Inca Mummies Buried on Private Land Complicate Construction

landowner delays home construction due to archaeological dig

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Inca-era mummies in Peru threw a wrench into a landowner’s development plans. Homebuilding requires approval partly based on maintaining archaeological remains. The Inca gained a hard-earned empire 500 years ago.

Cusco, City
Cusco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire, draws more than a million visitors a year to see the nearby ruins of Machu Picchu. Photo by sharptoyou / Shutterstock

Half a million residents on the outskirts of the Peruvian capital city of Lima simply moved onto the land on which they now live. They built rudimentary structures until they could purchase the land and construct nicer houses. One man, Hipólito Tica, staked his claim in 1996 and immediately realized he had downstairs neighbors: several Inca-era mummies and their belongings. Fearing eviction if he told the authorities of his find, Tica told archaeologists who were excavating Incan ceramics nearby.

They didn’t seem to care; so, he let sleeping mummies lie.

Now that he has won the rights to his land and can freely build over the mummies, Tica’s concern for their legacy has led him to more archaeologists. One archaeologist got approval to do an emergency dig, delaying Tica’s construction plans. At least three mummies were found, including one adorned with a crown and some jewelry.

There were 12 rulers of Inca culture, although their empire only truly began under the ninth ruler. In his video series Lost Worlds of South America, Dr. Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center, explains how the Incan empire began in triumph and glory.

Cuzco and Pachacuti

Until the 15th century, the Inca settled in the town of Cuzco, though they weren’t without their troubles.

“Up until the reign of the eighth Inca [ruler], Viracocha Inca, chronicles agree that Cuzco was a small city with a limited area of control and some fearsome enemies,” Dr. Barnhart said. “Viracocha Inca had named his heir designate as his son, Inca Urqon, and was focused on exerting control over Lake Titicaca, and that general region, when the powerful Chanka people seized Cuzco.”

Viracocha Inca fled the city with Inca Urqon, but his other son—Yupanqui—refused to leave the city. Yupanqui’s small army chased the Chanka out, but when Viracocha Inca and Urqon returned to Cuzco, Yupanqui banished them. He took the throne and the name Pachacuti in 1438 and became the most famous ruler in Inca history. Urqon was moved far away and was then lost to the annals of history, but Viracocha suffered a more humiliating fate.

“Viracocha Inca was eventually allowed to return to the court, but in an oddly shameful way,” Dr. Barnhart said. “Pachacuti is said to have made him publicly drink chacha beer out of a dirty jar as Pachacuti and his court threw insults at him, calling him a disgraceful woman.”

This was when the Inca transformed from raiders to an empire. Pachacuti reorganized surrounding communities from the ground up and taxed their labor. This gave him incredible wealth and a labor force of millions of people. First, he conquered the kingdoms around Lake Titicaca—a further blow to his father’s legacy. Then, he focused on agricultural lands. Eventually, he united much of the Andes under his rule and passed his kingdom down to his own son and heir, Tupac Inca.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily