Multinational archaeological team uncovers pre-Inca tombs in Colca Canyon

Peruvian, Polish and American scientists have discovered what they believed to be pre-Inca tombs and archeological remains during a 10-day expedition to a never-before-explored area of Peru’s Colca Canyon.

During the Colca Cóndor 2008 expedition, which lasted from Aug. 21-31, the scientists conducted geological, hydrogeological, hydrographical, speleological and electromagnetic testing using state of the art technology, state news agency Andina reported.

Samples were collected from rock formations and rivers to determine how the Colca Canyon, which is twice as deep as the United States’ Grand Canyon and home to Peru’s great condors, was initially formed.

As the expedition progressed in the unexplored area, the scientists and explorers stumbled upon bones and some well-preserved skin and hair remains believed to belong to pre-Ica nobility and a set of ruins the scientists dubbed the Peruvian-Polish Sombreroyoc-Pinchollo Archaeological Complex.

The canyon’s name, Colca, refers to small holes used in Inca and pre-Inca times as tombs for nobility and to store food, such as potatoes and other Andean crops.

“We don’t want to say where exactly (the remains were found) because we fear tomb raiders (will get to them),” said Jerzy Majcherczyk, Colca Cóndor 2008’s expedition leader and chief of a similar expedition that first explored the canyon in 1981.

“They are well-preserved because they are inaccessible,” he told Radio Programas radio.

Our expedition was “difficult, and very risky,” added Majcherczyk, saying his team had to overcome many obstacles during its more than 2,000 meter or 6,500 feet descent.

“There are moments in which the rivers disappears,” said Majcherczyk, “and then reappears ahead, three times larger.”

Satellite phones were used by the explorers to maintain contact with their base, established in the town of Cabanaconde’s Hotel Kuntur Wasi, as visual contact was sometimes impossible due to the canyon’s depth and the presence of numerous caves.According to Majcherczyk, who is campaigning to have the canyon declared a national park, waste is threatening the site which has the potential of becoming Peru’s top tourist attraction, surpassing Machu Picchu.

“There is something very dramatic and that is that we have found an enormous quantity of garbage,” said Majcherczyk. “In the Colca Valley there are 20 hotels and all of them throw their waste into the river and in two or three years there will be a great stench.”

The national park project would “put an end to the inadequate economic activities and protect the region’s ecology,” said Majcherczyk. “If not, it will end up being a disaster.”

In addition to the Polish explorers, the expedition included American Eugene Buchanan, the editor-in-chief of Paddling Life magazine and member of New York’s prestigious Explorers Club, and Peruvian Carlos Zárate, who discovered the famous Ice Maiden or Lady of Ampato mummy, which toured the U.S. in 1996 and Japan in 1999 before returning to Peru.

Another expedition is planned for 2010, and should include archaeologists and additional Peruvian scientists.

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