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Machu Picchu is teetering, scientists say

LONDON (Reuters) — Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca citadel perched 8,366 feet up in the Peruvian Andes, could collapse at any time, New Scientist magazine said Wednesday.

The earth beneath the hallowed city, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and one of Latin America's best known tourist attractions, is shifting and at risk of a major landslide.

Japanese geologists who have been monitoring the movement said the back slope is moving downward at about a half-inch per month.

"This is quite fast, and it's a precursor stage of a rockfall or rock slide," said Kyoji Sassa of Kyoto University's Disaster Prevention Research Institute.

"It's not possible to say exactly when the landslide might occur, but that will be the focus of the next stage of our research."

Sassa and his team believe the landslide could destroy all of Machu Picchu. Rockfalls have already damaged some structures.

"There is a distortion line running north-south inside the citadel and buildings along the line show signs of damage," the magazine reported.

The Japanese researchers are trying to find a way to preserve Machu Picchu, which is visited by more than 1,000 tourists a day.

Machu Picchu was abandoned at the time of the 16th century Spanish conquest. In 1911, U.S. archeologist Hiram Bingham rediscovered the ruins, which historians regard as an important religious center for the Inca empire.