Explorers Find Lost Inca Town in Peru

June 6, 2002

LONDON (Reuters) — British and American explorers have found a large Inca town that was lost for more than 400 years after hacking their way through the dense jungles of Peru.

“This is the biggest thing I have come across in 20 years working in the area,” said the team’s co-leader Hugh Thomson, a fellow of Britain’s renowned Royal Geographical Society.

“It felt like a once in a lifetime experience when we found it,” he told Reuters by telephone from Bristol in southwest England.

Working on a tip from a local mule driver and their own knowledge of the area, the four-man team spent three weeks hacking through forests of the Peruvian interior with machetes.

There, completely overgrown and at the bottom of a valley carved by the Rio Yanama river 1,850 metres (6,069 ft) above sea level, they found the ancient city at a site called Cota Coca.

“It was a very privileged moment. This is a very substantial settlement, but you can pass within 10 feet (3 meters) of a ruin in the jungle and not know it is there,” said Thomson who led the expedition with Gary Ziegler.

“Getting there through the jungle is very hard work. The steep valleys combined with the Amazon cloud forest vegetation are a pretty impenetrable mixture.”

The Cota Coca valley is about 100 km (60 miles) west of the ancient Inca capital Cusco.

Stone structures

But Thomson said he and his co-leader calculated they had probably scaled more than the height of Mount Everest during the mountainous trek because of the undulating terrain.

The team’s report said a preliminary survey showed that Cota Coca contained at least 30 stone-built structures, including a 75 ft long meeting hall, grouped around a great central plaza.

The Incas once ruled a vast swathe of South America stretching from Colombia to Chile.

The team said the town was probably built during the Inca’s retreat from treasure-hunting Spanish invaders and abandoned after the Conquistadors captured and executed the last Inca leader Tupac Amaru in 1572.

The town lay undiscovered for centuries because of the rapid growth of the jungle.

Thomson said Cota Coca — probably named after the Inca habit of growing large numbers of coca plants in the area — had developed its own semi-tropical climate because of the high wall of the river valley.

He said there was no indication why the town had been abandoned and forgotten. There was no evidence of battle or looting and the Incas appeared to have simply withdrawn from the area after the death of Tupac Amaru.

“After finding Cota Coca we will be going back to the area to search for more ruins,” Thomson said. “If this settlement is there, there could well be others.”