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Peru Finds Inca Burial Site at Machu Picchu
Sat Oct 12, 4:40 PM ET

By Monica Vargas

LIMA, Peru (Reuters) - Peruvian archeologists have discovered the first full Inca burial site at Machu Picchu since the famous mountaintop citadel was discovered 90 years ago, officials said on Saturday.

    Reuters Photo

"It's important because nothing like this -- a burial site and all that goes with it -- has been found since the Bingham era," Machu Picchu's administrator, Fernando Astete, told Reuters, referring to the U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham who rediscovered the Inca citadel in 1911.

"The find is significant because of the funeral objects, such as stone and clay pots and five metal objects accompanying the remains of bones of a person, probably a woman," he added.

He said other excavations in recent years at the atmospheric gray stone site, perched at an altitude of 8,200 feet on top of a mountain near the edge of Peru's southern jungle, had yielded some bone fragments but not Inca graves.

"Studies will confirm the sex and determine the age of the person who was buried, but the objects that were found around the body point to it having been a young woman," he added.

Machu Picchu, which was built more than 500 years ago, is Peru's top tourist attraction and a U.N. World Heritage site, drawing some 500,000 foreign visitors a year.

"When the citadel of Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, 172 tombs with human remains were found, but over the years only bones have been found. It's only now that a complete burial site has been uncovered," Astete said.

The Spanish conquerors of Peru never stumbled upon Machu Picchu, near the southern Andean city of Cusco, some 684 miles southeast of Lima, and the site was only discovered when Bingham and local guides came across the vegetation-covered ruins.

Cusco was capital of the Inca empire from the 13th to the 16th century. The Inca empire stretched from Colombia to Chile.

Astete said well-preserved ceramics, including a stone pan and clay pot, as well as bronze pins, a mirror and clasps, were found in the burial site.

The site was discovered a week ago in a sector of Machu Picchu that was used by the Incas as a viewing place. Archeologists have been excavating there for several months, and found the grave some 31.5 inches (80 cm) below the surface.

Astete said Machu Picchu had not yielded all its secrets yet. "Not everything has been discovered, there are parts which have not been investigated yet by archeologists," he said. Another group of investigators found new stone terraces, water channels, a garbage dump and a wall at Machu Picchu in June.

The burial find will be put on display where it was found to encourage tourism, he added. This cash-strapped Andean nation is betting on tourism as a big money spinner and most visitors to Peru make the trip to Machu Picchu.

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