On the National Geographic website, Bijal P. Trivedi reports on an NPR interview by Alex Chadwick of Charles ?Chip? Stanish, a UCLA archaeologist who is searching in the remote highlands of Peru for the lost temples of the Pukara, an ancient people that preceded the Inca by more than 2,500 years.

Stanish thinks that ancient Pukara was one of the first civilizations to engage in regional trade. He looks for sites along a 2,000 year-old road linking the Peruvian highlands with Amazonian lowlands, where he believes he will find important trade goods buried among the ruins.

The team spotted some tall cylindrical stone structures they assumed were burial towers. As they approached the temple site they found pottery that was distinctly Pukara. There were intact Inca stone walls, a promising sign because the Inca built on the ruins of earlier civilizations. They discovered an Inca village of standing stone houses so well preserved you could put a roof on them and live in them today.

They noticed a sandstone slab as big as a tabletop. Stanish said, ?This is where I?d put a temple.? Then he realized, ?My god, this is the sunken court?This is the temple..This is the site.? The temple itself isn?t standing anymore. But part of a wall remains and outlines of the collapsed slabs are visible. The Andean highlands where the Pukara lived are at 12,000 feet. They made pottery and had animals that don?t exist in the lowlands, such as llamas and alpacas, from which they got wool for weaving textiles. In the Amazonian lowlands the people had access to jaguar pelts, which were valued by the Pukara. They also had coca leaves to trade.

The highlands of Peru are fairly unexplored by scientists and are littered with the remnants of past civilizations. The only excavations are made by local people looking for artifacts to sell or looking for something to use. Stanish found a couple living in a stone house that could have been hundreds of years old. They were using a bowl they found which was Inca or pre-Inca, so it?s 600 to 800 years old. If we found a bowl like that we would put it in a museum.

Outsiders often suffer from altitude sickness here and it?s also in a drug-smuggling area, which makes it somewhat dangerous. For many years, the area was a stronghold of the radical revolutionary movement the Shining Path.

There are different estimates about how many Andean people were in Peru when the Europeans made contact. The high estimate is 11 million, some people think there were no more than one million people. However, it would have taken a lot of manpower to shape and move massive stones the way they did. They didn?t have the wheel or writing, but they had a communications system that involved tying knots on cords.

To learn more, read ?Atlantis in America? by Ivar Zapp and George Erikson, click here.

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