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Machu Picchu's Population

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Who Lived in Machu Picchu and How Many People Were There?

 We will never know for sure exactly who lived up there, but we do know that they were Incas, we also know that they had retreated in secret to the place called "Old Peak" and that this secret city was never discovered by the Spaniards.


The lack of documents, lack of drawings at least or legends forces us to turn to the specialists who have been conducting research at the site for dozens of decades.


The city had been erected sometime around the 14th century.

Scientists have determined that Machu Picchu could have been the home to approximately 750 -1.000 people. There are 140 stone buildings, but not all of them are family homes (some of them are deposits and temples etc.).


The large number of temples underlines the religious importance of Machu Picchu. The selection of the location too and also the fact that not even the Incas knew it existed. According to archaeologist and explorer Gary Ziegler, the location of the city was kept secret from other Incas as well. This helped keep it away from the eyes of the Spaniards.


The capacity of 750 people was never filled.

Specialists say that over 200 skeletons have been found.  135 belonging to men and 109 to women. That is a total of 244. It is interesting that the number of women as disproportionately lower than the number of men.


It is believed that the city was left behind by the Incas a long time before the arrival of Pizarro's troops. Perhaps it was already left a short time after its construction, thus it becoming extinct already during the height of the Inca Empire. before the Spanish conquest.


If Machu Picchu would have been a flourishing city for hundreds of years, then generations would have lived and died there. The number of skeletons found should be in the thousands, not around 200.




Why and How Did the Population of Machu Picchu Disappear?


There are 4 theories: conflict which could have lead to the wiping out of the population, an epidemic, a belief, scope or goal while the Incas had willingly decided to leave or they had left Machu Picchu behind because there wasn't enough food to eat.


The possibility of conflict is easiest to exclude. There are no signs of violence on the city or on the skeletons found on site.

There would be no explanation regarding who could have been the enemy?

The Incas had been fighting each other for a long time before the arrival of the Spaniards and they were ruthless to each other.

Mass hostage-taking could have occurred, but this is yet another theory, one of the least plausible ones.


It is such a wonderful location that it is plausible that in case of conflict anyone would like to keep Machu Picchu for themselves. But the city became extinct...


The possibility of an epidemic is theoretically possible. Yet, scientists haven't yet found any evidence on the bones of its inhabitants.


If an illness did wipe out Machu Picchu's population, then this must have happened during the early stages (because of the fact that only about 200 skeletons were found). Though, this is also less likely... Mainly because 135 men and 109 women could not have had the strength to erect such a massive city, enough for 750 people.


Epidemics were common in Latin America, even before the arrival of the Spaniards.


In 1940, the population of a whole region close to Machu Picchu was decimated by malaria.


Interestingly, Hiram Bingham, flowing his discovery has found a woman's skeleton showing signs of syphilis. This illness is believed to have arrived to the New World from Europe.

Although syphilis was incurable at that time, it is unlikely that this was the cause why Machu Picchu's population had disappeared.


There is also the possibility of quarantining. Just like Europeans had acted during the pneumonic plague (or "black death"), the Incas could have isolated the city because of such a highly contagious disease.


The city could have simply been abandoned.

For religious purposes? They considered that there is a "curse" and the "must leave". Such legends of leaving and going somewhere because it is a "divine wish" exist in case of other cultures, for instance the Jewish culture, Hungarian culture as well. During history these populations had left their homeland for search of a new homeland.

Perhaps the Incas left their city in search of a new place?


The 1400s could have been the best time in the history of the Inca citadel.

The 1520s have brought the armored Spaniards on horseback.

Between the two periods the city's population fled.


Well concealed, Machu Picchu has remained untouched (at least we believe it was untouched) until Hiram Bingham officially discovered it in 1911.

Then, a group of Quechuans were living up there. They were not the ancestors of the city's original inhabitants, they just settled there.


The height of the city and frequent rains could have persuaded the population to leave.

Some of the buildings were left unfinished. There is a large rock quarry in the center of Machu Picchu pointing out to the fact that the construction work wasn't finished.

Something could have interrupted the work. Perhaps a war had broken out somewhere and the population moved out to help with the fighting.


Agriculturally there are risks building up there. Drought or inadequate weather conditions might have affected the agricultural production, thus reducing food quality and quantity. And the population fled for a better life.


We know that the Incas had fled from the city of Vilcabamba and had settled in Vitcos for climatic reasons. The latter one has a more mild, cooler climate, while Vilcabamba had a hot tropical one.


Fact is that such a wonderful place simply wasn't worth keeping for the Incas. For whatever that reason was.


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