Riddle Of Last Inca King's Tomb May Be Solved

The last Incan emperor's tomb has remained a mystery for centuries but an expert now believes she may have pinpointed the historic site.

The Inca empire spanned more than 1,000 miles of South America in the 1400s and early 1500s, taking in parts of modern-day Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia.

Atahualpa was the last of the dynasty and was taken captive during the Spanish conquest in what is now Cajamarca, Peru.

He had just defeated his brother in a violent civil war when the conquistadors arrived in the Andes, quickly capturing him and holding him for ransom.

Atahualpa offered to fill a large room with gold and silver in return for his life being spared and the Spanish agreed but they went on to execute him anyway.

Puppet Inca rulers were installed following his death in 1533 but the empire began to fall apart.

Atahualpa's burial place was never discovered but now an Ecuadorean researcher believes she may have located it after 10 years of painstaking research.

Tamara Estupinan, a researcher with the French Institute for Andean Studies, believes a site in the Andes about 40 miles south of Quito is the tomb.

Ms Estupinan describes the area as an "Inca archeological site" high on the Andes' eastern flank amid plunging canyons.

Nearby are a small local farm and a facility for raising fighting cocks.

Her team has already discovered a complex of walls, aqueducts and stonework that lie inside the Machay (meaning burial) rural retreat.

"This is a late imperial design Inca monument that leads to several rectangular rooms that were built with cut polished stone set around a trapezoidal plaza," Ms Estupinan said.

Excavators for Ecuador's state Cultural Patrimony Institute are due to start work at the site this summer in what could lead to ground-breaking discoveries about Incan life.

"This is an absolutely important find for the history of Ecuador's archeology and for the (Andean) region," said patrimony minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa.

Ms Estupinan believes the site was built after Atahualpa's execution to hide him and any items buried with him from the Spanish conquistadors.

"It is important to point out that in Ecuador as well as in Peru, no one has found an Inca king's tomb until now," she told ARTINFO France.

The story of Atahualpa was made into a film in 1969 called The Royal Hunt Of The Sun, starring Oscar winner Christopher Plummer in the role of the Incan king.