Hidden deep in the Peruvian jungle and shrouded beneath thick foliage, archaeologists have discovered a series of long-forgotten structures among the sprawling ruins of Machu Picchu.
Cutting through the foliage isn’t easy, but such discoveries are becoming more common thanks to a combination of two technologies: lasers that can “see through” obstructions and drones that help archaeologists explore places humans sometimes can’t easily reach.
Around a dozen small structures were identified less than 5 miles from the main remnants of the 15th century Inca city, on the outskirts of a ceremonial site called Chachabamba, according to a study published in the January edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The scientists used a type of remote-sensing technology known as light detection and ranging, or lidar, which bounces laser pulses off surfaces to detect features and map their contours.
Lidar scanning, a relatively new tool in archaeology, is becoming an essential way for scientists to study areas that were once too dangerous or inaccessible. In 2019, laser scanning revealed a huge network of ancient Mayan farms in a rainforest in Belize. Years before that, lidar helped archaeologists uncover a lost city in Honduras.
The Machu Picchu discoveries, which include parts of a water system that ran through the area, are yielding new insights into Inca civilization and the role of ceremonial complexes at Machu Picchu.
“Only very privileged people could get to Machu Picchu, because it was a very special place,” said Dominika Sieczkowska, the deputy director for organization and development at the University of Warsaw’s Center for Andean Studies, who led the research. “When you were going there, you had to stop in Chachabamba for a spiritual bath to be clean and pure to get to Machu Picchu.”