Expedition Unknown – Incan Mummy – S02E26

imageIn continuing his adventures and exploration into lost cities and cultures, Josh is on the trail of a lost Incan ruler, Atahualpa. He was the last great ruler of the Incan people, slain by the Spaniard Francisco Pizarro during the Spanish conquest. Pizarro demanded huge amounts of gold from Atahualpa, and even though he complied he was still sentenced to death. At first, Atahualpa was to be burned, but pleading for his soul, he converted to Christianity and was then strangled. He needed his body in tact so he could be mummified and rule in the afterlife. However, his body is believed to have been whisked away and it’s current whereabouts is unknown.

As Josh gets to know the history of Ecuador, he learns that the Incas came to this location because of the equator, to be closer to the sun. Josh also reads accounts of a sailor seeing a body and procession. While not specifically calling out Atahualpa, it fits the time frame and location. Also within the archives is the will of Atahualpa and other family documents. It’s shown they have private land where the body could have been buried, which would have kept with the custom of the time. The mummy would have been removed because it was the belief that if you had the mummy you had the power of the Incan people. It would have been an extremely influential symbol of power.

Josh then links up with German Molina, who is searching for the tomb. He’s found multiple Incan ruins covered by the jungle. They have aqueducts that still work after 500 years. There are also structures made from large rocks, in the shape of square that could be a temple. They believe they have found a location where the mummy would have been kept for a short time.

But the main resting place may be higher in the Andes mountains. From what they have been told, there is a farmer with promising artifacts and while he’s not willing to be shown or heard on camera, he brings out a sun necklace. It’s made of copper and gold and represents the sun people. Inspired by the find, they head further up and find man made paths as well as the remains of the Pucara or guard towers.

They discover an opening and after jumping inside, discover an ancient pin, again made of copper and gold, that would have been used to hold clothes together. But there is still more to be discovered as they head to another location where aerial surveys have shown some promising leads.

As they take images with the drone, it’s revealed the hill doesn’t have a natural contour, more of a stair step or terraced effect. As they map it, it begins to look man made with more of the watch towers on the perimeter. They also discover another trench which looks like it could lead into the interior of the mound, but has since collapsed. At the top of the hill are large stones that are not native to the region, and were most likely brought for a specific purpose. After surveying more of the features, they believe they are standing on a massive Incan fortress. They aren’t sure if it’s a tomb, or if Atahualpa would be buried there, but when taken with the towers and other relics already found they believe a much more thorough investigation and exploration is needed. Even if not the burial site, it’s a location of significance. And I have to say, the jungle and landscape is absolutely amazing. The lushness of that area is breathtaking.

Again, it seems they are right on the cusp of making an important and exciting discovery. Whether or not they find the Incan burial site remains to be seen, but it looks like they are about to unearth a major archaeological find which may reveal a slew of information not only about the lost king, but about the culture itself.

Other Articles of Interest:

Expedition Unknown – Lost Mexican City – S02E25

imageFor this episode, Josh is trying to unravel the mystery surrounding and ancient and powerful civilization very few people have even heard of. We’re familiar with the Aztec and Maya, but what if those civilizations modeled themselves after an even more powerful and advanced society? Enter the Teotihuacan, an advanced society that predates the Aztec by several hundred years. They too were a culture with advanced mathematics, incredible buildings, a vast understanding of the universe, and apparently shared a penchant for human sacrifice.

Archaeologists have uncovered uncovered burial chambers where people were bound and sacrificed as well as jewelry made of human bones. It was originally believed the Teotihuacan were a peaceful civilization, but it’s now believed they were a role model for human sacrifice and bloodletting.

Cholula is a neighboring city that has an immense underground pyramid built by the Teotihuacan. In fact, it’s the largest pyramid in the world, you just can’t see it. It has five miles worth of tunnels covered with art that predates the Aztec. This same art can be seen within other cultures, suggesting the influence of the Teotihuacan was quite vast.

Josh visits another site called the Mountain of the Blades, which is an obsidian mine. The Teotihuacan used the obsidian to make razor sharp weapons. Normally obsidian is a type of black glass, but in this very specific area, the obsidian is green. The Teotihuacan believed the green obsidian held supernatural powers which only they could harness. These same green blades have been found within other cultures the Teotihuacan visited.

While they haven’t found any tombs of Teotihuacan rulers, they have found multiple temples. Josh is able to enter tunnels beneath one of them. Within the tunnels they’ve been able to find more obsidian blades, pottery and carved statues. They have also discovered the tunnel ends at a room that is under the dead center of the temple. From the artifacts found as well as the shape and usual style of the room, they believe it is a representation of the Underworld.

It would have been used for rituals as well as ceremonies. It is also believed their rulers would have been cremated in a room like this, which explains why there are no burial chambers. It’s possible the new ruler would have been taken to the Underworld to preside over the cremation of the past ruler. When the ceremony was over, he would return from Hell as their new leader.

While there is no definitive explanation for their demise as culture, they are rewriting what they know. The Teotihuacan culture was far more expansive that previously thought with the physical layout of the town extending miles beyond what they originally mapped. They’ve also disregard them as a docile and peaceful people. It appears their level of blood sacrifice rivaled anything that came after them. And they were an incredibly powerful and influential people. Relics, such as the obsidian blades, have been found hundreds of miles away and it was these supernatural blades that instilled fear and submission within others.

It’s quite a fascinating story, with plenty of evidence left behind. It’s amazing they have pyramids almost completely obscured underground. And the weapons they made from obsidian, look as deadly as anything made from steel. In fact, the obsidian they mined was the steel of the time period. A dangerous culture that will surely offer up more interesting stories as their structure and past are unearthed.

Other Articles of Interest:

Expedition Unknown – Shangri La Found – S02E22

imageFrom our previous outing, Josh has hooked up with Mark Aldenderfer who is documenting thousands of caves carved into the side of the mountain face. Within this remote region he has discovered temples and paintings left on the cave walls from hundreds of years ago.

But there are more discoveries ahead as Mark finds a rock tower that turns out to be a burial chamber. Inside are remains, bleached white by the sun. They are within an area described as a sky burial. The deceased is brought here and their body is returned to the earth as it were. The remains are left out until only the bones remain. It sounds a bit grim, but the practice and the location are still being used.

In Lo Manthang, Josh stops at a small temple to meditate. It is another remote location and the idea is to remove all external distractions. The idea of achieving peace and harmony is a common theme.

This is also the location Mark has been lead to with dozens more caves that haven’t been explored. Not only are they extremely remote like the others, but they are also 100 feet or more off the ground. Josh and the team have to use rock climbing gear just to get into them.
The others were dangerous, but these appear to be even more so.

What Josh finds is a series of interconnected chambers, a small city within the rocks. From the pottery and animal hides as well as the charred ceiling from cooking fires, this was a heavily occupied area. It’s conceivable that hundreds of people lived in these caves away from any form of attacks and dangers.

As Josh is heading back down, he makes an exciting discovery. Another wall of paintings using the same pigments and styles they’ve seen before. It turns out to be a Buddhist chant, one that has shown up on other temples in the area. Mark believes the people would live in the caves to preserve the small amount of farmland, which is set up as a series of terraces. They would use the land for crops, then store and protect it in the caves.

For their final destination, they are taken to an extremely remote temple. They have to use horses to make the final leg, but even the horses have to be lead up the incredibly steep and narrow winding paths they find.

And this is no ordinary temple as the location is kept a secret, known only to a select group of people who protect and watch over it. One of their party is a monk who literally holds the key to open the door.

The temple is a holy meditation shrine with vivid paintings on the wall, with masks and carved statues. It’s incredibly detailed and adorned for such a remote location. But the inner sanctuary holds even greater discoveries. They enter a room filled with carved deities, the protectors of the monastery. Each is painted in vivid colors and highly decorated. These deities are also holding weapons, armor, swords, shields and even crossbows. Each one is most likely hundreds of years old and a fantastic treasure on it’s own. It’s amazing that things exist in such a staggeringly remote location. And clearly many people have visited this shrine and left their mark on it.

So is this Shangri La? Is this Utopia? If your looking for something along the lines of the Seven Cities of Gold, then no. But, if the Utopia is that of meditation, enlightenment, one with nature and it’s surroundings, then I believe this to be the spot. It’s remote, away from war, away from distraction, disease would be minimal and it’s hidden among the clouds where a person can live simply off the land and meditate on their spiritual well being.

It may not be as glamorous as the tales make it out, but it fits the description pretty well.

Other Articles of Interest:

Expedition Unknown – Search for Shangri-La – S02E21

imageAs we get to the end of Josh’s travels for the season, we’re off to Nepal in search of the famed Shangri-La. The term has come to represent a paradise, a mythical city of Utopia where people don’t seem to age, suffer from disease and the idea of war doesn’t exist. But is such a place merely the imaginings of a fiction writer or can there be such a place?

At first, as Josh meets with some monks, it appears Shangri-La may be another word for Shambala, which might not be a place you visit with your mortal body. It is more of a state of being, a state of consciousness achieved through meditation.

But there may be more to it as Josh is told of the Sky Caves in the Mustang Valley. Hundreds of caves have been carved into the rock walls and they are almost completely unexplored. However, there is a small fuel crisis to overcome and nothing says skirting the law like black market fuel and a helicopter.

With that problem solved, they meet with Mark Aldenderfer who has been studying the area for years. He believes there are around 10,000 cave openings and they have perhaps been able to explore 300 of them. Not only do they not have the resources to explore every  one of them, but each opening is over 50 feet off the ground. You don’t merely walk into one, you climb using rope and harness. So they’ve been able to locate the caves, but they are still undiscovered.

For the caves they are able to enter, Mark takes Josh into a monastery carved into the rocks. It’s complete with mummified snow leopards, hand carved statues and paintings. It’s an extremely intricate temple that very few have ever been able to see.

It would have been used as a place of worship as well as a place of healing, a hospital to create medicines as well as perform ceremonies for those who had passed.

The next stop is the small village of Chhoser, where Mark is able to secure some supplies and some additional workers. The supplies are a couple of ladders which they strap to the trucks and do their best to climb the steep, icy and crumbling paths they call roads.

At their destination, they lash the ladders together and make their way inside another set of caves. What they discover are walls covered in detailed paintings. The art is most likely 500 years old, but since it’s painted right onto the unstable sandstone, entire murals have slid off and turned to dust. Interestingly, some of the locals have seen identical paintings in temples hundreds of miles away. It would seem the people moved from location to location meditating and creating works of art on the walls.

As Josh says, it’s disappointing to know that within a hundred years, those paintings may be nothing more than dust on the floor, the messages and signs of the artists to disappear.

But is this Shangri-La? Is this the Utopia of legend? Perhaps not, but it does speak to the ideal of peace of meditation. In this type of seclusion, one could find harmony with the world. However, there is another stop on the journey that may be closer to a Utopia.

Other Articles of Interest:

Recent Comments

Items of Interest