Machu Picchu was abandoned, possibly less than a hundred years after the city was built. Not because it was attacked by enemies or hit by a devastating natural phenomenon. Archaeologists have found bones of about two hundred workers, potsherds, few jewelry among others a gold bracelet and the ruins themselves, so Machu Picchu has apparently been decamped systematically in fairly order.
One hypothesis is that the small pox epidemic, the infectious virus that the Spaniards brought as blind passenger on the ships, and which cost thousands and thousands of Indians life, also reached the secret city, infecting the elite, after which the city was evacuated when it was seen that people inexplicably succumbed.
The hidden city became the forgotten city.
Here, Pachacútec had been on top of his power. Long time later someone else will be at the top here: US-American Hiram Bingham, assistant professor, ie. teaching assistant, climbs up here on July 24, 1911 and sees what no Spanish conquerors had seen. 400 years after the city had been abandoned, he walks around and subsequent he makes Machu Picchu and himself world famous.
But Hiram Bingham does not come up here as the first in modern times!
In 1865, Italian geographer Antonio Raimondi came stumbling close to Machu Picchu during his exploration of the Urubamba Valley. In 1888 his map is printed with a cross at a mountain where he has written Machu Picchu.
In 1874 Herman Göhring – no not that Göhring we sometimes talk about in Europe, but a mining engineer in the service of the Peruvian state who will find a shorter way from the Amazon through the Andes to the Pacific – draws a map which is printed in a book in 1877. He indicates the mountains Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, but he names them inversely by what we do today.
The origins of the names are also lost in the mists. Although the word Picchu sounds Indian, it is not in the oldest Spanish-Quechua dictionaries; perhaps it is a distortion of the Spanish pico. (Kauffmann-Doig 2006:14) Machu Picchu is sometimes translated to The Old Mountain, and Huayna Picchu to The Young Mountain; the place names may be translated into The Old Wisdom and The Young Wisdom.
In his book, Göhring describes how he and Baltasar de la Torre, his colleague, in 1872 had attempted to cross the treacherous rivers of the area, but Baltasar had fallen in another way. He had been assaulted and killed by 34 arrows shot by rainforest Indians, after which Göhring fled. In the book he mentions three Inca forts: Chuquillusca, Torontoy and Picchu. Göhrings map is assumed to be the oldest printed statement of Machu Picchu.
In 1876-77, the Austrian/French Inca researcher Charles Wiener travels in Peru and Bolivia, and in 1880 he publishes Perou et Bolivie, Peru and Bolivia, with maps, where he places the names Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu with amazing precision. However, he had not seen the ruins.
Already in 1867, a German, Augusto R. Berns, purchased a stretch of fifteen miles along Vilcanota and established a sawmill where Aguas Calientes is today. Here, ties to the railway lines that were to connect Peru, should be sawed. The twenty-five families who lived in Berns area worked for him.
In 1881, Berns stopped to saw railway ties. In 1887 he instead sends out a pamphlet, Prospecto de la Compañia Anonima Exploradora de las ‘Huacas del Inga’, Prospectus for the Anonymous Society for the Investigation of ‘Incas Sacred Places’, where he also mentions Torontoy.
Berns has wandered in the high rainforest and speculated whether any will participate. I make by hand after a good yellow gumi gusty color from Torontoy. This is a small work of some hours and will make all falling in the eye at once. Berns mentions the lost mines of the Incas; however, the areas mountains consist of granite, and in them there are no gold mines! The gold he wants to get hold of must have been carried to the spot: gold treasures of the Incas.
Berns copyrights his waybill which he – possibly his late partner, the US-American ‘Poker Harry’ Singer – has drawn over the area, so no one without Berns permission can reproduce it. Machu Picchu is located 2 miles from his camp. The plan is to establish a company that will empty the sacred places of the Incas for gold; he describes the places as rustic buildings and underground structures that had been closed with stones. Berns emphasizes that the project is supported by the Government of Peru as well as by several prominent Cusco citizens and antique collectors. He himself must be the companys chairman. Medical professor in Lima and the great collector of antique Andes ceramics José M. Macedo will be deputy chairman. And member of the board must be Ricardo Palma, director of the National Library of Peru.
Berns repeatedly refers to the Government of Peru, whereby he must have meant President Andrés Avelino Cáceres, who has ordered the National Library Director to support the former sawmill owner in his exploration. On June 16, 1887, Cáceres signs on his presidential letterhead Berns permission to plunder Incatombs.
This letter pops up in Hiram Binghams surviving papers, and it casts light on the Peruvian authorities relationship to relics from the past, but it also reveals that Bingham had a document about Machu Picchu written before he himself found the place. Obviously, fatally is that Perus President allows the plunder.
The Peruvian Government demands ten percent of the value of gold and silver and jewel treasures, while everything else of copper, clay, wood, stone, and others will be allotted to the one who finds it, and it may be exported without taxes. It’s a nice detail, because board member Macedo has a few years earlier sent his big collection of ceramics to Paris and sold it to a museum in Berlin. However, Berns is ordered to pay for the official who is to ensure that the state gets its percentages.
There is no evidence that Augusto R. Berns found Machu Picchu.
July 14, 1902, Agustin Lizárraga, a mule driver, arrives at Machu Picchu. With a piece of charcoal he writes his name and year in a niche on the construction that today is called The Temple of the Three Window.
Lizárraga is accompanied by two workers, Gabino Sanchez and Enrique Palma, who are responsible for some bridges over Vilcanota.
Apart from writing his name on the rock, Lizárraga writes nothing about Machu Picchu, but it’s possible that he returned as a guide for 12 guests two years later. Machu Picchus first tourists!
In 1904, archaeologist Carlos Cisneros publishes an overview of the known archaeological sites in Peru. In connection with the Cusco area, he mentions that there are a number of Inca villages in the Urubamba Valley, which are still not investigated. One of these he calls Huaina-Piccho.
In 1910, the diligent publisher of Inca sources – at that time, eighty years old Sir Clements Robert Markham in the Royal Geographic Graphical Journal publishes a map stating Cerro Machu Pichu; the information refers to the mountain and not to the Incacity.
Now I reach to Hiram Bingham, a 33-year-old part-time teaching assistant in South American colonial history at Yale University.
(pp. 243-246 in volume 2, reproduced without notes and illustrations):
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO AZTECS AND INCAS: MYTHS AND STORIES FROM MEXICO AND PERU. Edited, translated, retold and commented by Mikael Witte. Volume 1 + Volume 2
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