Special for New York Times Infobae.
For decades, the stunning ruins that have drawn hundreds of thousands of tourists to Peru each year have been called Machu Picchu, or “old mountain” in Quechua, the language of the Incas spoken by millions today.
This name appears on all the signs welcoming visitors to the Andean settlement, above the valley of the Urubamba River, and a train ride from Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital. Peru’s Ministry of Culture website has a page dedicated to its history where there is also a link to buy tickets.
However, the name of the city, built by the Incas in the 15th century, is technically Huayna Picchu, or “New Mountain,” according to researchers who reviewed 16th-century documents to verify the original nickname.
“The results suggest that the Inca city was originally called Picchu, or rather Huayna Picchu,” wrote Donato Amado Gonzales, a historian at the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, and Brian S. Bauer, an anthropologist at the University of Peru. ‘Illinois to Chicago. article published online in August in the journal Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology.
Last month, the university announced its findings.
These continue to “dispel the myth that Machu Picchu was an eternal lost city,” said Mark Rice, a history professor at Baruch College, who was not involved in the research. “Like most of the Andes, the site was, and still is, a dynamic place with a changing history.”
The ruins became widely known as Machu Picchu after 1911, when Yale University professor Hiram Bingham began visiting the area and publishing accounts of his travels. In 1913, The New York Times credited Bingham with discovering a “city lost in the clouds”.
“Bingham has just announced that he had the great good fortune to discover an entire city,” the article said, adding that it was “a place of splendid palaces and temples and city walls. sinister”.
“He calls it Machu Picchu,” the newspaper reported.
Two families lived next to the site when Bingham first arrived, and documents show other people had seen the ruins before he visited, but according to historians it was the professor who told the town to the rest of the world.
Apparently Bingham heard the name Machu Picchu from Melchor Arteaga, a peasant who lived deep in the valley and who, according to the article, was Bingham’s guide on his travels to the ruins.
The article’s co-author, Amado Gonzales, said in an interview that Bingham had also heard it referred to as Huayna Picchu.
Ignacio Ferro, the son of a landowner who lives near the ruins, told Bingham that Huayna Picchu was the name of the ruined town and that there were 19th century documents, including a map of the area. , which indicated the name.
However, for unknown reasons, Bingham opted in to Arteaga’s request.
“He accepted what they told him at the time,” Amado González said.
Even so, it seems Bingham wasn’t convinced he had the correct name. In 1922 he wrote an article in which he warned that other documents could appear which would show that the name of the city was not Machu Picchu, pointed out Amado Gonzales.
Bauer said he and Amado Gonzales have independently analyzed these documents for at least 10 years, reviewing evidence that the town’s original name was Huayna Picchu.
“Realizing that we were both working on the same topic, we decided to merge our database,” Bauer recounted in an email.
Their conclusions are based on Bingham’s notes and other documents related to his work at the site, as well as early maps and atlases describing the area and field documents, which were held in regional, national and Spanish archives. .
According to the researchers’ paper, an “extraordinary document” from 1588 laid out the concerns of the Spanish invaders, who feared that the region’s natives were planning to abandon Cuzco and “reoccupy” a site they called Huayna Picchu.
The findings come as no surprise, said Bruce Mannheim, a professor of anthropology at the University of Michigan, who was not involved in the research but knows the two authors and was formerly Professor Bauer.
“They are two very distinguished and exceptional scholars who are very attentive researchers,” Mannheim said. “I take everything you write seriously.”
Mannheim pointed out that anthropologists and historians who have studied documents about the area have found writings that reveal the city’s original name, but scholars have written nothing about the name or pressed the issue.
“There is nothing to be gained by correcting tour operators,” Mannheim said. “In fact, we would be controlling other people’s use of the language and nobody wants to do that.”
Still, it’s good to document the original name in an academic record, he said.
Amado Gonzales said it would be an “exaggeration” to say it was a mistake to call the city Machu Picchu all those years ago.
“The city, the Inca city, is under the jurisdiction of Huayna Picchu,” he said.
However, Machu Picchu is not a term coined by Bingham: it is the Quechua name for the tallest mountain peak that flanks the ancient site to the south. Huayna Picchu is the name of the smallest peak to the north.
According to Amado Gonzales, there were Inca archaeological remains at the top of Machu Picchu, and 19th century documents indicate that locals also called the city Machu Picchu.
In other words, tour operators don’t have to start correcting themselves.
“There is no need to change the name,” said Amado Gonzales.
Machu Picchu’s name is so ingrained in the public and part of Peru’s identity that it is unlikely to be replaced, said Natalia Sobrevilla Perea, professor of Latin American history at the University of Kent.
“In a sense, there’s not that much of a difference,” he said. “Both are native names. It is not that a Spanish name has been changed to an indigenous name.
The Peruvian government and people of the country are “very attached” to the name of Machu Picchu as a “national and archaeological symbol”, said Sobrevilla Perea.
“It is one of the seven wonders of the world,” he concluded. “It’s something Peruvians are very proud of.”