Peru Finds Pre-Inca Ruins Beneath Lake Titicaca

October 31, 2002
By Monica Vargas

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) – Peruvian divers have found pre-Inca stairways, ramps and walls beneath the waters of Lake Titicaca, but experts said on Wednesday the discoveries were not the remains of a legendary lost city.

“The remains were found at a depth of between 6.5 and 26 feet on the eastern side of the lake. … They are built with interlocking stones,” oceanic engineer and expedition member Gustavo Villavicencio told Reuters.

Lake Titicaca, a sweeping expanse of brilliant blue water high in the Andes at an altitude of 12,540 feet, is shared by Peru and Bolivia. The world’s highest navigable lake, it attracts flocks of visitors a year to see its floating reed islands, Aymara-speaking Indians and Inca ruins.

According to tradition, the Inca sun god, Manco Capac and his sister, Mama Ocllo, sprang from Lake Titicaca to found the city of Cusco and the Inca dynasty that held sway over a swathe of Latin America from Colombia to Chile for more than three centuries until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

But Villavicencio said the discoveries — made in the past two weeks by a team of navy divers and oceanographic experts — were not the vestiges of a lost underwater world.

“There are studies that show that the lake used to be … around 66 to 98 feet lower, and that was where ancient Peruvians built,” he said.

As well as the algae-covered pre-Inca ruins, the divers also found a stone platform on which fragments of ceramics and bits of llama bones were recovered.

“Everything suggests it was a place where offerings were made, a sacred site,” Villavicencio said.

Archeologists consulted by the expedition said they could be remains of the Tiahuanaco culture, which flourished in the ninth and tenth centuries, and was known for its stone work.

Poking 10 feet out of the middle of the lake, the team also found what they dubbed the “mystery rock” that measures 66 feet across.

A stone statue in the shape of a llama was found on the rock, which divers nicknamed after seeing how lightning always struck it during storms, Villavicencio said.

The expedition also located the remains of the first iron-hulled ship that sailed on Lake Titicaca in the 19th century and which sank beneath its icy waters in 1876 near the tourist islands of Taquile and Amantani.