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Who Built Machu Picchu? A short history of the Inca
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Machu Picchu: A Short History and Summary


Palcay, an Almost Lost City and New Machu Picchu Discoveries: A report of the 2006 Andean Research Expedition:

Gary R. Ziegler

Gary Ziegler is an archaeologist, mountaineer and explorer who has spend a lifetime studying the Incas and remote regions of Peru. He is co-owner of Adventure Specialists, a Colorado ranch based adventure tour operation that runs educational treks, horse trips and research expeditions in Colorado, Peru and Mexico's Copper Canyon. His expeditions have located the important Inca sites of Corihuayrachina, Cota Cota and Llactapata. He is a Fellow of The Royal Geographical Society, The Explorers Club and a sometime lecturer at Colorado College. He has appeared on BBC specials about the Inca and as guest expert on the Discovery and History Channel
He can be contacted at: info@adventurespecialist.org
US phone: 719-783-2076

The Royal Geographical Society supported Thomson-Ziegler project which located and investigated the Inca site at Coat Coca in 2002 and rediscovered the archaeological complex of Llactapata in 2003, continues to undertake field explorations seeking new information and data about the builders of Machu Picchu and those who preceeded the Inca in this remote region of Peru's rugged southern Andes.

The 2006 Andean Research Expedition was conducted with this objective, during the first two weeks of May. In cooperation with the small community of Lucmabamba located in the Santa Teresa Valley, the expedition accomplished a detailed archaeological reconnaissance of the remote high region lying between the Santa Teresa and Aobamba drainage bounded by the Ice peak Salkantay to the south and the Machu Picchu/Llactapata complex to the north. Following a revisit to Llactapata, additional studies were completed at Machu Picchu. The exploration produced new discoveries and valuable data. Exceptionally good weather allowed unhindered views of the entire rugged Machu Picchu neighborhood in all of it's seldom revealed andean splendor.

History and Objectives

American explorer Hiram Bingham and decades later, American anthropologist Johan Reinhard, briefly visited the region. During a 1912 exploration, Bingham reported and sketched a plan for the remote site of Palcay. Located in a deep eroded canyon near the upper limit of the Aobamba River. Palcay is extremely difficult to reach. Reinhard hiked through the remote region in 1985 following a now destroyed Inca road over a high pass from the Pampacayhuana valley to the east. He briefly describes Palcay and other Inca features located between Palcay and the upper reaches of the Llactapata archaeological zone. Hugh Thompson had also sometime traveled the region in the 1980s while working with British archaeologist Ann Kindall's Cuscichaca project. Field staff from the Institudo Nacional de Cultura (INC) have reportedly visited the region, but unfortunately, no reports, notes or details are available.

Australian explorer John Leivers more recently reached Palcay during the 2003-2005 Llactapata investigations. His report was disturbing. The Aobamba had flooded in 1998 causing widespread damage and disaster in the Urubamba Canyon below, destroying the railroad below Machu Picchu along with several towns. Enduring severe weather in nearly impassable terrain, John returned to report that Palcay had been partly destroyed by the flooding and was in immediate danger of total destruction.

Realizing that the endangered site had not being adequately investigated, along with pressing need to document all of the sites and Inca routes likely associated with the Machu Picchu/Llactapata complex, we felt great urgency to accomplish this before another mountain slide or flood removed what remained forever.

Operations:

The small Andean community of Lucmabamba is an excellent staging area to launch the expedition. We had previously utilized workers there to help at Llactapata. Several had worked for the INC on recent reconstruction of a main Inca road up to Llactapata which passes through Lucmabamba (part of the Qapac nan-government Inca road project). John had made valuable contact with community leaders who were interested in learning about their early predecessors and eager to assist. We contracted local herder, Fructoso Munares as our chief porter and scout who has extensive knowledge gained from a lifetime of grazing cattle in the high region. I brought along Ramiro Abemdano, an old exploring companion from Manu Expeditions, our Cusco based support company, as camp chef and organizer (Maestro del Campo). Ramiro's first language is Quechua which greatly assists communications with local residents. John Leivers and I both understand and use a bit of the ancient language from years in the Andes. However, we necessarily work in Spanish, the common media which all but the remotest of elderly campesinos understand. Important happenings, negotiations and real information all transpire in Quechua. Ramiro's participation in the local dialect inspires confidence and a smoother relationship.

John Martin, a well informed state judge on holiday from California Joined us on his first expedition to Peru He had meticulously waded through our assorted papers and reports and had read William Prescott cover to references along with John Hemming and Vince Lee. John generously funded the expedition.

John Leivers and I invited another old Andean hand, American Paolo Greer, to complete the team. We had long corresponded, having met over pisco sours many years ago in Cusco's infamous Cross Keys Pub. Paolo is obsessed with early Peruvian history and has rooted out countless ancient documents from dank, dark archives in Lima, Seville and crumbling highland Andean haciendas. His most noted discovery is that Machu Picchu was well know long before Bingham happened upon it. Paolo is hard of hearing which works out well. He would insert the occasional sage, sometimes relevant comment as the rest of us rambled on in endless evening martini fueled speculations.

As with all of our expeditions, Her Britannic Majesty's Cusco representative, notable Machu Picchu bird authority, Barry Walker, kindly supplied logistic support, camping gear and supplies along with the generous loan of a truck.
A strong dedicated team of ten porters, each committed to lugging 20 kilos up or down whatever we should encounter in route, rounded out the crew.

Leaving the primitive road behind at Lucmabamba. We eagerly took to the trail, relieved that the arduous long road journey over Malaga pass and up the Urubamba Canyon was finally over. As events would have it John Leivers and Ramiro would be stuck with returning by road in rain mud and fog while Paolo, John Martin and I caught the comfortable Cusco bound train home from Machu Picchu. John had driven trucks across much of Africa, dodging bandits, warring rebels and hostile poachers. For him, a 14 hour bounce along through the more friendly Andes was a piece of cake.

Our immediate goal was to reach Palcay to survey and interpret the site. We hoped to visit two other small ruins reported by Reinhard and definitively locate the several Inca roads know to have passed through the region. We would look for other Inca or pre-Inca constructions to complete the reconnaissance. As the region is so difficult to access, we probably would not return again. We must give it our best shot.

Expeditioning in the Andes requires tremendous planning, time and funding. Each season we are usually able to accomplish only one exploration, resulting in that we plan and choose very carefully where we explore each year. My own focus over the past several decades had been systematically investigating likely locations for Inca activity in the Vilcabamba which now receives a lower priority. Since our exciting 2003 discovery at Llactapata along with the realization that a complex design relationship of ceremonial sites surround and were associated with Machu Picchu, we have concentrated efforts to gather all the related data we can. We hope to better understand what I call Machu Picchu's geo-cosmic grid of shrines huacas, sacred mountains apus, celestial, and in particular, solstice-equinox alignments. Ongoing Llactapata-Machu Picchu studies strongly suggest that all the regional sites and the numerous viewing platforms usnus are laid out by placement and design in planned relationship to each other, important terrain features and astronomical alignments. We were eager to see if, or how, Palcay and the high Aobamba sites would fit this model.

The first day went well. We climbed several thousand feet almost straight up a long spur ridge leading to the main ridge separating the Aobamba and Santa Teresa drainages. Camp was ascetically set in a grassy bench with view of the lower Urubamba to the north and the Ice covered Pumasilla group ( Sacsara Range) to the west. Ramiro spread out pre-dinner snacks with an assortment of beverages, John Martin, predictably Californian, sipped a good wine. I savored my tradition camp martini as we discussed the day's results.

We first followed several trails leading to local farm plots chacras then a bit higher, intersected a well worn wider path that appeared to be an Inca road. With input from Fructoso and additional mapping we later determined that this was yet another undocumented principal Inca route leading up into the Salcantay highlands from the Santa Teresa Valley. I like to compare the Inca road system to roads in my home Colorado. We have super interstates, secondary state and federal highways, graveled county roads and primitive trails to almost everywhere anyone has reason to go. So it was with the Inca system; there are main Inca highways connecting Cusco with the Empire, less important roads leading to regional administrative centers and estates like Machu Picchu, Choquequirao. Finally, a network of small trails went everywhere in between. The roads we locate here all fall into the secondary category. Two Inca interstates do pass nearby, the high road to Vilcabamba passing over a south ridge pass of Salkantay and the route from Ollantaytambo down the Lucamayu valley to the famous bridge over the Urubamba, Choquechaca. Secondary, but regionally important roads like the overly promoted tourist "Inca Trail", are recognizable by practical engineering and intelligent placement, frequent stone retaining walls, occasional steps and a width of several meters where possible. The lesser trails are lost to time or may still be in use by locals. In the Vilcabamba, many Inca roads are still in use, at least in part. When a seasonal landslide or flood destroys a section, it generally is abandoned for a lower, easier temporary route that is moved yet again later. The all weather Inca roads regularly were placed high to avoid bogs but required frequent maintenance from rock slides. Inca administrators assigned road crews to keep the roads and bridges repaired, something that is beyond the economics of small mountain communities and the few muleteers that now travel these routes.

Passing through a small orchard ripe with granadillas, we noted the taletell round and oval depressions of a pre-Inca settlement. A few low field stone walls were evident along with scattered remains of other structures. Although an undocumented site deserving of study, our focus is Inca. With limited time and Palcay very distant, we felt the need to press on. Paolo recorded a GPS reading as we moved on upward.

Sites like this are numerous throughout the Vilcabamba scattered along ridges, higher mountain sides and lower summits in places away from floods and rockslides. Few studies have been reported. The chronology and sequence of human occupation of this remote region has yet to be determined. John leivers is likely the world's authority on these forgotten settlements having located and reported hundreds from his many solo backpacking sorties into remote reaches of the far Vilcabamba. Ann Kindall mentions circular structures in several locations above the Urubamba Canyon up river from Machu Picchu. American Archaeologist Robert Von Kaupp has studied several sites. American architect-explorer Vince Lee has mapped a number. Our own Vilcabamba expeditions have documented large settlements at Lisascayhana above the Choquechaca bridge, at Cerro Victoria Corihuayrachina, Cota Coca and near Choquequirao. Some are incorporated within Inca sites but most are isolated high settlements located at 2500 meters up to 4000 meters of altitude. I believe that some sites may represent communities of imported workers under Inca control Mit'amaes who brought the home style with them. Kindall writes that those she studied are Chanca sites located on high places for defense and protection then with arrival of Inca administration and more settled times, the resident population moved into valleys and lower areas.

An hour or so later, we arrived at a place called Ranospata, a large flat bench pampa on the ridge with lush green grass and a boggy spring. As with most such places, it is used as a cow pasture by local herders and likely had similar use for llamas and alpacas in earlier times. A stone wall protruding out from a thicket caught our immediate attention. While Ramiro set out lunch, we scrambled about with notebooks, compass and machetes to see what the surrounding vegetation contained. A quick investigation revealed the ruined walls of eight rectangular houses that we determined to be Inca period. The structures were made of simple field stone construction and appeared to represent a small farming or herding village near the Inca road. They faced with a view down the Santa Teresa valley and the broad Urubamba Canyon beyond. Orientation is approximately 17 degrees magnetic, nothing that I can give significance to. All houses in the group have the same alignment, a rather standard Inca urban plan. We noted GPS coordinates and details then settled in for a deserved lunch break. As Bingham would have said: "the place needs more study" as he hurriedly rushed on to the next ruin. With "daylight a burning" and energy dwindling, we reluctantly moved on to reach a higher camp.

I woke just before dawn to the rhythmic sound of a steady rain pelting the tent fly. All outside was wet, grey and misty, finally, a normal Andean day for a cloud forest expedition. Someone said "there is no bad weather, only bad gear" Today would test our high tech modern equipment. Being a Colorado cowboy I usually bring an infallible oilskin slicker. A backpacking expedition requires lighter stuff. We all carried some sort of beyond Gortex, nylon parka which I knew from experience would soon soak through. This of course proved to be the case. The route led up to the crest of the main Aobamba ridge then descended into a morass of mossy bogs and tall ichu grass, a damp misty region ominously know as Michihuayunca, place of the dead cat. Fructoso proposed a short cut over some higher areas that sounded like a winner. He explained that the cliff would require careful going and had a bit of a drop in places. "Jefe…hay que cuidarse". Boss, you need to be careful. The porters were offered the option to go high with us or continue on through the longer safer bog route. All valiantly chose the high route. Ankle deep in mud and wet, we staggered upward into the nearby cliffs. As is frequently the case, the short cut is not the best way. The slippery pathway was interspersed with sections of hands on 4th class rock climbing and down sloping mud slides over steep drops. One particularly tricky move gave all a moment of hesitation. A misstep here and one would find themselves quickly some 1000 feet lower. This was all accomplished with loaded backpacks. Whew…we finally reached the Inca route again without mishap. Reaching a high point, a pass of just over 4000 meters, we left small stones on the pile beside the trail as an offering of thanks for safe passage to the regional deity
apu. This is an ancient Andean tradition called apacheca. Curiously, I have noted the same custom in the mountains of Spain and the Sierra Madre in Mexico. Like the potato, I wonder if the Spanish took this back with them or if mountain travelers around the world have practiced this independently?

Shortly before dark, we reached a waterlogged sloping hillside with small herders hut, a choseca and a few apprehensive cows. This was Frctoso's country estate, a second home in the mountains as we would say in Colorado. We all squeezed inside the hut savoring the warmth of a smoky fire set between several rocks in one corner. Ramero's hot meal soon followed. Remarkably, sleeping bags and warm fleece clothing arrived dry.


A brilliant sunlit landscape greeted us for breakfast , not a cloud to be seen. Vapor rose from the camp as the dry mountain air and warming equatorial sun extracted the excess moisture. The view was stunning. Towering above was the massive, white ice summit of Salkantay. Directly below was a deep gorge formed by the upper Aobamba River. Up canyon, two glacier fed rivers come together to form the Aobamba, each descending from the melting snows of Salkantay. Where the deeply eroded river beds join is a small level island of undisturbed land. "And just there lies what's left of Palcay", John Leivers points out in his distinctive Australian drawl. In past times this had been a prosperous and frequently traveled valley. An important Inca road had followed the Aobamba down to intersect the main Llactapata-Machu Picchu road. Another, the one we were following, had come up from the Santa Teresa Valley to join at Palcay. Yet another route had followed the long high ridge directly down to Llactapata. Hugh Thomson describes Palcay as being on a large pampa near cultivated fields, crossed by two peacefully flowing streams. Now, only a small remnant of land remains surrounded by immense rubble heaps of flood deposited boulders and the two deeply cut river channels.

After crossing over the gorge and picking a way through the boulder field. we made our way down to what we called Palcaypampa by midday. Tents were set in a small pleasant grassy area that must have been what the entire valley bottom was like before the 1998 flood. The Inca had an uncanny sense of where to place their structures safely out of harms way. It is a remarkable accomplishment that Inca builders chose the only location in the region that would largely survive the ravages of geological time.


Eager to examine the ruins, lunch could wait. I had copies of Bingham's original 1912 site diagram in hand. John Leivers had notes from his recent visit and would serve as our tour guide. The site is not large, consisting of four, almost equal walled compounds kanchas and internal houses laid out as a rectangle, some 140 by 185 feet in size. The design allowed for intersecting central passageways between the compounds. I was most interested in what the function of the structures had been, when were they constructed and how did this fit with regional Inca planning. From John’s description and Bingham’s site plan, I had already formed an idea of what the site probably had been. Two details in particular captured my interest, the first that the structures were laid out along cardinal directions and second, an unusual quartz center piece stone, reported by Reinhard, somewhere in the interior walls. These features suggest a possible ceremonial purpose. From study at Machu Picchu and Llactapata, I was prepared for some sort of equinox relationship with a sight line to other sites or nearby terrain features. None is apparent. Palcay seems to have been placed for practical consideration at a convenient location and comfortable altitude where two Inca routes converged. The unusual quartz stone could not be found. (In recent communication with Johan Reinhard, he reports that the stone is actually at another site. I had misread his notes.) In any case, try as we might, we could not attribute Palcay a particular ceremonial function. It is not a temple to Apu Salkantay nor does it share celestrial alignments with Machu Picchu. No high status architecture is evident. The nearly standard kancha design suggests a more utilitarian purpose. Although the east-west-north-south orientation is interesting, we conclude that Palcay was a tambo, a rest and re-supply station for traffic on the state roads. Llamas were probably grazed here and potatoes grown as well. It would have been a most welcome and comfortable overnight stop for an Inca administrator from Cusco sent out to collect quipus (a counting device using colored stings and knots), accounting for the annual corn crop in some far Vilcabmba district.

We allowed two days to investigate the site and surrounding valleys. Paolo, in pursuit of his personal apu headed up valley seeking the elusive lost mine the lucmabamba crew heard was in the area. John Leivers climbed up to the glaciers at the head of the western valley. A steep trail traverses upward, crossing above a spectacular waterfall which must have been a spiritual setting for the residents and guests at the tambo. A small raise sits just in front of Palcay topped with the ruins of several more recent campesino huts. I suspect that previously, the mound hosted a viewing platform or perhaps a small shrine huaca in adoration of the waterfall. Although maybe not a ceremonial site, Palcay likely would have had several nearby huacas. A waterfall would have demanded special attention according to ancient traditions.

We thought that the waterfall trail might have been yet another Inca route, perhaps leading on to the mentioned Salkantay Inca interstate passing at the upper end of the Santa Teresa Valley. After a long arduous scout day, John disappointedly reported the upper basin blocked by steep cliffs and glaciers. The trail was no more than an abandoned herder’s path into the basin above however, assuredly ancient as well.

Meanwhile, the Lumabamba crew cheerfully pursued their own agenda, Several went up valley to visit the only remaining resident, an elderly woman whom Hugh had mentioned meeting in the 1980s, while the others fished down the Aobamba. The result at day’s end was a fat sheep to
Be guest of honor at our traditional expedition celebration day tomorrow and a bag full of rainbow trout. While all of this was taking place, John Martin helped me survey and photograph the surviving walls and structures of Palcay. Comparing the remaining structures with Bingham’s diagram, about 1/3 of the site had been destroyed since his visit. The flooding had destroyed most of the south facing side. My own primary goal was accomplished. Whatever now happened to Palcay, the site was properly documented, surveyed and a reasonable interpretation accomplished. We recognized that the next seasonal flood or rock slide would probably finally defeat the best efforts of the Inca engineers to leave an eternal monument at the volatile vertical doorstep of Salkantay. Now we can only hope that the same is not in store for Machu Picchu. But that’s another study and story I hope to pursue soon.

Expedition accomplishments

1) Mapping and interpretation of Palcay ( comparison with Bingham and Reinhard data)
2) location of Miradors and Inca features between Salkantay and Machu Picchu
3) location of regional Inca roads connecting the highlands with Machu Picchu-Llactapata
4) Inspection of the INC work at Llactapata with notes and relevant photos
5) Documentation of two new small sites above the Santa Teresa Valley ( Inca and pre-Inca)
6) Survey, data collection and preliminary interpretation of the riverside Intihuatana site below Machu Picchu.
7) New data and observations at Machu Picchu
8) Regional mapping of Inca features in the Aobamba-Salkantay-Cordillera Urubamba/Veronica geographical grid in relationship to Machu Picchu

The Team:
Romero Abemdano L. -Maestro del Campo/chief chef
Dresman Espinosa and eight porters from the community of Lucmabamba
Ing, Paolo Greer- cartographer/research historian
Ing. John Leivers- anthropologist/cultural authority
Hon, John Martin- Judge/funding patron
Fructoso Munares -Jefe de Portadores
Hon. Barry Walker MBE- Her British Majesty's Consul and expedition sponsor
Arq. Gary Ziegler FRGS.- archaeologist/geologist/vaquero


Site Maps of the Machu Picchu Region

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