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Originally published Sunday, September 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Looters plunder ancient city in Peru, says discoverer's son

An American explorer says an ancient, pre-Incan metropolis discovered by his father in Peru's remote cloud forest on an earlier expedition...

The Associated Press

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, 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 explorer Gene Savoy, 78, who has discovered more than 40 lost cities in Peru since the 1960s, said 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 that 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 windswept, 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 ... 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 believes the once-urban valley was home to at least 20,000 people, double the previous estimate. He said the latest expedition discovered a sixth citadel, at 12,000 feet elevation, with a 64-foot-wide avenue. He said the six interconnected districts discovered during five expeditions contain hundreds of circular stone buildings.

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 in 2001, the elder Savoy has dedicated his time to writing a book about his last 15 years of exploration, his son said.

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