Machu Picchu First Had Another Name, Researchers Say

For decades, the awe-inspiring 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.

The name is on all the signs welcoming visitors to the settlement in the Andes, above the Urubamba River valley and a train ride from Cusco, the ancient Inca capital.

The Peruvian Ministry of Culture website has a page dedicated to its history which also offers links to tickets.

But the name of the city, built by the Incas in the 15th century, is technically Huayna Picchuor “New Mountain,” according to researchers who pored over documents dating back to the 16th century to verify the original nickname.

“The results uniformly suggest that the Inca city was originally called Picchu, or more likely Huayna Picchu,” wrote Donato Amado Gonzales, a historian at the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, and Brian S. Bauer, an anthropologist at the University. from Illinois to Chicago. in an article published online in August in Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archeology.

Their findings were announced last month by the university.

The findings 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 continues to be, a dynamic place with a changing history.”


(AP Photo/Karel Navarro, File)

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, New York Times he credited Bingham with discovering a “city lost in the clouds”.

“He has just announced that he had the great good fortune to discover an entire city,” the article states, adding that it was “a place of splendid palaces and temples and dark walls of pregnant”.

“He calls it Machu Picchu,” the newspaper reported.

Two families lived next to the site when Bingham first arrived, and documents showed other people knew of the ruins before he visited.

But the professor was the one who spoke of the city to the rest of the world, according to historians.

Bingham apparently heard the name Machu Picchu from Melchor Arteaga, a sharecropper who lived deep in the valley and served as Bingham’s guide on his travels to the ruins, according to the article.

Bingham had also heard it called Huayna Picchu, the paper’s co-writer Amado Gonzales said in an interview.

Ignacio Ferro, the son of a landowner near the ruins, told Bingham that Huayna Picchu was the name of the ruined town.

And there were 19th century documents, including a map of the area, showing the name.

But for unknown reasons, Bingham accepted Arteaga’s request.

“He accepted what he was told at the time,” Amado Gonzales said.

Yet apparently Bingham I was not convinced have the right name.

In 1922 he wrote an article warning that other documents might appear showing that the town’s name was not Machu Picchu, Amado Gonzales said.

Bauer said he and Amado Gonzales studied these documents independently for at least 10 years, looking at the evidence that the town’s original name was Huayna Picchu.

“Realizing that we were both working on the same topic, we decided to combine our database,” Bauer said in an email.

Their findings 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 land records held in regional, national and Spanish archives.

An “extraordinary document” of 1588 he described concerns of Spanish invaders who feared natives in the area were planning to leave Cusco and “reoccupy” a site they named Huayna Picchu, according to the researchers’ paper.

The findings come as no surprise, said Bruce Mannheim, a University of Michigan anthropology professor who was not involved in the research but knows the two authors and who once taught Bauer.

“They are two very distinguished, leading scholars who are very thorough researchers,” Mannheim said.

“I take everything you write seriously.”

Anthropologists and historians who have studied documents about the area have found writings that reveal the town’s original name, he said.

But scholars had not written about the name nor dwelt on the matter before.

“There is no percentage in the tour operator’s correction,” Mannheim said.

“We would effectively be monitoring other people’s use of language and nobody really 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 people, is under the jurisdiction of Huayna Picchu,” he said.

But Machu Picchu is not a term invented by Bingham:

is the Quechua name for the tallest mountain peak that flanks the ancient site to the north.

Huayna Picchu is the name of the smallest peak to the south.

There were Inca archaeological remains at the top of Machu Picchu, and 19th-century documents indicate that locals also called the city Machu Picchu, Amado Gonzales said.

In other words, tour operators don’t have to start correcting themselves.

“There is no need to change the name,” Amado Gonzales said.

Machu Picchu’s name is so ingrained in the public and is such an important 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, it doesn’t make much of a difference,” he said.

“Both are native names. It’s not like there’s been a change between a Spanish name and an indigenous name.”

The Peruvian government and the people of the country are “very attached” to the name of Machu Picchu as a “national symbol and archaeological symbol”, said Sobrevilla Perea.

“It’s one of the seven wonders of the world,” he said.

“It’s something that we Peruvians are proud of.”

circa 2022 The New York Times Society

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