Machu Picchu (Pérou) : the City That Was Never Lost


Machu Picchu, the City That Was Never Lost

David Blanco Bonilla

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Although U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham achieved worldwide fame for having “discovered” the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, all the historical evidence points to the fact that the famous archaeological site had never been lost.


Bingham mounted three expeditions – in 1911, 1912 and 1915 – to Machu Picchu, which he dubbed “the lost city of the Incas,” but amid his adventures he sidestepped historical information that was found and even failed to mention it to important experts in the area, among them one of his compatriots.

This person was Albert Giesecke, a 29-year-old U.S. academic who was the dean of the Universidad San Antonio Abad in Cuzco and gave him the references and even the name of Melchor Arteaga, the peasant who later guided Bingham to the famous ruins on July 24, 1911.

But before Bingham, who is thought to be the inspiration for “Indiana Jones,” other people visited the site, although always in search of treasure, mineral deposits or river routes to the Amazon.

The most famous of all of them was Cuzco landowner Agustin Lizarraga, who arrived at the ruins nine years before Bingham and even wrote on the wall of the Three Windows in Spanish “A. Lizarraga, July 14, 1902.”

Lizarraga carried out the first efforts to clean up the ruins along with Justo A. Ochoa, Gabino Sanchez and Enrique Palma, but he drowned in the Vilcanota River in February 1912.

Even before Lizarraga, however, there existed 19th century maps on which Machu Picchu was marked and, going back even further, the first indications of the site date back to 1565, when in the writings of Spaniard Diego Rodriguez de Figueroa it appears bearing the name “Pijchu.”

ARC 101  :  Les grandes découvertes archéologiques

          ARC 102  :  Histoire de l’Archéologie / The history of Archaeology

Much of this information was presented in 2003 by Peruvian historian Mariana Mould de Pease in her book “Machu Picchu and the Code of Ethics of the American Anthropological Society.”

She provided maps that prove that the Inca citadel had been known and – apparently – looted in the 19th century by German adventurer August Berns.

In addition, the historian revealed that Bingham had among his papers the resolution authorizing the presence of Berns at the historic site, and she also said that British historian Clements Markham, who became president of the Royal Geographical Society in London, also had maps showing the location of Machu Picchu.

Peruvian historian Carlos Carcelen says, meanwhile, that Berns settled in the Cuzco region and founded a lumber and mining company in the late 1880s and then set about looting the artifacts he uncovered at Machu Picchu with the knowledge of the government.

Mould also noted the existence of other maps dated in 1870 and 1874 and said that they constitute “irrefutable proof that Machu Picchu was completely integrated into republican Peru.”

With the passage of a century, and with the full acknowledgment of the archaeological world, the consensus exists that Bingham was not the discoverer of the site, although he was certainly the first person to take note of the historical and cultural significance of the citadel, now held to be one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. EFE