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Lost city near Machu Picchu found

Machu Picchu is thought to have been a royal palace for the Inca elite.
Machu Picchu is thought to have been a royal palace for the Inca elite.

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- An international team of explorers have found an Incan city lost for centuries in the Peruvian jungles despite being within sight of the key religious center at Machu Picchu.

Using infrared aerial photography to penetrate the forest canopy, the team led by Briton Hugh Thomson and American Gary Zeigler located the ruins at Llactapata 50 miles northwest of the ancient Incan capital, Cusco.

"This is a very important discovery. It is very close to Machu Picchu and aligned with it. This adds significantly to our knowledge about Machu Picchu," Thomson told Reuters by telephone Thursday. "Llactapata adds to its significance."

The site was first mentioned by explorer Hiram Bingham, the discoverer of Machu Picchu, in 1912. But he was very vague about its location, and the ruins have lain undisturbed ever since.

After locating the city from the air, the expedition used machetes to hack through the jungle to reach it, 9,000 feet up the side of a mountain.

They found stone buildings including a solar temple and houses covering several square miles in the same alignment with the Pleiades star cluster and the June solstice sunrise as Machu Picchu, which was a sacred center.

"This gives the site great ritual importance," Thomson said.

Not only was Llactapata probably a ceremonial site in its own right, excavations suggested that it might also have acted as a granary and dormitory for its sacred neighbor, he added.

The Incas abandoned their towns and cities and retreated from the treasure-hunting Spanish invaders after the Conquistadors captured and executed the last Incan leader, Tupac Amaru, in 1572.

Some of the cities have since been rediscovered, but many more are believed to lie hidden in the dense jungle, almost impossible to detect without new technology or a chance encounter.

Last year, the expedition found another lost Incan town at Cota Coca, about 60 miles west of Cusco.

"The fact that we have found two in two years means there could be many more out there," Thomson said.

He said the use for the first time of an infrared camera to locate a set of ruins from the air had been a breakthrough, but one that did not make the humble machete redundant.

"It makes wielding the machete slightly more purposeful -- at least you know where you are going and that there is something definitely in front of you -- but it certainly won't put it out of business," Thomson said.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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