The Malqui-Macha Inca Archeological Site

At the height of its power, the Inca Empire spanned a huge area of South America’s Andean region, including parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador. Within the Inca Empire there were multiple ethnic groups, speaking different dialects, and living in their own fortified cities complete with lavish temples – and one emperor ruled over this vast, and wealthy, kingdom. For decades, archeologists and historians have been searching in vain for the tomb of the last Incan emperor, Atahualpa, and it appears that it may have finally been found in the Sigchos canton, located in the Cotopaxi Province of Ecuador.

Referring to the ruins found about 45 miles south of Quito, Ecuador’s Minister of Heritage, Maria Fernanda Espinosa, noted in an interview that the discovery is an important one, both for Ecuador’s archeology and for the Andean region. Ecuadorian historian, and researcher with the French Institute for Andean Studies (IFEA), Tamara Estupinan, led the discovery, and in the upcoming year will head the Cultural Patrimony Institute team in working to uncover the massive complex located on a ridge at a height of around 1,020 meters.

Estupinan first discovered evidence of Incan occupation on a site on the eastern flank of the Andes in June 2010, with the discovery of the ruins in Sigchos coming later. The later discovery, which has been named the Malqui-Machay Inca site, consists of a complex of walls, stonework and aqueducts in the distinctive style of imperial Inca design, with a monument leading to several rectangular rooms constructed out of cut and polished stone surrounding a plaza. The incredibly well preserved structure includes a walled walkway beginning at the Machay River, with pyramid-styled stairs leading to what would have been the emperor’s throne. Other features of the complex include an expertly cut channel creating a small waterfall.

Georges Lomne of IFEA noted that the new discovery indicates that the Incas were present in the lowland area, while their preferred area of operations had clearly been in the Andean Highlands. The theory has been put forward the Malqui-Macha Inca site may have served as some sort of a retreat, but Estupinan believes it could be the tomb of the last emperor of the Incas, Atahualpa. Certainly the months ahead will be interesting as more of Ecuador’s Malqui-Macha Inca site is revealed.