spanish chroniclers of the early 16th century, who sacrilegiously likened their shape to sugar loaves, pineapples and bowling pins. The insult, however, was returned: when the 16th-century Inca ruler Atahualpa was shown a copy of the Bible by the Conquistadors, he reacted with similar contempt.

According to Spanish sources, the stones were used in public solar rituals, sometimes draped in gold cloth and paraded. One witness wrote: "The stones… were held to be blessed and sacred."

Symbols of the ancestral essence of the Inca king, the objects were placed on display when the supreme leader was absent from Cuzco, the capital of the Inca people, in an attempt to demonstrate the perpetual presence and his power. The Incas believed their king to be a living god who ruled by divine right.

As the Incas had no system of writing, the significance of the archaeologists' unprecedented find is reinforced by the identification of ancestor stones in the decoration of a unique 16th-century Inca vessel (cocha) in the British Museum. Spanning 50cm in diameter, it bears a carved scene showing a central solar disc and two kneeling figures with their hands clasped as they honour an ancestor stone. They are flanked on either side by an Inca king and queen and high-ranking lords.

Back to top
View user's profile 
Psycho Punk
Joined: 19 Aug 2003
Total posts: 21783
Location: Dublin
Age: 0
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 12-05-2012 12:55    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ecuador seeks answer to riddle of Inca emperor's tomb
By Irene Caselli
Malqui-Machay, Ecuador

Does the final resting place of Inca Emperor Atahualpa lie here?

Related Stories

Protecting Peru's ancient past
In Pictures: Celebrating Machu Picchu's rediscovery
Ecuador country profile

The mystery surrounding the tomb of the last Inca emperor - and its reputed treasure - might be closer to being solved.

If Ecuadorean historian Tamara Estupinan is right, Emperor Atahualpa's mummified body was kept in the lush, hilly lowlands, a six-hour drive south-west of Ecuador's capital city, Quito.

While it is still too early to confirm Ms Estupinan's theory, this discovery could shed light on a tumultuous historical period that marked the beginning of the Spanish colonial era in the Americas.

At its height, in the early 1500s, the Inca empire covered most of the Andes, from southern Colombia to central Chile as well as some parts of Argentina.

Inca emperors were mummified because it was believed that their powers remained within their bodies, which were guarded by guards and family members.

Atahualpa governed out of Quito during a civil war against his brother, who was based in Cusco, the seat of the Inca empire.

Some 40 years after the death of Atahualpa the Inca empire had fallen
Shortly after defeating his brother, Atahualpa was captured by Spanish troops under Francisco Pizarro.

It is believed that Atahualpa offered to fill a large room with gold and silver in exchange for his life. The offer did not work - he was executed in 1533.

End of an era
The Inca empire began to fall apart after his death, leaving only pockets of resistance against the Spanish conquerors.

Archaeologists and historians have questioned whether his body remained in Cajamarca, the city in northern Peru where he died. No tomb was ever found.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

We have been sleeping with history”

Jorge Yarad
Site owner
But Ms Estupinan, a researcher at the French Institute for Andean Studies (IFEA), says historical texts contain clues that indicate that the Inca emperor's final resting place was in what is now Ecuadorean territory.

The historian's work focused on Ruminahui, one of Atahualpa's most loyal generals who led a revolt against the Spanish conquerors after the emperor's death.

During her research, which lasted more than a decade, Ms Estupinan came across evidence that suggested that the Sigchos area in Ecuador's Andes became a base for Ruminahui and his men.

She started looking for locations whose names were connected to sacred rituals.

In 2004 she came across a small farm named Malqui - a word that means "mummy" in Quechua, the language spoken by the Incas.

The shape of the stones suggest a link with the Inca tradition
Polished stone walls and a subterranean water canal indicated the Inca origin of the site.

Six years later, Ms Estupinan led a new expedition some 4km (2.5 miles) from Malqui.

"When we arrived here, I could not believe it," said Ms Estupinan during a recent visit to the site, known as Machay (a Quechua word meaning burial).

A trapezoidal enclosure leading to rectangular rooms that were built with cut polished stone led Ms Estupinan to think that she had reached an Inca monument. The presence of trapezoidal underground water canals served as confirmation.

"I started running around," she says. "It was extremely exciting."

Ms Estupinan believes Malqui and Machay were part of an Inca settlement set up to hide Atahualpa's mummy and his possessions, which were traditionally buried with the emperor, from the Spanish conquistadors.

Machay is aligned with other sacred Inca sites, such as the Quilotoa lagoon, and is surrounded by the Machay River. Running water was important in sacred Inca places.

The site is 1km (3,280ft) above sea level, in the sub-tropical lowlands on the western slopes of the Andes.

Given the humidity, it is unlikely that remains of the mummy could be found intact almost 500 years later.

Excavation works are expected to start in June, partly financed by Ecuador's government, which plans to invest $97,500 (£60,000) in marking and protecting the site.

Historian Tamara Estupinan has been piecing together the evidence
"For now the government cannot yet say whether this is Atahualpa's grave," said Joaquin Moscoso, of the Heritage Ministry.

"If the historian's hypothesis is confirmed, we would be facing one of the largest and most unusual discoveries of the past decades."

Treasure trove 'unlikely'
Unlike in Peru, where much attention goes to Inca sites, such as world renowned Machu Picchu, Ecuador's archaeological ruins attract a limited number of tourists, and government spending is limited.

So far a police officer has been deployed to protect Machay from possible looters attracted by the legend of Atahualpa's treasure.

According to Ms Estupinan, it is unlikely that riches would be found.

"For the Incas, the real treasure was the mummy itself," she says.

Ms Estupinan also stresses that more attention should be placed on the site's conservation.

Pictures of Machay from the 1960s show clear deterioration of several walls.

The site was used to raise fighting cocks and to farm fish.

Machu Picchu, rediscovered in 1910, is now one of the "new" wonders of the world
This year's heavy rains have taken their toll, with the destruction of a large portion of a wall, says Ms Estupinan.

Francisco Moncayo, who owns the Machay site, says he is waiting for money from the municipality to help him keep the place in order.

He says the cost of maintaining the site runs to $3,000 (£1,800) a year.

Jorge Yarad, one of two owners at Malqui, says he feels honoured to be in an Inca site, but he is worried about looters.

"It is a great responsibility," he says.

Mr Yarad hopes the government will be able to buy the land to build an archaeological site that would become world renowned.

"We have been sleeping with history," says Mr Yarad. "And only now are we waking up."
Back to top
View user's profile 
Psycho Punk
Joined: 19 Aug 2003
Total posts: 21783
Location: Dublin
Age: 0
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 04-08-2012 23:10    Post subject: Reply with quote

Avoids the danger of giant snakes, angry tribes etc.

Drones map ancient Peruvian ruins
21:45 3 August 2012
Hal Hodson, technology reporter

For the past month, a lunch tray-sized aircraft has been skimming over Peruvian ruins snapping high-definition photos which are then stitched together to build a 3D map of the site.

The flyer is the brainchild of Steven Wernke and Julie Adams, archaeologist and roboticist respectively at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. Wernke says that the craft will speed up site mapping drastically compared to traditional methods - a fiddly medley of theodolites, measuring tapes and photography which often requires repeat visits over two or three years during the dry season.

The Vanderbilt team is currently mapping the Peruvian ruins of Mawchu Llacta, an Inca settlement that was mysteriously abandoned in the 19th century. They plan to return next year to work out any kinks that crop up in the lab once they are back in Tennessee.

The flyer itself is a model from Aurora Flight Sciences called the Skate, kitted out with cameras and connected to a flight software system that determines the best flight patten in an area to be scanned, then lets the craft go to work without operator assistance. The whole setup fits in a backpack.

Although the drone will be mapping the site in 3D to a level of detail which Wenke says is better than "even the best satellite imagery", it won't be mapping the interior of the ruins.

To that end, Nadir Bagaveyev, a design engineer at XCOR Aerospace in Mojave, California recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to build a cheap laser radar (LiDAR) capable of being integrated into any robotics project and returning reliable three dimensional spatial coordinates.

More expensive LiDARs work by measuring the length of time it takes a laser signal to complete a round trip between the point of measurement and surrounding features, calculating distances by multiplying the measured time by the speed of light. Bagaveyev is planning to make his system cheaper by doing away with the high precision timing equipment, and instead measuring the angles and distances between laser spots that reflect off the drone's surroundings, calculating a distance using trigonometry.
Back to top
View user's profile 
What a Cad!
Joined: 13 Dec 2008
Total posts: 26565
Location: Under the moon
Gender: Male
PostPosted: 15-12-2013 12:09    Post subject: Reply with quote

Explorers hot on the trail of Atahualpa and the Treasure of the Llanganates
Explorers claim to have found ruins in the Amazon that could help lead to the Treasure of the Llanganates
By Jasper Copping
6:00AM GMT 15 Dec 2013

It sounds like a plot from an Indiana Jones film, but explorers claim to have found ruins hidden deep in a dense and dangerous Amazonian jungle that could solve many of South America's mysteries – and lead to one of the world's most sought-after treasures.

The multinational team, including Britons, has located the site in a remote region in central Ecuador which it believes could represent one of the great archaeological discoveries.

They have already unearthed a 260ft tall by 260ft wide structure, made up of hundreds of two-ton stone blocks, and believe there could be more, similar constructions over an area of about a square mile.

Investigations of the site, in the Andes mountain range, are at an early stage and theories as to what it contains vary.
Some of those involved believe it could be the mausoleum of Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor who was captured by the conquering Spaniards, or hold the Treasure of the Llanganates, a vast haul of gold and other riches amassed by his followers to pay for his release.
In exchange for his freedom, Atahualpa is said to have offered to fill a room with gold. But the offer was rebuffed and he was executed in 1533.

His body is said to have been exhumed, mummified and later hidden by his followers in the region in which the new site has been found. According to legend, great treasures – which had been amassed for the ransom – were either buried with him, or separately.
The search for the tomb and the riches has been one of the world's greatest historical treasure hunts, inspiring many, thus far unsuccessful, expeditions.

Others believe the newly discovered site dates back far earlier, to unknown, pre-Inca cultures from before 500 BC, citing what appear to be rudimentary tools found there.
Local legend has it that the area was once populated by a civilisation of exceptionally tall people and the apparently outsized nature of some of the approximately 30 artefacts found have led some to describe the area as the Lost City of The Giants.
The site, in the Llanganates National Park, is being investigated by a team of British, French, America and Ecuadorean explorers.

Among them is Bruce Fenton, an Ecuador-based Briton and researcher into the region's indigenous cultures, who has been involved in the project for about three months, after he heard of recent discoveries made by local trekkers. He is planning two visits to the site before the end of the month. Also involved is Benoit Duverneuil, a French-American archaeologist, who undertook an expedition there earlier this year.
The Ecuadorean government has been told of the discovery and an official expedition by archaeologists and paleontologists is expected to take place. The site is already attracting groups interested in recovering artefacts.

It is only about 20 miles from the town of Baños de Agua Santa, but it takes about eight hours to trek to it through swampy and mountainous jungle. The site is about 8,500ft above sea level and in cloud forest, where it rains most of the time. One route to it is known for the risks posed by attacks of Africanised – "killer" – bees.

The precise extent of the structure and the possible wider development has not yet been gauged. The vast structure is a wall, sloping at a 60 degree angle, with a flat area at the top where many of the artefacts have been found.
The team believes the summit was used for some form of human activities, possibly sacrifices. Some have suggested that it could have been the venue for human sacrifices, with the incline deliberately engineered to allow a head to roll down the side.
The area is affected by regular landslides and much of the structure is covered by mud and vegetation, making investigations difficult.

There are several other large mounds - also covered in mud and vegatation - within a square mile, which the explorers think could be more man-made structures, as well as what appears to be a road.

The team believes the structure already discovered could contain rooms and Mr Duverneuil, who undertook an expedition to the site in April and May, believes it could be Atahualpa's mausoleum.
"This could be one of the biggest archaeological discoveries ever," he said. "It would be huge. We just don't have structures of this type and size in this part of the world. But we are some way from declaring that yet.
"It looks like a paved wall, an ancient street or plaza with a 60 degrees angle, perhaps the roof of a larger structure. Many of the stones were perfectly aligned, have sharp edges and seemed to have been sculpted by human hands. But there is still a chance that this could be a very unusual natural rock formation

He has also not ruled out a connection to either the Panzaleo culture, which was established around 600 BC and saw the construction of large temples dedicated to its gods, or the Canari people, who were rivals of the Incas and joined forces with the Spanish during the conquest.

But Mr Fenton suspects it may date back earlier than any of these groups. He believes the site once held a city, built there to capitalise on the gold found in the region's rivers, and could be the size of Machu Picchu, the Inca city in southern Peru.

"This is a very inhospitable area and is still considered very dangerous because of the landscape," he said. "The only thing around there of any value would have been gold. It seems artefacts are spread over a wide area of inhospitable jungle and this only makes sense if a long-lost settlement is present."

Unlike in Peru, where much attention goes to Inca sites such as Machu Picchu, Ecuador's archaeological ruins attract a limited number of tourists and government spending is limited
Back to top
View user's profile 
Display posts from previous:   
Post new topic   Reply to topic    Fortean Times Message Board Forum Index -> Earth Mysteries - historical and classical cases All times are GMT
Page 1 of 1

Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2005 phpBB Group