Archaeologists discover hidden canal system on ancient route to Machu Picchu

Among the ruins found in the Peruvian jungle, they found more than a dozen structures.


A team of researchers from the University of Warsaw has discovered a series of Long-forgotten structures at Chachabamba, a ceremonial center centered on water, in the Machu Picchu National Archaeological Park.

Among the ruins found deep in the Peruvian jungle, archaeologists have discovered more than a dozen small structureshitherto unknown, erected in a circular and rectangular pattern on the edge of the complex, and a sewage system.

LIDAR remote sensing

The study, published in the journal Journal of Archaeological Science, reveals that the structures were found about 8 kilometers from the main remains of the 15th-century Inca city. Scientists used drones and remote sensing using LIDAR (“light detection and ranging”), a system of lasers that can “see through” obstacles by measuring the reflection with a special sensor.

A view with lidar of the Vilcanota Valley and Chachabamba.
A view with lidar of the Vilcanota Valley and Chachabamba.

The researchers suggest that the structures were inhabited by the individuals who operated Chachabamba. Dominika Sieczkowska, deputy director of organization and development at the Center for Andean Studies at the University of Warsaw, who led the investigation, said there are indications that women were the main caretakers of the complex, based on objects discovered during earlier archaeological studies.

Only very privileged people could reach Machu Picchu, because it was a very special place,” Sieczkowska said. “When you went there, you had to stop in Chachabamba to take a spiritual bath and be clean and pure to get to Machu Picchu,” she added.

Chachabamba, religious place and entrance to Machu Picchu

The Chachabamba ruins, discovered around 1940, has as its central point a stone altar surrounded by 14 baths, which, according to Sieczkowska, were probably used for ritual ablutions. The water that reached the place flowed through a complex network of canals fed by the Urubamba River.

“This study was conducted to answer several fundamental questions,” the team wrote in their paper. “The amount of water that flowed through the canals that supplied water to the bath system is unknown. A greater or lesser speed and quantity of water flow may have been crucial for the ceremonies performed in the baths”, they added.

The Chachabamba ruins were discovered in 1940. (Photo: Ernesto Benavides/AFP/ Getty Images)

More symbolic than utilitarian purpose

Scans with lidar technology also revealed that several structures are located about 18 meters from the ceremonial part of Chachabamba. Its use remains unknown. Sieczkowska predicts that they may have been inhabited by the overseers of the ceremonial complex.

“We can conclude that the water from the Chachabamba hydraulic system had a more symbolic than utilitarian purpose (for example, filling pots for domestic use).

Our calculations indicate that water may have flowed unevenly throughout the system and overflowed in certain parts of the channels,” the researchers wrote.

Archaeologists plan to continue investigating Chachabamba, including excavating interesting features identified in lidar scans.

“Without a doubt, many other structures await to be detected in the deep jungle of South America; We’re just scratching the surface.”

With information from DW.

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