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The Discovery of Machu Picchu

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The Accidental Discovery by Hiram Bingham


Hiram Bingham in Front of His Tent

The site of Machu Picchu was discovered on July 24th, 1911 by American historian Hiram Bingham.

A group of Quechuans led the explorer to the peak called "Machu Picchu", meaning "Old Peak". He had then come across the ruins that we know today.


The locals were actually living in Machu Picchu and they were using the ancient Inca terraces too.


Rumours about several hidden Inca cities have been circulating ever since the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Bingham was enthusiastic about discovering forgotten Inca cities. He was interested in uncovering and mapping, conducting archaeological studies, but also in finding treasures.


From Cuzco University's North American rector Hiram Bingham heard rumours about a hidden Inca city in the Urubamba jungle. He then went out to find it... And he did find Machu Picchu. But he was actually looking for a place called Vitcos - the last refuge of the Incas. (which he had already come across earlier).


Bingham thought that at Machu Picchu he had come across Vilcabamba, another legendary Inca city


He was wrong and he later found out that this was an untouched, well-preserved city that the Spaniards had never come across. Machu Picchu was one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the World (if not the greatest).


The Urubamba River's area and the Vilcabamba area were thoroughly examined by Bingham's team several other ruins were uncovered during the following years. Some of them were lost again and needed to be "rediscovered" by archaeologists who dug them out of the dirt and uncovered them from the vegetation.




The Ruins of Machu Picchu, as They Were Found


The 5 century-old Inca citadel was photographed and the area thoroughly inspected by the explorer's team. Bingham took photographs of the site while it was still covered by vegetation. Some of these were later republished by the National Geographic Magazine and you can even find them on the internet if you dig after them. (We do not own rights to publish them).


Some of the buildings were found collapsed, but gladly most of them didn't.

The roofs had perished. These were made out of wood, grass, rather thin branches of trees, therefore they could not stand for 500 years.


Dense vegetation lay on top of the city when it was spotted by Bingham.

Excavations and long work in restoring the city were undertaken for several years.

Today we think that we can see the whole Machu Picchu, but some specialists affirm that there are parts of it still underground. Some believe that there might be an Inca cemetery right near the entrance where tourists are passing through to visit the archaeological site.


For a while after the discovery, Hiram Bingham still believed that he had actually discovered Vilcabamba.

Nevertheless, the site of Vitcos, which he had also discovered before Machu Picchu, during the same year of 1911, was far less impressive, therefore he left it behind.




Artifacts, Precious Objects Found on the Site


Hiram Bingham had removed thousands of artifacts from Machu Picchu and transported them to Yale University. For this fact the Peruvian government has undertaken legal efforts to recover them from Yale University, USA.


The approximate number of artifacts that Bingham found is around 5.000. 


It has taken Peru almost a century to take legal action against Yale University. This happened in 2005.


Some adventurers and explorers were dreaming about the legendary hidden Inca city of Paititi. It is strongly believed that the Incas had their treasures hidden there from the conquistadores.

Paititi was officially never found and due to the confusions that Bingham had made between Vilcabamba and Machu Picchu and even the fact that Machu Picchu's original name is not known, we are using the name of the peak ("Machu Picchu" = "Old Peak"), there are some who still believe that the lost city is actually this one (Machu Picchu).


Officially Bingham never admitted that he had found any real treasures... gold or silver objects. But he had come across copper, stone objects and pottery. Their material value is rather null, but scientifically they are important.


Perhaps one of the most important objects found in the citadel of Machu Picchu is the Intihuatana stone. Because it is the only intact one ever to be found.

It is the main sacred object that was found in all major Inca cities.




The Importance of Bingham's Discovery


Bingham has conducted many expeditions during the 1911 - 1915 period.

Books and magazines in the 1910s and 1920s were full with articles about the new discoveries and modern legends started emerging about hidden treasures and lost cities.


The work called "The Lost City of the Incas" was a book written by Hiram Bingham himself. You will be able to find it in bookstores and ebay today.

National Geographic magazine has dedicated the whole 1913 issue to Machu Picchu.




False Myths, Stories About Machu Picchu


For many years the site of Machu Picchu was the target of many speculations and myths, TV shows and books. Most o the stories that you will see or hear or read aren't plausible and are rather a mix of old and modern myths, even speculations created intentionally to attract viewers, readers and sell as many books and films as possible.


Machu Picchu has nothing to do with hidden treasures.

Machu Picchu has nothing to do with the El Dorado legend, nor is it located anywhere near the El Dorado-related area. (Which is in present-day Colombia and Venezuela).


Machu Picchu is a beautiful city that was probably a religious sanctuary. If there were any treasures they were probably taken by someone a long time ago.




Those Who Have Reached Machu Picchu Before Bingham...


Some don't accept Hiram Bingham III. as the discoverer of Machu Picchu.

Researcher and author, Simone Waisbard claims that Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez and Agustín Lizárraga had set their feet on Machu Picchu before Bingham. The three had left their names carved into a rock on July 14th, 1901.


The "Old Peak" wasn't as remote as we might believe today. After all, there were people living in it, they were the ones who had brought Bingham to the site. Perhaps during the centuries there were others there as well.

Some might have come across Machu Picchu by mistake, some might have even looted it in search for treasures.


Despite the concrete evidence of the three, Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez and Agustín Lizárraga, the only recognized discoverer remains Hiram Bingham. For the reason that for about a century he was considered the legitimate discoverer and also because he was a reputable historian and Inca expert.

Perhaps this is how it will remain.

Similarly, we know Columbus wasn't the real discoverer of America, but rather the Vikings.


Machu Picchu Behind the Bushes

Machu Picchu behind the vegetation



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