History of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu
Hiram Bingham, explorer and professor of South American history first crossed the PeruHiram Binghamvian mountains in February 1909, the wettest month ofthe year, making his travels difficult. However, his visit to the ruins of Choquequirao stimulated his interest in the Incas. In 1911 he returned with the Yale Peruvian Expedition which was actually intended to visit the Urubamba River and surrounds, to find the last capital of the Incas.

Bingham studied writings of the Conquest and colonial documents, with the intention of knowing exactly where they should head. He had also heard about a mysterious lost city in the jungle, but no one in Cusco gave credit to these comments because it was already thought that the last capital of the Incas was Choquequirao.

The expedition set off following the course of the Urubamba River, exploring series of ruins along the way. On July 23 1911, Bingham arrived at Mandor where he met the peasant farmer Melchor Arteaga who told Bingham about the existence of two Inca sites, Machu Picchu and Wayna Picchu.

Arteaga was employed as the local guide, and when he indicated that the group would be heading for the top of the mountain, Bingham’s colleagues used various excuses to avoid accompanying him. As such, Bingham climbed only with Arteaga and Sergeant Carrasco,(who acted as interpreter for the Quechua speaking guide) first crossing the fast flowing Urubamba and then encountering the thick jungle vegetation on the other side, sometimes crawling and sometimes holding on only with their fingertips.

Sacred ValleyAfter lunch, some 600 metres above the river, they encountered a hut and some more campesinos working the agricultural terraces of Machu Picchu. After a rest, Bingham decide to continue climbing, however, Arteaga decided to stay conversing with the other compassions and in his place, sent a child as a guide. As Bingham and Sergeant Carrasco climbed, they were able to ascertain more imposing terraces, but what surprised them most was a series of finely finished Inca walls that were covered by thick vegetation. The child took Bingham through bushes and bamboo to a great carved cave, finely finished that, in Bingham’s words, had to be the Royal Tomb.

Bingham returned to his country, taking with him news of the city of Machu Picchu. This discovery attracted the attention of the world and in particularly, Yale University and the National Geographic Society, both institutions decided to assist Bingham in his exploration of the discovered ruins in 1912 and 1915.

Andean peopleIt surprised Bingham and his team that they did not find many tombs in Machu Picchu – he commented, “a careful count of the skeletons and bones found in the different caves and tombs appear to show the remains of 173 individuals and of these, maybe 150 correspond to women, an extraordinary percentage, at the least that was a sanctuary whose habitants were Chosen Women of the Sun.” The rest of the people linked to Machu Picchu were servants, agricultural labourers, soldiers that were buried in sites outside of the city. This explained to Bingham the absence of more remains.

Bingham added that they did not find gold or silver objects, but they did find objects of bronze and other metals, also of wood, stone and bone. Machu PicchuIn total, Bingham mentioned 521 identified ceramics and around 220 metal objects.

There is some controversy about what Bingham’s expeditions actually took from Peru, with various conflicting numbers and reports. The official Peruvian Government report made in 1916 reported that they took 74 boxes full of bones, mummies, ceramics, textiles, metal and wooden objects, but no items of gold or silver were registered. However, many doubts exist, given the magnitude of this Inca city and its importance for the nobility. All of the studies agree that it was impossible to not find objects made with precious metals in Machu Picchu. CeramicsThat is to say, this lost city of the Incas that was not looted or visited by the Spanish for four hundred years, should have had some beautiful pieces and ceremonial and royal adornments, made in gold and silver.

The Peruvian government and Yale University are in conversation about the return of the said material and their placement in an Archaeological museum in Machu Picchu.


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