Archaeologists have shed light on an ancient site with a complex series of canals feeding 14 fountains at the entrance to Machu Picchu that the Incas used to “wash away their sins”.
The ceremonial site was discovered at Chachabamba in the Machu Picchu national park in the Cusco Region of the Peruvian Andes and is being worked on by a team from the Centre of Andean Studies at the University of Warsaw at Cusco and the Regional Branch of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.
The most recent discovery came to light as archaeologists work to uncover more areas of the ruins at Chcachabamba as they are covered by tropical forest.
The team uncovered a small square surrounded by ceremonial buildings and around fourteen fountains believed to have been used for ablutions – the ceremonial act of washing oneself used by the Incas to wash away their sins.
The fountains are made of stone blocks and resemble small pools.
Archaeologists have determined that the complex began to operate in the early 15th century.
Mariusz Ziolkowski, the Head of the Centre of Andean Studies at the University of Warsaw reveals: “Water in them always flowed, because according to Inca beliefs, only flowing water had the power to wash away sins.”
Water was supplied to the ceremonial complex by means of a sewage system made of stone blocks, which partially ran underground. The water came from a nearby waterfall. After passing through the ceremonial centre, thanks to a similar drainage system, this water went to the river in the valley.
The team have also come across a complex system system of canals which supplied water to a series of pools near the ceremonial complex.
Dominika Sieczkowska, a PhD student who directs the Chachabamba site for the Polish team, said: “It was a very advanced solution, because the tanks were not in line with other well-known sites in the area. Over time, the complex was expanded and the water supply channels changed.”
Professor Ziolkowski stressed that in the main ceremonies of the Inca calendar, it was extremely important to cleanse one’s sins by completely washing one’s body. After this act, one had to give up old clothes and wear new ones.
Ziolkowski adds: “The first contact of Europeans – Spanish conquistadors – with the representative of the highest Inca authority took place in a very similar ceremonial complex.
“The Spaniards received a hearing with Atahualpa, a pretender to the Inca throne while he was performing ritual ablutions in the Conoc baths near Cajamarca.”
The Chachabamba ruins were first discovered in 1940. The style of buildings and stonework suggest that this used to be an important religious site, also possibly serving as a gate house guarding this entrance to Machu Picchu.
The Machu Picchu National Park covers over 36 thousand hectares. Within its borders there are around 60 archaeological sites, many of which have not been fully explored so far due to difficult access and dense vegetation.
The present project is framed in a bilateral agreement signed between the aforementioned Polish institution and the National Archaeological Park of Machu Picchu led by anthropologist Fernando Astete Victoria. On the Peruvian side, the works are supervised by archaeologist Jose Bastante Abuhabda.
The project also involves Italian specialists in remote sensing, under the direction of Professor Nicola Masini from the Institute of Archaeological and Monumental Heritage of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (IBAM CNR)
The research at Chachabamba is co-financed by the Polish National Science Centre and the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, with the participation of the Italian CNR.