Thursday, January 16, 2014

Hiram Bingham and the Scientific Discovery of Machu Picchu

When Hiram Bingham III organized the Yale Peruvian Expedition of 1911, he had four objectives: to scale Mount Coropuna, to conduct a geolographic survey along the 73rd meridian, to explore Lake Parinococha, and to discover Vilcabamba "the lost city of the Inca".

These ambitious goals could be contemplated because of financing from his family and Yale classmates, assistance from US companies and political support from the American and Peru governments.  At the behest of Peru's president, Hiram Bingham and his staff were provided with a military escort and with letters of introduction that ensured cooperation in Cusco and in the small villages of the Urabamba River.

Of equal importance, a recently constructed road through the dense montane forest gave him access to a zone that had been rarely visited.

Bingham's "scientific discovery of Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911 owed much to the knowledge and assistance of rural Peruvians.  Following up on information received in Cusco, Bingham sought out Melchor Arteaga, a tavern owner and farmer who lived along the Urabamba River two thousand feet below the archaeological site.  Arteaga had visited the Inca ruins and he led Hiram Bingham across the river and up the steep slopes.

He entrusted the American explorer to the son of farmers cultivating the land around the ruins and it was this child that guided Hiram Bingham and Sergeant Carrasco to the Inca royal estate of Machu Picchu.

Although Machu Picchu was unknown to the international scholarly community, Bingham was not the first outsider to visit the site.  As evidenced by a modern inscription "Augustin Lizarraga 1902" on the granite walls.  Bingham's scientific discovery of Machu Picchu, after less than a week of archaeological explorations, has profoundly influenced the world's appreciation of Inca civilization and its accomplishments.

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