Poles study ancient cultures in the Andes. They conduct excavations and dive 5000 meters above sea level

Poles study ancient cultures in the Andes.  They conduct excavations and dive 5000 meters above sea level

Scientists from the Andean Research Center of the University of Warsaw conduct fascinating research in several South American countries. Among them are excavations among the peaks of the Andes, laboratory analysis of frozen mummies, or diving in search of monuments at an altitude of nearly 5,000 m above sea level

The Andean Research Center of the University of Warsaw was established in cooperation with the Peruvian University of San Antonio Abad in Cuzco. Projects carried out by employees and researchers associated with the Center are characterized by diversity both in terms of the places that Polish archaeologists study, as well as the disciplines and methods they represent.

Unusual excavations of Polish archaeologists – research despite altitude sickness

– The Center is currently coordinating several projects in what is now Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Research conducted by the employees of the Center also extends beyond South America, as exemplified by the project of geoarchaeological research at the Mayan site of Tak’alik Ab’aj in today’s Guatemala or research in Oceania – tells us Dagmara Socha, acting deputy director for organization and development of the Andean Research Center of the University of Warsaw .

One of the ongoing projects is the archaeological project “Condesuyos”, headed by the director of the CBA UW, prof. Mariusz Ziolkowski. The project began in the 1990s and aimed to document one of the four provinces of the Inca Empire.

– During the surface research and excavations, several dozen pre-Columbian sites associated with the cult of mountain peaks in southern Peru were documented, primarily the Coropuna and Solimana volcanoes. The Incas and the peoples they conquered believed that mountain peaks were important gods and mythical ancestors. That is why sanctuaries and oracles were built around volcanoes to communicate with the gods, explains Dagmara Socha. – The two most important regional oracles of this type are Maucallacta and Muyu Muyu, where Polish archaeologists are currently conducting research – he adds.

As the deputy director of the CBA UW explains to us, work at such high altitudes above sea level is often associated with altitude sickness, which the participants of the expedition feel in the first days of excavations.

Modern research on frozen mummies

In their research, Polish archaeologists also deal with another form of the cult of mountain peaks, i.e. sacrificing children and young women on mountain peaks.

– This ritual is called capacocha in Quechua. After numerous celebrations in the capital of the Inca Empire, Cuzco, the victims, accompanied by priests, embarked on a pilgrimage to holy places scattered throughout the empire. In the 1990s, thanks to the research conducted by Johan Reinhard and Antonio Chávez, it was possible to discover the remains of capacocha on the peaks of Misti, Ampato, Pichu Pichu and Sara Sara in Peru, and Llullaillaco and Qehuar in Argentina. Some of the victims, thanks to being elevated above the limit of eternal snow, froze and naturally mummified survived to our times – points out Dagmara Socha.

It is she who directs the bioarchaeological research of mummies and human remains, which is made possible by the development of new research techniques. They allow for the performance of new anthropological and laboratory analyses.

– The project was implemented as part of the cooperation between the Andean Research Center and the Museum of Andean Sanctuaries, the Catholic University of St. Mary in Arequpa. During the analyses, studies on the ancient diet and origin of the victims were carried out in cooperation with the Max Placek Institute in Jena, as well as toxicological studies of hair together with the Department of Forensic Medicine CM of the University of M. Copernicus in Bydgoszcz – indicates a bioarchaeologist from the University of Warsaw. – Thanks to the latter, it was possible to establish that the children sacrificed on the peak of Ampato, the Incas, in the last weeks before their death, served a drink from the Amazonian Banisteriopsis lianas. These lianas have, thanks to the harmine contained in them, antidepressant properties that could have been used by the Incas. According to their beliefs, it was important that the victims were happy on their final journey to the gods, he explains.

Underwater archeology at an altitude of nearly 5,000 m above sea level

Employees of the Andean Research Center also conduct research, among others, in the Machu Picchu National Archaeological Park in cooperation with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.

– The most famous Inca site of Machu Picchu is just one of several dozen known settlements founded by the Incas in the region, one of them is Chachabamba. Polish research at the Chachabamba site, led by Dr. Dominika Sieczkowska and carried out together with the Wrocław University of Technology, allowed to discover an unknown Inca system of measurements used in construction, or elements of architecture hidden under dense vegetation for the ritual bathing of pilgrims on the way to Machu Picchu – lists Dagmara Socha. – Research in the Park focused on both the use of innovative research methods, such as ground-penetrating radar and laser scanning (LiDAR), as well as traditional excavations and prospecting – he says.

Polish scientists at the Inkaraqay site also managed to examine, among other things, a unique Inca astronomical observatory used to track the movement of the Sun and the Pleiades constellation.

In the high mountain parts of the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park, in the Salcantay lagoons at an altitude of nearly 5,000 m above sea level, Poles also conduct research in the field of underwater archaeology. – This project is led by Dr. Maciej Sobczyk. The process of diving at such high altitudes requires proper acclimatization and must be carried out by experienced divers – emphasizes Dagmara Socha.

Another project carried out by researchers from the Andean Research Center of the University of Warsaw in cooperation with the Silesian University of Technology is the dating of the conquest of this area. Polish research allowed to determine that the Incas conquered this region earlier than previously assumed.

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