The New York Times

Experts Reveal Riches of Machu Picchu's Neglected Neighbor


Published: November 18, 2003

SSome forgotten cities in the mountains of Peru, abandoned to overgrown ruin, remained "lost" only because their possible significance was not fully appreciated by earlier explorers. That happened to a place known as Llactapata.

In 1912, the American explorer Hiram Bingham came upon what he called the remains of some Inca chieftain's castle and a few other buildings. This was part of Llactapata, meaning "high town." But Bingham gave it only a passing glance. He was in a hurry to get to the site, only two miles away, where he would make his name in archaeology: Machu Picchu.

Two weeks ago, a team of British and American explorers and archaeologists reported that they had rediscovered Llactapata using infrared aerial photography to penetrate the jungle growth. The explorers hacked their way to the mountainous site, where they uncovered remains of broad plazas, temples, an astronomical observatory, a granary and other stone buildings over at least a square mile of rugged terrain.

In an announcement in London, the leaders of the expedition, the British explorer and writer Hugh Thomson and the American archaeologist Gary Ziegler, said the site was much more extensive and imposing than Bingham had suspected. Preliminary examination of the ruins suggested that this was a large religious center used for elaborate ceremonies and observations of solar equinoxes and solstices.

The expedition leaders described finding a two-story temple that faced the rising sun and a plaza with ceremonial doorways aligned to Machu Picchu, which can be seen in the distance across the Aobamba River. They concluded that Llactapata was part of a much larger complex related to Machu Picchu, all built by the Incan emperor Pachacuti in the 15th century.

In their field report, Mr. Thomson and Mr. Ziegler said the rediscovered site "adds significantly to our knowledge and understanding of Machu Picchu as the hub of a complex neighborhood of carefully placed interrelated administrative and ceremonial sites reaching outward" toward the Incan capital at Cuzco, 50 miles away, and other Andean cities.

Some excavations, the expedition leaders said, indicated that Llactapata might also have served as a supply depot and residential area for its more famous neighbor.

Machu Picchu, Peru's most popular tourist attraction, is seen as a country retreat and ceremonial center for Incan royalty and aristocracy. Its stone walls and palaces stand grandly on an 8,000-foot ridge. Llactapata's elevation is about 1,000 feet higher.

The expedition, conducted in July and August, was supported by the Royal Geographical Society in London and the Explorers Club in New York. Mr. Thomson is the author of "The White Rock," a book of Andean explorations published by Overlook Press.

Other archaeologists said they were concerned that the new site lay outside the protection of the national park for Machu Picchu and thus could be vulnerable to looting. They recommended an expansion of the park to include the ruins of Llactapata.