Chilean investigators have recovered archaeological objects, maps, and writings that demonstrate the Chilean capital of Santiago was founded on an Incan urban center.
This theory has existed for decades, but evidence was lacking to prove it. Archaeologist at the National Museum of Natural History of Chile Rubén Stehberg and researcher Gonzalo Sotomayor at the Universidad Andrés Bello (University Andres Bello) set out to find that evidence.
The researchers unearthed published and unpublished colonial documents and maps that provide strong evidence of an important center of Incan civilization already existing in the place of Santiago when the Spanish arrived.
Stehberg and Sotomayor tip the scales in favor of the view of Santiago as a previously established, Incan center, rather than a relatively undeveloped land built up by Spanish settlement.
Not far off the Mapocho River was a public square flanked by signs of a thriving civilization—homes, warehouses, ditches, and canals—the seat of power from which Gov. Inca Quilicanta ruled in protohistoric (the time just prior to earliest recorded history of a culture) times. This is the vision brought to life by Stehberg and Sotomayor’s report published in January.
In 1541, the expedition lead by Pedro de Valdivia staked a claim here and established the Spanish settlement of Santiago.
“The existence of this important Inca settlement on the banks of the Mapocho River [Santiago] had an advanced irrigation system and an abundant indigenous population,” reads the report published in the National Museum of Natural History of Chile. “This quickly convinced Pedro de Valdivia and his men to establish themselves in the area,” which they later called, “Santiago of New Extremadura.”
The researchers also add to the decades-long debate a new historical reference to a “big tambo, which is next to the square of this city,” tambo being an Incan term for an administrative building. This would be in the same place the Europeans established their main square, the Plaza de Armas.
The report acknowledges that it is possible the Spanish did build this “tambo” and the Incan reference is to a Spanish structure—but it could also be read as an Incan structure taken over by the Europeans.
The existence of this important Inca settlement on the banks of the Mapocho River [Santiago] had an advanced irrigation system and an abundant indigenous population.
—National Museum of Natural History of Chile report
Archaeological evidence has been found under of the surface of the southern half of the Mapocho River basin.
Some of the findings are from a site at the corner of Cathedral and Matucana streets in Santiago. Five funerary sites, with 22 ceramic Incan vessels were exhumed in 2001.
Cited chroniclers explained the Incan funerary rites: the dead are dressed in “the most private clothes that they had,” and in their hands are placed corn, beans, pieces of pumpkin, and seeds. They are bundled with rope and placed in the ground with pitchers, pots, and bowls.
Dating the tombs, archeologists have found they provide strong evidence of the Incan city’s existence before the European arrival in the area, according to the report.
Stehberg and Sotomayor collected many descriptions of Incan ditches and channels along with maps. The researchers also reference historian Gerónimo de Vivar, who was an eyewitness to the establishment of Santiago as a companion of Pedro de Valdivia.
“Don Pedro had the intention to populate a town like Cusco, on the banks of the Mapocho River, where the Indians could come to serve,” wrote Vivar. The Incan town matches this description, say Stehberg and Sotomayor.
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