Peru’s culture ministry has announced a new subterranean mapping initiative that will allow archaeologists to explore pre-Columbian Cusco without picking up any shovels, the AFP reported. In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors invaded the magnificent Inca capital, razed its buildings, and symbolically constructed their own homes, cathedrals, and municipal buildings atop the ruins.
“The historic center of Cusco is like an overlay of several skins, you lift a stone and you find amazing vestiges of earlier cultures,” Ricardo Ruiz Caro, a culture ministry spokesperson, said. Travel to the city today, and you can sleep in a 17th-century mansion built on a pre-Hispanic foundation or wander through a monastery constructed above the Inca temple of Qurikancha. Just two months ago, construction workers digging beneath a cobblestone street found a bridge with six-foot-high walls and stairs. The city of Cusco was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983.
“There is an entire neighborhood called Kotacalle which we are placing value on and seems to be an Inca royal quarter,” Ruiz Caro said. Paid for by the Peruvian government and several international partners, the project will take five years to complete. It will not only map archaeological items, but also “history, stories, and everything needed to give detailed information to understand the origin of Cusco.”
While details on the technology behind the project haven’t been revealed, similar projects using geophysical imaging have been conducted around the world. In 2006, researcher Staffan Paterson performed what NPR described as “the archaeological version of an MRI scan” on 100 acres of the Mann Hopewell site in Indiana, turning up more than 8,000 previously unknown archaeological features. A similar project is ongoing at historic cemeteries in Western Pennsylvania to hunt out forgotten grave sites. And earlier this year, a team of scientists used similar technology to uncover what they claimed may be the lost city of Atlantis.