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Peru yields another long-lost Inca city

By Thomas H. Maugh II, DAWN,
Monday 10 June 2002; 28 Rabi-ul-Awwal 1423

LOS ANGELES: Deep in an inaccessible canyon in the most remote area of Peru, a British-American team has discovered what appears to be one of the last refuges of the Incas before their civilization was destroyed by the Spanish in 1572.

Tipped off to the site's location by a native mule handler whom they trusted, the team hacked through dense forest with machetes for a week before finally descending 6,000 feet into a gorge on the Rio Yanama and encountering the jungle-shrouded city.

The site, called Cota Coca, is the second Inca settlement whose discovery was announced in the last two months. In March, a National Geographic Society team revealed the discovery of a mountaintop settlement - probably used for mining and religious ceremonies - at Cerro Victoria. The new site is twice as large, however, and much better preserved.

Cota Coca, whose discovery was revealed Friday by Britain's Royal Geographical Society, may have served as one of the homes of the Inca rulers from 1532, when Mano Inca led a rebellion against the Spanish conquerors, until 1572, when the last Inca ruler, Tupac Amaru, was captured and executed.

It could have been a key outpost in the guerrilla warfare conducted against the Spanish during that period, said British archeologist Hugh Thomson, a fellow of the royal society, who co- led the expedition with American archeologist Gary Ziegler. It would have served as a jumping off point from which they could have harassed the Spanish travelling on the royal road between Cusco and Lima, he said.

Finding the site was a once in a lifetime experience, Thomson said With so much of the world discovered and mapped, it's reassuring to feel that there are still places that we don't know about.

This is probably the most exciting thing I have ever found, added Ziegler of Colorado, who finances his explorations by organizing archeology-based tours to Peru for tourists. Both of the expedition leaders are experienced Inca experts who have been working in Peru for at least two decades.

Cota Coca is located at an altitude of about 6,000 feet near the junction of the Yanama and Blanco rivers in the rugged Vilcabamba region of Eastern Peru, about 60 miles east of the Inca capital of Cusco. It is on an isolated bench or mesa, a little more than 1.5 miles long, carved out by the Rio Yanama in its mad rush to join the Rio Blanco.

Evidence from the site suggests that the Incas built a road linking Cota Coca to the former capital of Choquequirao, only a few miles downriver. A road in the opposite direction led toward Vitcos, a secondary Inca city.

The site is sort of a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, he said. We knew there had to be roads leading into and out of this area, and a road leading through to the Rio Apurimac. This ruin rather neatly fitted the jigsaw. It's very much the missing piece. The team, which also included veteran British archeologist Nicholas Asheshov and Australian explorer John Leivers, spent nearly a week hacking away the brush from the city.

Under the brush, they found more than 30 stone buildings, including a 75-foot-long kallanka or meeting house, grouped around a central plaza. Outside the central area are more well- made rectangular houses.

Two large walled enclosures, each about 100-by-175-feet, may have been holding pens for passing llama trains.

Before it served as a possible refuge for Manco Inca and his followers, Cota Coca was probably a regional administrative centre and way station for travellers, Thomson said. In general, the layout is functional rather than ceremonial.

Some buildings in the outlying sectors may have housed resident administrators, record keepers, workers and servants living and working at such an outpost, he added. The sizable number of closely grouped round and oval structures may have been lodging for workers and store houses for corn and other commodities.