Machu Picchu’s Name Might Be Wrong, as Study Second-Guesses Moniker of Famed UNESCO Site

Machu Picchu, Peru - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.03.2022
Machu Picchu, one of the world’s best-known archaeological sites, is a 15th-century Inca citadel located on a 2,430-metre mountain ridge in southern Peru. It has been studied for decades, while attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.
The ancient pre-Columbian city we know as “Machu Picchu” may have been called differently by the Inca people, claim a Peruvian historian and US archaeologist. A new analysis of historical documents carried out by Donato Amado Gonzales of Peru’s ministry of culture and Brian Bauer from the University of Illinois, Chicago, suggests it should be probably called “Huayna Picchu.”
In their paper, published by Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology, they reveal how after scrutinizing placenames on 19th-century maps, information in 17th-century documents and the original field notes of the US explorer Hiram Bingham they arrived at the conclusion that none of the aforementioned sources refers to the site as Machu Picchu.

“Machu Picchu” A Misnomer?

The site that most recent archaeologists believe was once an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti was likely occupied from 1420-1530 AD.
On 24 July 1911, Yale University history lecturer Hiram Bingham III climbed the top of a mountain ridge in Peru and encountered the extraordinary ruins.
Bingham is said to have studied old charts and texts, sure that there was an Incan capital city in the Andes that had never been found by Spanish invaders. He climbed the Machu Picchu peak after being finally tipped off by a local muleteer.
© Flickr / travel photographyView of the Machu Picchu ruins from a terrace, Peru
View of the Machu Picchu ruins from a terrace, Peru - Sputnik International, 1920, 24.03.2022
View of the Machu Picchu ruins from a terrace, Peru
Now, Gonzales and Bauer say their findings suggest that at the time of their “rediscovery,” the ruins, offering a maze of houses, temples, palaces, and staircases, all hewn from white granite and dominated by a great granite sundial, were little known even among those who lived in Peru’s Cusco region.
“We began with the uncertainty of the name of the ruins when Bingham first visited them and then reviewed several maps and atlases printed before Bingham’s visit to the ruins. There is significant data which suggest that the Inca city actually was called Picchu or more likely, Huayna Picchu,” said Bauer.
The researchers felt they were on the right track after they discovered mention of the ruins of an Inca town called Huayna Picchu in a 1904 atlas, published seven years before Bingham arrived in Peru.
Hiram Bingham, according to the new study, learnt of ruins called Huayna Picchu along the Urubamba River in 1911. That was before he left Cusco in his crusade to find the site. Bingham’s journals recall a conversation with Adolfo Quevedo, a leader of a nearby town, who referred to the ruins as “Huayna Picchu.”
Furthermore, a local farmer is believed to have told Bingham there were some ruins called 'Huayna Picchu' nearby, as well as other ruins on the summit of Machu Picchu mountain. The latter were discovered to be much smaller than the ones located closer to Huayna Picchu.
“From his field notes and his letter, it appears that in calling the ruined city Machu Picchu, Bingham was following the information provided by Melchor Arteaga… Since Mr. Arteaga lived at the base of the mountain and had visited the ruins before, and even climbed Huayna Picchu, there was no reason for Bingham to question the name, even though in an earlier conversation, held in the town of Urubamba, the ruins were specifically called Huayna Picchu," write the authors.
The Machu Picchu archeological site is devoid of tourists while it's closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in the department of Cusco, Peru, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Currently open to maintenance workers only, the world-renown Incan citadel of Machu Picchu will reopen to the public on Nov. 1. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia) - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.11.2020
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According to Bauer, the original name of the Inca city is more than hinted at in accounts written by Spanish conquerors after they seized Cusco in the late 16th century.
“We end with a stunning, late 16th-century account when the Indigenous people of the region were considering returning to reoccupy the site, which they called Huayna Picchu,” he said, adding:
“Meanwhile, there is absolutely no reference to a city called 'Machu Picchu'.”
The authors of the analysis concluded that "while Bingham suggested that the name of the fantastic ruins that he brought to the world's attention was 'lost in the shadows of the past' it is of some comfort that continued research is beginning to pierce those shadows and provide insights into the name and history of that city."
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