Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2002


Machete-wielding team discover Inca fastness lost for four centuries
By Roger Highfield, Science Editor
(Filed: 06/06/2002)

One of the last Inca strongholds against the conquering Spanish has been uncovered in cloud-forest by a British and American expedition investigating a rumour of lost ruins, the Royal Geographical Society will announce today.

Called Cota Coca, after the coca grown there, the site is more than 6,000ft up in a valley near the junction of the Yanama and Blanco rivers in Vilcabamba, one of the least understood and most significant areas in the history of the Incas, rulers of the last great empire in the Americas.

The Spanish went there in search of gold, plundering the region and waging war against the Inca. Their leader, Manco Inca, led a rebellion in 1536 that nearly overthrew the Spanish before he and his followers fled to Vilcabamba.

At Cota Coca, which provided a strategic link between the interior and the coast, they fought a guerrilla campaign and defied the invaders for almost four decades.

Valley walls cut off the riverside plateau that holds a settlement of almost 40 structures, including a 75ft-long kallanka (meeting hall) grouped around a major plaza, low walls that might have supported wooden-sided houses, a huaca (small shrine) and walled enclosures.

The layout appears functional rather than ceremonial: the inner part is thought to have provided lodgings for high status visitors to the exiled Inca court, and the outlying parts may have housed bureaucrats and imported workers.

The discovery of Cota Coca comes just months after the National Geographic announced another "lost city", consisting of scattered settlements. However, the constructed area of this new site is more than twice as big and far better preserved, though it has yet to be excavated.

John Hemming, author of The Conquest of The Incas and the Director of the Royal Geographical Society from 1975 to 1996, said: "This is an important discovery because it is a sizeable centre of good quality late-Inca masonry."

Gary Ziegler, an American archaeologist, and Hugh Thomson, a British writer and explorer, led a team of specialists, field helpers, eight mule handlers, 16 mules and seven horses into the Peruvian Vilcabamba beyond Machu Picchu.

Acting on a rumour from a previous trip, they made the difficult journey into some of the most remote territory in this part of the Andes, where the mountains slope down towards the Amazon cloud-forest.

"We did not know what we would find. It could have been a 20-year-old corrugated shack," said Mr Thomson.

Instead, what emerged was a substantial and completely unknown site, covered by dense forestation.

"It was an amazing feeling to cut our way through the cloud-forest to suddenly see this site," said Mr Thomson.

The team used machetes to clear the many stone buildings arranged around a central plaza, so that they could be mapped and studied.

The isolated location has kept the Inca site at Cota Coca concealed for hundreds of years. Erosion by the Yanama river over the centuries since the time of the Incas has created a steep river canyon, which is impassable along the valley bottom; the only way the team could reach it was to descend from the mountain above, cutting a trail down though the dense cloud-forest with their machetes.

"It is some of the most difficult terrain anywhere in the world," said Mr Thomson.

The site is on an isolated bench or mesa just over a mile long, an eroded remnant left after the Rio Yanama river cut a chasm near its intersection with the Rio Blanco. The valley bottom is hot and semi-tropical, with a micro-climate environment.

Before the erosion of the valley walls, it appears that there may have been an Inca road along the river linking the settlement with another of the great Inca cities, Choquequirao. It is likely that the Incas would have used the site in their period of retreat from the Spanish after the Conquest of Peru in 1532, when they were hiding in the mountains until their capitulation in 1572.

"There are no records of the Spanish ever having found this site," said Mr Thomson.

He added: "It's only once in a lifetime that one's likely to be present at the discovery of a genuine new Inca site - with so much of the world discovered and mapped, it's reassuring to feel that there are still places we don't know about.

"The physical geography of South-east Peru is so wild that it is possible that there are even more ruins waiting to be found."

It is unlikely that the site was visited or known of following the fall of the last Inca emperor, Tupac Amaru, in 1572.

However, one early explorer, the Comte de Sartiges, passed nearby in order to reach Choquequirao in 1834. He refers in his writing to the lower Yanama Valley "being known as Cotacoca", although he did not find the ruins.

He commented at the time that he thought it "unlikely anyone could have inhabited this narrow valley because of the numerous and voracious mosquitoes that have taken possession of it. It was impossible to breathe, drink or eat without absorbing quantities of these insufferable creatures".

It is unlikely that any of the early visitors to Choquequirao found Cota Coca. Although the sites are only a few miles apart, they are across a deep canyon whose connecting Inca routes have long been lost and severed. The new site of Cota Coca has never been documented, reported or known to the outside world until the current investigation.

Mr Ziegler and Mr Thomson are planning to return to the Vilcabamba area next year to look for further ruins.



The Times June 6 2002

Explorers find lost Inca town

AN INCA town lost for more than 400 years has been discovered in the jungles of Peru by a team headed by a British explorer.

The ruins, believed to have last been inhabited by the remnants of Inca resistance to the Spanish conquistadors, are thought to be among the best-preserved discoveries from the ancient civilisation for decades.

Hugh Thomson, the Bristol-based explorer who co-led the expedition, described the discovery of Cota Coca as one of the most exciting of his career.

He said: “It’s only once in a lifetime that one’s likely to be present at the discovery of a genuine new Inca site; with so much of the world discovered and mapped, it’s reassuring to feel that there are still places we don’t know about.”

Mr Thomson said the ruins, thickly covered in vegetation, are twice as big and in better condition than another set uncovered by the British Inca expert Peter Frost in Peru earlier this year.

The Royal Geographical Society, which announced the find, said it was unlikely that the site had been visited since the fall of the last Inca emperor, Tupac Amaru, in 1572, and it may even have been uninhabited since followers of Manco Inca fled to Vilcabamba, after the failed 1536 rebellion against Francisco Pizarro.

The town, built at 6,069ft, lies in a remote valley in the Andes and centuries of erosion by the Yanama river meant the only way the team could reach it was by hacking through dense cloud-forest with machetes as they worked their way down from the mountain overlooking the site.

“The physical geography of southeast Peru is so wild, with its deep canyons and dense vegetation, that it is possible that there are even more ruins waiting to be discovered,” Mr Thomson, a Fellow of the society, said.

His team tracked down the town after Gary Ziegler, the American archaeologist co-leading the expedition, was tipped off by a mule handler about the possibility of ruins on a previous trip to Peru.

Cota Coca has about 30 stone structures clustered around a large central plaza. On one side is a 75ft-long kallanka, or meeting hall, which may have been used by administrators or to accommodate Imperial Inca troops passing along a nearby Inca highway.

Two large walled enclosures, each 175ft by 100ft, may have been holding pens for the llama trains that carried goods from the Pacific coast to the forest interior, and along the mountain chain.

Cota Coca was probably a smaller version of Inca towns such as the well-known Huanuco Pampa. It was not a royal estate, like Machu Picchu 31 miles away, or a major city like the capital, Cuzco.




Los Angeles Times, June 16, 2002

Late Inca Outpost Is Found in Peru
*Archeology: Remote site might have been a home of rulers and one of the civilization's last refuges.


By THOMAS H. MAUGH II, Times Staff Writer

Deep in an inaccessible canyon in the remotest 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, the team hacked through dense forest with machetes for a week before finally descending 6,000 feet into a gorge on the Yanama river and encountering the jungle-shrouded city.

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

Cota Coca, whose discovery was revealed Thursday by Britain's Royal Geographical Society, might have served as one of the homes of the Inca rulers from 1532, when Manco 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 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 traveling on the royal road between Cuzco 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," said Ziegler of Colorado, who finances his explorations by organizing archeology-based tours to Peru. 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 100 miles west of the Inca capital, Cuzco. It is on an isolated bench, or mesa, about 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 Choquiquirao, only a few miles downriver. A road in the opposite direction led toward Vitcos, a secondary Inca city.

The Incas built an extensive network of such roads, as many as 24,000 miles' worth. The roads were up to 14 feet wide and, when conditions permitted, were paved with flat, fitted stones and retained by stone walls.

Most of the road between Cota Coca and the two nearby cities was washed away by the Yanama river, however, and what remains is hidden by dense overgrowth.

"The reason no one has ever found this site before is that it lies at the bottom of a very deep valley," Thomson said. "The river has eroded the valley wall so badly that the valley is no longer passable--you can't go up and down the valley. The only way to get there is to descend directly from the mountain above."

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, might have been pens for passing llama convoys.

"This is an important discovery because it is a sizable center of good-quality, late-Inca masonry," said John Hemming, a former director of the royal society.

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

Some buildings in the outlying sectors might 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 might have been lodging for workers and storehouses for corn and other commodities.

"What was remarkable was that the site was completely unlooted when we arrived," Thomson said. "That's very, very rare in Peru. We could see on the surface that it was untouched. Normally, at a site like this there are huge holes everywhere where the looters have been."

The team did not do any excavations to look for artifacts. "That would have been irresponsible," Thomson said. The team did find a few grinding stones on the surface and some pottery shards.

"These things have to be done like a lightning strike--get in, clear the site and map it," he said. Careful excavation will be left to a future expedition, either by the team or others. For the moment, the area is being protected by the government to prevent looting.

Thomson noted that "few of the Inca settlements in the area have been properly excavated. What is remarkable is how little we still know about the Incas compared to most of the other ancient civilizations, not only the Egyptians and the Greeks, but even the Maya and the Aztecs.

"Part of that is because they lacked writing, but it is also because less work has been done on them. It feels to me as if we are still on the cutting edge of making new discoveries about their civilization."