Thursday, 18th May 2006, 07:28
THE sun-worshipping Incas may have been onto something when they made Cuzco the capital of their ancient civilization.
Scientists have discovered the city in modern-day Peru is the spot on Earth blistered by the highest UV levels.
And it is worth visitors to the base popular with tourists heading to the ruins of Machu Picchu bearing that in mind.
Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer but as Dr Ben Liley of the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in Omakau, New Zealand, and his team point out, that is due to unsuitably pale skin types for the latitudes rather than particularly high UV levels.
They reasoned that peak UV should be found near the tropic of Capricorn, where overhead sunshine occurs when the Earth-sun distance is least, and ozone levels are low, and at a high altitude.
After poring over UV data collected by NASA's Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer between 1997 and 2003 the team concluded the highest UV levels occur in the Peruvian Andes, across the Altiplano region.
The area with the highest UV index score of 25 centred on Cuzco, where 300,000 people live today.
This is about twice the peak value found in New Zealand, reports New Scientist.
"The historic capital of the sun-worshipping Inca empire does seem an appropriate place to find the world's highest UV," said Dr Liley.
Cuzco in southern Peru was the capital of the Inca empire from its beginnings in the 14th century until the Spanish conquest in 1533.
A tourist attraction, the city is known for its Inca ruins and Spanish colonial architecture.
Situated at an altitude of 11,207 ft in a broad valley of the Andes it's the busy hub of a thickly populated agricultural region where sheep are raised and cereals and tobacco are grown.
The population of 275,000 is predominantly Indian, and the city, with its open markets, adobe houses, and narrow, winding cobblestone streets, is Indian in character