When Peruvian locals led Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu in 1911, it was a discovery which would make the Yale professor famous, highly respected and richer.
Bingham went on to become a governor of Connecticut and member of the US senate, and his book on Machu Picchu became a bestseller. Such was his prominence in early 20th century archaeology, that some have speculated that Bingham was the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.
But Bingham's claim to be the first to discover Peru's lost city of the Incas is looking more than a little doubtful. Detailed investigations by a US historian have revealed that Machu Picchu was, in fact, discovered over 40 years earlier by a German businessman.
Little is known about Augusto R Berns, an obscure entrepreneur now largely lost to history, but documents unearthed in US and Peruvian archives by the American historian Paolo Greer, reveal that Berns discovered Peru's most famous archaeological site in the late 1860s before setting up a company specifically to loot Machu Picchu and its immediate surroundings.
Berns had set up a railway sleeper production business in Peru, and stumbled on the unknown ruins of Machu Picchu after purchasing nearby land to fell trees for timber. He explored the mountain citadel ruins between 1867 and 1870.
In archives in Peru, documents written by Berns and discovered by Greer reveal how the German found several sealed underground structures. Berns predicted that they would "undoubtedly contain objects of great value" – the "treasures of the Incas".
His company, the aptly-named Companhia Anonima Explotadora de las Huacas del Inca (the Inca Sites Exploitation Company) had the backing of some of the most important people in Peru, including the country's president at the time, Andres Avelino Caceres.
In 1887 the Peruvian government consented to the looting of Machu Picchu, even making an agreement with Berns allowing him to export the material as long as he gave the government a 10 per cent cut. One of Berns' business partners in the venture appears to have been the director of Peru's national library. The vice- president of Berns' company was a pathology professor at a university in Lima, a collector of antiquities who eventually sold his collection to a museum in Berlin.
Machu Picchu was originally built in the 15th-century by the Inca emperor, Pachacuti, who was almost certainly buried there when he died in 1471.
The city had an important temple to the sun and Pachacuti's tomb and the temple are likely to have been adorned with substantial amounts of gold.
While most of that gold was probably removed in 1532 in a futile attempt to ransom the last reigning Inca emperor, Atahualpa, who had been captured by the Spanish conquistadors, it is conceivable that Berns found substantial quantities of high status ceramics not required for the ransom.
The revelations come at a time when Peruvian demands are increasing for the return of Hiram Bingham's Machu Picchu material, thousands of items of ceramic and bone currently in Yale University.
Greer, who has launched an international search for the lost Inca treasures, located a list of 57 of Berns' American, British and other contacts and potential contacts who may have bought antiquities that Berns found in Machu Picchu. But so far no list of finds has been discovered and the investigation will extend to the US and Europe to try to track down lost treasures in private collections. Greer's findings will be published in the next issue of South American Explorer magazine.
The mountain citadel in deepest Peru
Temples covered in gold, fantastical gardens and fine fountains carved into the rock. In its day, Machu Picchu would have been an extraordinary sight.
The mountain citadel, perched 2,400m (7,875ft) high in the Peruvian Andes, remains a powerful draw, with hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world visiting every year.
It is said to have been built by the 15th-century Inca ruler Pachacuti, the supposed founder of the Inca's cult of the dead, and his descendants. Machu Picchu, which means "old mountain", is believed to have become his mausoleum – much like the pyramids of Egypt for the pharaohs – and would also have served as a secret ceremonial city for 200 to 300 high-status members of society.
The settlement clearly had a religious purpose: the remains of lavish palaces, temples and astronomical observatories can still be seen today.
The so-called "Hitching Point of the Sun" which can still be seen, is a ritual stone which gave a precise indication of the dates of the two equinoxes and could also be used to calculate other important dates.
But it was also a formidable fortress, lying in the saddle of two mountains and accessible only by steep mountain paths and bridges, which could be easily defended.
Machu Picchu - From Wikipedia
Machu Picchu (Quechua: Machu Picchu, "Old mountain") is a pre-Columbian Inca site located 2,400 meters (7,875 ft) above sea level. It is situated on a mountain ridge above the Urubamba Valley in Peru, which is 80 km (50 mi) northwest of Cusco. Often referred to as "The Lost City of the Incas", Machu Picchu is probably the most familiar symbol of the Inca Empire. It was built around the year 1450, but abandoned a hundred years later, at the time of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire. Forgotten for centuries, the site was brought to worldwide attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. Since then, Machu Picchu has become an important tourist attraction. It was declared a Peruvian Historical Sanctuary in 1981 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. It is also one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry-stone walls. Its primary buildings are the Intihuatana, the Temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows. These are located in what is known by archaeologists as the Sacred District of Machu Picchu. In September of 2007, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement regarding the return of artifacts which Hiram Bingham had removed from Machu Picchu in the early 20th century. Currently, there are concerns about the impact of tourism on the site as it reached 400,000 visitors in 2003.
Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450, at the height of the Inca Empire. It was abandoned less than 100 years later. It is likely that most of its inhabitants were wiped out by smallpox before the Spanish conquistadores arrived. Hiram Bingham, the credited discoverer of the site, along with several others, originally hypothesized that the citadel was the traditional birthplace of the Inca people or the spiritual center of the "Virgins of the Suns" (Bingham, Inca Land:Explorations in the Highlands of Peru, p.334).
Another theory maintains that Machu Picchuwas Inca "llacta": a settlement built to control the economy of the conquered regions. It may also have been built as a prison for a select few who had committed heinous crimes against Inca society. Research conducted by scholars, such as John Rowe and Richard Burger, has convinced most archaeologists that rather than a defensive retreat, Machu Picchu was an estate of the Inca emperor, Pachacuti. In addition, Johan Reinhard presented evidence that the site was selected based on its position relative to sacred landscape features. One such example is its mountains, which are purported to be in alignment with key astronomical events.
Although the citadel is located only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Cusco, the Inca capital, it was never found and consequently not plundered and destroyed by the Spanish, as was the case with many other Inca sites. Over the centuries, the surrounding jungle grew over the site, and few knew of its existence. On July 24, 1911, Machu Picchu was brought to the attention of scholars by Hiram Bingham, an American historian then employed as a lecturer at Yale University. He was led there by locals who frequented the site. Bingham undertook archaeological studies and completed a survey of the area. Bingham coined the name "The Lost City of the Incas", which was the title of his first book. He never gave any credit to those who led him to Machu Picchu, mentioning only "local rumor" as his guide.
View of residential section of Machu Picchu in 2007.Bingham had been searching for the city of Vitcos, the last Inca refuge and spot of resistance during the Spanish conquest of Peru. In 1911, after years of previous trips and explorations around the zone, he was led to the citadel by Quechuans. These people were living in Machu Picchu, in the original Inca infrastructure. Even though most of the original inhabitants had died within a century of the city's construction, a small number of families survived so by the time the site was 'discovered' in 1911, there were still mummies (mostly women) in Machu Picchu and some families still living on the site. Bingham made several more trips and conducted excavations on the site through 1915. He wrote a number of books and articles about the discovery of Machu Picchu in his lifetime.
Simone Waisbard, a long-time researcher of Cusco, claims that Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizárraga left their names engraved on one of the rocks at Machu Picchu on July 14, 1901. This would mean that they 'discovered' it long before Bingham did in 1911. Likewise, in 1904, an engineer named Franklin supposedly spotted the ruins from a distant mountain. He told Thomas Paine, an English Plymouth Brethren Christian missionary living in the region, about the site, Paine's family members claim. In 1906, Paine and another fellow missionary named Stuart E McNairn (1867–1956) supposedly climbed up to the ruins.
In 1913, the site received significant publicity after the National Geographic Society devoted their entire April issue to Machu Picchu. In 1981 an area of 325.92 square kilometers surrounding Machu Picchu was declared a "Historical Sanctuary" of Peru. In addition to the ruins, this area includes a large portion of the regional landscape, rich with flora and fauna.
Llama and tourists at the guard house.Machu Picchu was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983 when it was described as "an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization". On July 7, 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World. As a result of environmental degradation resulting from the impacts of tourism, uncontrolled development in the nearby town of Aguas Calientes (including a poorly-sited tram to ease visitor access), and the construction of a bridge across the Vilcanota River in defiance of a court order and government protests (which would most likely bring even more tourists to the site), the World Monuments Fund placed Machu Picchu on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites in the world.
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