- Jun 25, 2001
LIMA, Peru - An American explorer says an ancient, pre-Incan metropolis discovered by his father in Peru's remote cloud forest on an earlier expedition has been plundered by tomb robbers.
Sean Savoy, 32, urged the government to take steps to protect the city, which he estimated housed 20,000 people and had hundreds of circular stone buildings in the 7th century.
"It is time for the government to take note. Something has to be done. These places are in danger of destruction," he said.
Savoy, just back from leading a 23-day expedition to the site, described it as a massive metropolitan complex spread along a river valley high in Peru's rain forest on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes.
The expedition to the Gran Saposoa ruins, located 335 miles north of Lima, included more than 50 people, counting government archaeologists, architects, a stonemason, an expert on Andean art, armed police and 30 mule drivers.
Savoy, son of famed 78-year-old explorer Gene Savoy, who has discovered more than 40 lost cities in Peru since the 1960s, said in an interview with The Associated Press Saturday that the city is much bigger than his father had calculated. He estimated the metropolitan area covers more than 80 square miles.
The elder Savoy discovered it in 1999, naming it Gran Saposoa, and concluded it was one of the cities of the Chachapoyas kingdom.
Spanish chronicles from the 16th century tell of a network of seven Chachapoyas cities strung like a necklace along the heights of the high jungle of northern Peru.
Savoy described the Chachapoyas as tall, fierce warriors who were defeated in the late 15th century by Inca ruler Tupac Yupanqui just decades before the Spanish conquest of Peru.
This year's trip marked the fifth time the site has been explored since the Savoys first trekked over a wind-swept, 14,500-foot-high Andean pass and hacked their way down into the overgrown mountainous jungle to discover it.
Sean Savoy said members of this year's expedition were stunned to find that a sculptured stone head at the most important set of ruins had been ripped from its place in a stone wall. But they were in for an even more unpleasant surprise.
"We encountered a site, previously unknown to us, but obviously to others, where over 50 cliffside tombs were destroyed. Not just sacked and looted, the tombs themselves destroyed. Torn apart with picks and axes," he said.
He said the latest expedition discovered a sixth citadel, located at 12,000 feet with a 64-foot-wide avenue. He said the six interconnected districts discovered during five expeditions contain hundreds of circular stone buildings.
"I had no idea of the scale of the ruins. The scale was humongous, mind-boggling," said Patrick Manning, an Irish architect who took part in the expedition. "There are hundreds of buildings."
He said he understands how hard it is for a poor nation like Peru to protect its many pre-Columbian ruins.
"The big problem is the lack of funding," Manning said.
The Savoys live most of the year in Reno, Nev., where Gene Savoy directs the Andean Explorers Foundation. After his last trip to Gran Saposoa en 2001, the elder Savoy has dedicated his time to writing a book about his last 15 years of exploration, his son said. He has already authored three books on his expeditions.
The elder Savoy is credited with finding three of Peru's most important ruins: Vilcabamba, the last refuge of the Incas; Gran Pajaten, a citadel city atop a jungle-shrouded peak; and Gran Vilaya, a complex of more than 20,000 stone buildings.
Much of his work has focused on the Chachapoyas, whose empire extended along a 135-mile stretch of the Andes' fogbound eastern slopes. He has now found six of the seven fabled Chachapoyas cities.
"The exploration must continue. My father will be back," the younger Savoy said. "We have to find the last city."