Long-ago visitors to the famed Incan citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru had to first pass through a ceremonial site known as Chachabamba less than 5 miles away along the Urubamba River. Discovered in the 1940s, Chachabamba consists of a main altar surrounded by 14 baths, where elites would’ve cleansed themselves before continuing on, Dominika Sieczkowska of the University of Warsaw's Center for Andean Studies tells NBC News. These baths were fed by the river via a complex network of channels, which it turns out are still being revealed. Archaeologists using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) technology to look beneath dense foliage around the ceremonial site have discovered stone channels running underground as well as some 12 small structures hidden by jungle just 60 feet away.
"We have a dozen or so small structures erected on the plan of a rectangle and a circle," built with much less care than the main site, Sieczkowska tells Science in Poland. "They were so close, and we didn't even know they were there," the lead author of a study on the findings published this month in the Journal of Archaeological Science adds, per NBC. The structures may have been the homes of elites—perhaps exclusively women—who oversaw the site. Excavations have been delayed due to the pandemic. Previous research suggests that, like Machu Picchu, Chachabamba was reserved for the most privileged of Inca society. Sieczkowska's paper describes the Inca belief that controlling water was "a superhuman power granted them," which was used "to telegraph their divine status in territories they conquered," Artnet reports. (Read more discoveries stories.)