The ‘discovery’ of Machu Picchu and the duel of stories – 07/31/2021 – Latinoamérica21

Machu Picchu (originally known as Patallaqta) was an ancient Inca village located in the Peruvian jurisdiction of the Andes, eighty kilometers from Cusco and 2,430 meters above sea level. Documents indicate that the village was built in the 15th century, without any consensus on the reasons for its construction.

Some claim that it was a rural refuge for Emperor Pachacútec (1408-1471), in a context of expansionism of the Inca Empire. Others suggest that the citadel was built as a base to manage the food plantation in the area.

During the Spanish colonization (1532-1824), Machu Picchu was gradually abandoned by the locals, which earned it the reputation of “lost city of the Incas”. Although it is not officially occupied, there are indications that it was known to the Spaniards. However, the mountain was isolated from economic and social circuits, a condition maintained even after Peru’s independence in the 19th century.

North American historiography maintains that Machu Picchu was “discovered” on July 24, 1911 by the professor and North American explorer Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) during an exploration trip accompanied by some colleagues from the Yale University. On the recommendation of Professor Albert Giesecke (1883-1968), rector of the National University of San Antonio Abbot in Cusco, Hiram Bingham was introduced to Melchor Arteaga, a Peruvian peasant responsible for guiding Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu, who was already known by an unknown number of local peasants.

Bingham was not the first to visit the ruins. The Peruvian farmer Agustín Lizarraga (-1912), in search of land for agriculture, is said to have discovered Machu Picchu and inscribed his own name on a stone in the Temple of las Tres Ventanas, on July 14, 1902, about ten years before the arrival of Yale explorers at the site. When Bingham arrived at Machu Picchu in 1911, he found the stone on which was written, in charcoal, “A, Lizarraga 1902”, which he wrote down in his journal. However, Bingham omitted this information from the official accounts of the expedition which were due for publication.

Armed with a Kodak camera, Bingham recorded hundreds of photos during his first visit to the ruins on July 24, 1911. After returning to the United States, he was successful in securing sponsorship for another expedition in 1912, accompanied a more structured group of geologists, archaeologists, engineers and surveyors. With the dissemination of his research and reporting, Bingham became known as the “discoverer” of Machu Picchu, a reputation that still lives on, even in Peru, where history is often shared with interested tourists.

Throughout the expeditions, thousands of Inca archaeological items and relics were transferred to the United States for study and research at Yale University, with temporary permission from the Peruvian government. About fifty thousand Inca archaeological pieces have been appropriated by Bingham and his team for research in the United States, including artefacts in gold, silver, wood, bone, stone and ceramic, which provoked successive protests from the Peruvian government in the 20th century. century to be repatriated. in Peru in 2012, a century after the “discovery” of Bingham, the result of an agreement signed between the Peruvian government and Yale University. It is believed that there is still a large collection of Inca relics in North American and European museums.

Why was Hiram Bingham known as the “discoverer” of Machu Picchu?

The answer lies in the ability to make known the facts that the American had at the time. The Bingham Archives were the subject of a complete edition of National Geographic in April 1913, a fact that made them known in the international academic community and, primarily, in the United States. From Bingham’s point of view, his trip had exploratory and scientific purposes, since the region was considered a virgin territory of adventure, research and exploration, which contrasts with the vision of Lizarraga, for whom Machu Picchu was a plantation area, for no reason whatsoever for its international dissemination.

It would be unfair to denigrate the success of Hiram Bingham, who studied the region in depth and, in fact, ventured into the Andean mountain ranges in search of Vitcos, an area where the last Incas took refuge. after the Spanish invasion, as well as as Nusta Ispana. As a result of this mission, he arrived at Machu Picchu. He was one of the people responsible for the visibility of Machu Picchu in the world at the beginning of the 20th century. However, he was certainly not the pioneer in the discovery of the region.

It would be equally unfair to ignore that the “discovery” of Machu Picchu was a transnational feat involving North Americans, Peruvians and researchers from other countries who knew of the ruins and who recorded reports and testimonies. well before Bingham’s arrival in 1911. Examples are the Germans Rudolph Berns and Hermann Göring, the Franco-Austrian Charles Wiener and the Italian Antonio Dell’Acqua, among others.

As stated on the official Machu Picchu National Park website, “the city has never been lost as it was occasionally visited and inhabited”, which contrasts with Bingham’s account of his declared “discovery” of the area.

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