Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of 42 humans in a cemetery next to a Peruvian hospital that dates back to the 16th century, when the country first became part of the Spanish empire.
The skeletons were found in the courtyard of Hospital Real de San Andres, a former hospital in the centre of Lima, the capital of Peru.
Built in 1552 specifically for Spanish patients, the historic building is considered to be the oldest hospital in both Peru and South America.
The site, thought to be where the first doctors of the 16th century were trained, had a church for the dying to be close to God and even a space for the mentally ill.
The bodies have remained undiscovered for centuries, despite being buried only around 12 inches (30cm) beneath the ground.
Although not thought to be among the bodies found, experts think the site also hides the remains of the mummies of the last Incas, the tribe that once ruled the Andean region of South America before the Spanish conquest.
In addition, experts have found an underground crypt and fragments of pre-Hispanic ceramics, likely from before the construction of the hospital, possibly dating to the time of the Incas.
Peruvian archaeologists have unearthed 42 human remains in a cemetery next to a hospital that dates back to the 16th century
Archaeologists found the human remains, dating back to colonial times, in the former Hospital Real de San Andres in the first city cemetery in Lima, Peru
Patients who arrived at the hospital were placed in beds located in the corridors and that from their bed they could listen to mass, it’s thought
Peruvian archaeologists had found the cemetery around 20 years ago, back in the 2000s, but the bodies have only just been excavated
Excavations in the 2000s revealed the location of the hospital’s first cemetery, the remains of a 19th-century fountain, an early colonial trash pit, and a vaulted structure. Pictured is a recent photo of the newly-found bodies
Although not thought to be among the bodies, experts think the site also hides the remains of the mummies of the last Incas
The site, thought to be where the first doctors of the 16th century were trained, had a church for the dying to be close to God and even a space for the mentally ill
Hospital Real de San Andres is a former hospital in the centre of Lima, the capital of Peru, on the western coast of South America
Main courtyard of the Royal Hospital of San Andrés
Most of the newly-found bones belonged to males, several of whom had died of syphilis and from deformities in the skull, according to the experts.
Archaeologists have found a cross, possibly made of copper, that one of the deceased had around his neck.
Historically, patients who arrived at the hospital were placed in beds located in the corridors and that from their bed they could listen to mass.
‘The people who did not survive the treatment were buried here,’ Héctor Walde, chief archaeologist for the Lima municipality, told the Associated Press.
‘The ritual and religiosity in Lima was very strong.’
Hospital Real de San Andrés was founded by Viceroy Andres Hurtado de Wildoso, a Spanish military officer.
The main structure of the hospital was designed in the shape of a cross, with an alter in the centre.
Other adjacent structures included offices, a pharmacy, a psychiatric ward, as well as a garden and the cemetery.
Excavations at the location began 20 years ago and uncovered evidence of the cemetery, as well as the remains of a 19th-century fountain, an early colonial trash pit and a vaulted structure.
But the 42 bodies have been unearthed only after several months of recent excavations at the site of downtown Lima.
Two years ago, archaeologists began to rediscover the one-hectare complex, which is on a bustling street near a police station and a costume shop.
Map of the Royal Hospital of San Andrés. This map shows a reconstruction based on information from 1563. Note the cross-shape of the church
The bodies were mostly male, according to experts. They belonged to people who died of syphilis and from deformities in the skull
Lima’s municipality is working to restore key areas of the Peruvian capital so that residents can become more aware of its history
The Inca, also spelled Inka, were a people indigenous to South America who, at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, ruled an empire that spanned from the northern border of modern Ecuador to central Chile. Pictured, workers at the hospital site
Archaeologists unearth human remains, dating back to colonial times, in the former Hospital Real de San Andres in the first city cemetery in Lima
The bodies have remained undiscovered for centuries, despite being buried only around 12 inches (30cm) beneath the ground
Close-up of one of the bodies in the old hospital, considered the first hospital for Spaniards during expansion of the Spanish empire and built in 1552
Experts think the remains of at least three rulers of the Inca Empire, who were conquered by the Spaniards, could be buried under the complex
Lima’s municipality staff carefully work with hand brushes to remove lose sand and soil without damaging the historic finds
In addition, experts found an underground crypt and fragments of pre-Hispanic ceramics, likely from before the construction of the hospital
The underground crypt, pictured here from within looking upwards, takes the form of a brick vaulted structure with what looks like wooden beams
A worker brushes away at the brick-vaulted crypt. It’s uncertain what the crypt’s function was, or how it was related to the hospital
By the 1870s, the architectural complex ceased to be a hospital and cemetery, and later became a hospice for abandoned children.
It also became a public school where the children’s playground was located just above the cemetery. The last major earthquake in 2007 put the complex out of use.
In the last century, a police station was built on part of the land, and other spaces were used as Chinese restaurants and various shops.
In one of the buildings, in 1991, 15 Peruvians were killed by a clandestine group of soldiers, which led to a 25-year prison sentence against former President Alberto Fujimori.
The one-hectare complex can be found on a bustling street near a police station and a costume shop in downtown Lima
The hospital was designed in the shape of a cross. The building’s origin dates back almost half a millennium
It was around two years ago that archaeologists began to rediscover the one-hectare complex. The recent excavations have uncovered the incredible finds
‘On the whole block there are a lot of businesses. I didn’t know there was a cemetery inside,’ said Eulalia Sánchez, a local vendor.
Experts think the remains of at least three rulers of the Inca Empire – Pachacutec, Huayna Capac and Tupac Yupanqui – could be buried under the complex.
Walde said that in the last 200 years there have been several and unsuccessful attempts to find these remains.
According to 16th century chroniclers, the mummies were sent from Cusco, the capital of the Inca Empire, to Lima to be observed by Viceroy Andrés Hurtado de Mendoza.
Fragments of pre-Hispanic ceramics, thought to be date before the construction of the hospital, were also found at the site
More fragments of the extensive collection of ceramics, which include ornate, colourful patterns that show a good state of preservation
Bottles wrapped in cotton wool and protective containers and plate/bowl fragments were among the collection uncovered from the Lima hospital
Ceramics are being sorted into labelled boxes by authorities. Further analysis may reveal more about the objects and when they date from
After being seen by Hurtado, the mummies were taken to the hospital and later placed underground. It is not known if they have stood the test of time, or where they are located.
‘Although it is not the initial objective of this project, we also do not deny the interest of being able to find the royal mummies during the excavation process,’ said Walde.
Lima’s municipality is working to restore key areas of the Peruvian capital so that residents know its history.
Who were the Inca? People indigenous to South America who ruled from modern Ecuador to central Chile by 1532
The Inca, also spelled Inka, were a people indigenous to South America who, at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, ruled an empire that spanned from the northern border of modern Ecuador to central Chile.
Establishing their capital at Cusco (a city in modern-day Peru) in the 12th century, the Inca began a campaign of expansion in the early 15th century which would see some 12 million people come under their rule.
Much of the information we have today comes from the written records of Spanish conquistadores as the Inca passed on their history through story telling and other oral traditions.
Machu Pichhu is the best-known site remaining from the Inca Empire, once the largest and richest in the Americas
Best known for the brutal practice of human sacrifice, the Inca Empire is also notable for its advanced agricultural techniques, unique art and architecture.
At its peak, the Inca Empire was the largest and richest in the Americas. Its downfall is thought to have come about through rebellion, disease and the Spanish invasion.
The most famous and perhaps best-preserved site that remains from Inca times is the citadel of Machu Picchu, located in Peru.
Source: Britannica, Ancient History Encyclopaedia