Yale University professor Hiram Bingham was on an expedition to the Andes Mountains of Peru when he made a startling discovery. The ancient Incans city of Machu Picchu was known to American archaeologists for the first time July 24, 1911.
To celebrate its centennial of discovery, special events are being held at the site. The Peruvian Embassy in Washington also had guest speakers and experts on the lost city. The truth behind the mountain lair is far more interesting than the actual site itself.
Sometime in the late 15th century, scholars from the Peruvian International Council on Monuments and Sites believe Incan Emperor Pachacuti built a mountaintop citadel known as "High City" or Patallacta. Today, it is known and celebrated as Machu Picchu.
Although the purpose of the settlement is unknown, theories have expounded upon a convent because of all of the female skeletons found on site, a vacation spot for the emperor or a last bastion of Incan power in the mountains. No matter what it was used for, National Geographic states Machu Picchu is a hard place to get to and is a terrific hike and camping trip.
The United Nations designated Machu Picchu a World Heritage Site in 1983. The city is over 7,500 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. The actual site itself encompasses over 80,000 acres including the surrounding mountainsides. Valleys around the site are still used for cultivating crops today as they have been for over 1,000 years.
There is a daily limit of 2,500 visitors , although at one time the U.N. wanted to limit the number to 400. A compromise was reached as Machu Picchu is a tourist destination that brings money into Peru's economy.
Importance in Archaeology
Bingham was credited with Machu Picchu's discovery, even though German Augosto R. Berns found the site in the 1870s. It was technically rediscovered in 1911 as Bingham's find was celebrated by National Geographic and they funded more trips in 1912 and 1915.
When the American found the site, it was still in use by around 1,000 people who lived on the mountaintop. They used it to grow crops on the steep hillside. As a tropical climate, plants and vegetation grew readily on the mountains.
There are many mysteries associated with the ancient pre-Columbian civilizations such as the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas. They were advanced cultures that came in contact with each other, went to war, and participated in bizarre religious ceremonies such as human sacrifices. Little is known of them, and Machu Picchu was a gateway into the world of the Incas.
The site still fascinates visitors today. Even getting there along the Inca Trail is a walk through time as humans have utilized the transportation systems there for at least 500 years.
William Browning is a research librarian.