Category Archives: PERU

Archaeologists Find Massive Underground World Belonging To A Long Lost Civilization In Peru

Archaeologists Find Massive Underground World Belonging To A Long Lost Civilization In Peru

Researchers in Peru have discovered a complex underground world belonging to the ancient Chavín culture that has been identified as burial chambers that date back thousands of years.

The culture developed in the northern Andean highlands of Peru between 1,300 and 550 BC. The Chavín extended its influence to other civilizations along the coast.

The Ancient Chavin civilization developed advanced knowledge not only in metallurgy, but in soldering, and temperature control. The ancient Chavin used early techniques to develop refined gold work.

Not, researchers have discovered galleries, ceramics and even a place where this civilization carried out burials, located beneath the surface. They say it’s the most important archaeological discovery made in the last 50 years.

Archaeologists Find Massive Underground World Belonging To A Long Lost Civilization In Peru
Seen in this image are the new underground galleries that have been found containing the first human burials of the Chavin period.

Since June of 2018, a team of archaeologists has unearthed three new galleries in an area adjacent to the circular plaza of Chavín. In the place, they have found remarkable pieces of ceramics, utensils and intact human burials.

According to an American anthropologist and archaeologist John Rick, in charge of the Archaeological and Conservation Research Program of Chavín, the three discovered galleries come from the late period of this civilization that developed between 1,300 and 550 BC.

“What these galleries show is that Chavín has a much larger underground world than we think,” said Rick.

The Ministry of Culture estimates that to date only 15% of the area has been explored.

Inside one of these underground galleries, archaeologists discovered artefacts that belonged to the later Huaraz culture.

These successive occupations, found at different levels in the archaeological complex demonstrate the cultural and religious importance that Chavin had in the central highlands for centuries.

The project’s specialists used small robots with built-in micro-cameras to carry out the explorations. These machines – designed on-site by engineers from Stanford University – entered very small areas and discovered cavities in the Chavin labyrinths, where pottery was preserved.

Chavin de Huantar was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. So far 35 interconnected underground passageways have been found at the site, Peru’s culture ministry said.

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children

Two Inca children slated for ritual sacrifice more than 500 years ago quaffed a special soothing concoction that has gone undetected until now. Those young victims, most likely a girl and a boy roughly 4 to 8 years old, drank a liquid that may have lightened their moods and calmed their nerves in the days or weeks before they were ceremonially killed and buried on Peru’s Ampato mountain, a new study suggests.

Possible Traces of Calming Drug Found in Sacrificed Inca Children
Previously excavated bodies of two ritually sacrificed Inca children, including this girl still wearing a ceremonial headdress, have yielded chemical clues to a beverage that may have been used to calm them in the days or weeks before being killed.

The youngsters’ bodies contained chemical remnants from one of the primary ingredients of ayahuasca, a liquid concoction known for its hallucinogenic effects, say bioarchaeologist Dagmara Socha of the University of Warsaw, Poland, and her colleagues (SN: 5/6/19). Analyses focused on hair from the girl’s naturally mummified body and fingernails from the boy’s partially mummified remains.

While no molecular signs of ayahuasca’s strong hallucinogens appeared in those remains, the team did find traces of harmine and harmaline, chemical products of Banisteriopsis caapi vines, Socha’s group reports in the June Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. In ayahuasca, B. caapi amplifies the strength of other more hallucinogenic ingredients.

Recent investigations with rodents suggest that solutions containing harmine affect the brain much as some antidepressant drugs do. “This is the first [evidence] that B. caapi could have been used in the past for its antidepressant properties,” Socha says.

While research on whether harmine can lessen depression or anxiety in people is in its infancy, archaeologist Christine VanPool of the University of Missouri, Columbia, thinks it’s possible that the ingredient was used on purpose.

Spanish documents written after the fall of the Inca empire say that alcohol was used to calm those about to be sacrificed, so other brews may have been used too, speculates VanPool, who was not part of Socha’s team.

“I tentatively say yes, the Inca understood that B. caapi reduced anxiety in sacrificial victims,” she says.

Spanish chroniclers may have mistakenly assumed that Inca sacrifice victims drank a popular corn beer known as chicha rather than a B. caapi beverage, Socha suspects.

No evidence of alcohol appeared in molecular analyses of the Ampato mountain children. But alcohol consumed just before being sacrificed would have gone undetected in the researchers’ tests.

Trace evidence did also indicate that both children had chewed coca leaves in the weeks leading up to their deaths.

Spanish written accounts described the widespread use of coca leaves during Inca rites of passage. Those events included ritual sacrifices of children and young women, who were believed to become envoys to various local gods after death.

The grave of an Inca boy who was ritually sacrificed in the Andes more than 500 years ago included valuable items, such as this silver llama figurine, signifying his status as an envoy to local deities.

The sacrificed children were found during a 1995 expedition near the summit of Ampato (SN: 11/11/95). It would have taken at least two weeks and possibly several months for the pair of Inca children to complete a pilgrimage from wherever their homes were located to the capital city of Cuzco for official ceremonies and then to Ampato mountain, Socha says.

Giving those kids a calming B. caapi drink as well as coca leaves to chew doesn’t surprise archaeologist Lidio Valdez of the University of Calgary, who did not participate in the new study.

Children may not have understood that they were going to die, but they had to endure the rigors and loneliness of a long trip while separated from their families, he says.  

Valdez suspects Ampato mountain was originally called Qampato, a word meaning toad in the Inca language. Andean societies such as the Inca associated toads with water or rain. “The mountain was also likely linked with water or rain and the children perhaps sacrificed to ask the mountain gods to send water,” he says.

Meet The Inca Ice Maiden, Perhaps The Best-Preserved Mummy In Human History

Meet The Inca Ice Maiden, Perhaps The Best-Preserved Mummy In Human History

The must-see attraction for visitors to Museo Santuarios Andinos (Museum of Andean Sanctuaries) in Arequipa, Peru is without a doubt the Mummy Juanita, one of the world’s best-preserved corpses.

Her full head of dark hair is still intact and the skin on her hands and arms, discolouration aside, shows almost no decay. The mummy’s discoverer, Johan Reinhard, even made note of just how perfectly the mummy’s skin had been preserved, “down to visible hairs.”

As peaceful as she looks — a far cry from some of the more ghastly mummies that researchers have discovered — Juanita’s life was a short one that ended with her being sacrificed to the Inca gods.

Meet The Inca Ice Maiden, Perhaps The Best-Preserved Mummy In Human History
Mummy Juanita is on display at the Museum of the Nation in Lima, Peru. March 1999.

Scientists estimate that Juanita was between 12 and 15 years old when she died as part of capacocha, a sacrificial rite among the Inca that involved the deaths of children.

Translated as “royal obligation,” capacocha was the Inca’s attempt at ensuring that the best and healthiest among them were sacrificed to appease the gods, often as a way to stop a natural disaster or ensure a healthy harvest. Considering that Juanita’s body was discovered atop Ampato, a volcano in the Andes, her sacrifice very likely played into the Inca’s mountain worship.

Preparation For Death

Juanita’s life prior to her selection for human sacrifice probably wasn’t all that unusual. Her days leading up to her death, however, were very different from the lifestyle of a typical Inca girl. Scientists were able to use DNA from Juanita’s well-preserved hair to create a timeline of those days and deduce what her diet was like before capacocha.

Markers in her hair indicate that she was selected for sacrifice about a year before her actual death and switched from a standard Inca diet of potatoes and vegetables to the more elite foods of animal protein and maze, along with large quantities of coca and alcohol.

As Andrew Wilson, a forensic and archaeological expert, explained to National Geographic, the final six to eight weeks of life of Inca child sacrifices were one of a very intoxicated psychological state altered by the chemical reaction of coca and chicha alcohol.

Thus archaeologists believe that upon Juanita’s death, she was likely in a very docile and relaxed state. While the Incas would eventually perfect this drug mixture — which, coupled with the mountainous high altitudes, would cause the child sacrifices to fall into a permanent sleep — Juanita wasn’t so lucky.

Momia Juanita

Radiologist Elliot Fishman would discover that Juanita’s death was brought about by a massive haemorrhage from a club blow to the head. Fishman concluded that her injuries were “typical of someone who has been hit by a baseball bat.” After the death blow, her skull swelled with blood, pushing her brain to the side. Had blunt trauma to the head not occurred, her brain would have dried symmetrically in the centre of her skull.

Juanita’s Discovery

After her death, sometime between 1450 and 1480, Juanita would sit alone in the mountains until she was uncovered in September 1995 by anthropologist Johan Reinhard and his Peruvian climbing partner, Miguel Zárate.

If it weren’t for volcanic activity, it’s possible that the mummified young girl would have continued to sit on the frozen mountain top for centuries to come. But because of the volcanic activity warming the snow though, Mt. Ampato’s snowcap began to melt, pushing the wrapped mummy and her burial site down the mountain.

Reinhard and Zárate discovered the small bundled mummy inside a crater on the mountain, along with numerous burial items including pottery, shells, and small figurines.

The thin, cold air 20,000-feet up near the summit of Mt. Ampato had left the mummy incredibly intact. “The doctors have been shaking their heads and saying [the mummies] sure don’t look 500 years old [but] could have died a few weeks ago,” Reinhard recalled in a 1999 interview.

The discovery of such a well-preserved mummy instantly created a surge of interest throughout the scientific community. Reinhard would return to the mountain top a month later with a full team and find two more mummified children, this time a boy and a girl.

Reports from a Spanish soldier who witnessed sacrifices of children in pairs suggest that the boy and girl might have been buried as “companion sacrifices” for Mummy Juanita.

All in all, experts estimate that there may be hundreds of Inca children mummified in the mountain peaks of the Andes still waiting to be discovered.

Caral: The Oldest Civilization in the Americas

Caral: The Oldest Civilization in the Americas

Caral (also referred to as Caral-Supe) is a stunning ancient city located in the Supe Valley of Peru. Today travellers can visit the Caral Ruins, which are believed to be the remains of one of the oldest cities in the Americas.

Caral: The Oldest Civilization in the Americas
Caral is the oldest civilization in the Americas.

Rewind time and the city of Caral was once a thriving metropolis for its local residents around the same time that the Egyptian pyramids were being built! Interestingly, Caral remains relatively unknown on an international level.

The ancient city of Caral

Caral: A brief history

The Caral Ruins have located about 200 km (125 miles) north of Lima in Peru. Paul Kosok, American history and government professor were one of the first to study Caral in 1948. At the time, his findings were largely ignored due to the fact that he didn’t find any typical and sought after Andean artefacts on site. Peruvian anthropologist and archaeologist, Ruth Shady, later took over the exploration of this desert city of pyramids.

The evidence collected suggests that Caral was inhabited some 5,000 years ago, between 2600 and 2000 BCE (Before the Common Era, or Before Christ). For comparative purposes, the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt was built around 2600 BCE. 

The remains of Caral are well preserved

Excavators described Caral as the oldest American urban centre, but this claim to fame was later challenged when older ancient sites were found close by. Caral is however the largest known ancient city in the Andean region. Researchers believe that the city may have been an urban design model that was later adopted by various Andean civilizations over the course of the next millennia. In this respect, the discovery of Caral answers questions about the development of other early cities built after Caral and the origins of civilization in the Andes.

The size of Caral – think BIG

Caral is approximately 60 hectares in size and was home to 3,000 inhabitants. This makes Caral one of the biggest Norte Chico sites: the Norte Chico civilization was a complex pre-Colombian society encompassing over 30 population centres in what is now known as the Norte Chico region of the north-central Peruvian coast.

Caral is only one of a total of 19 settlements found in the Supe Valley. The remains of the Caral urban complex spreads out more than 150 acres (607,000 ms) and include residential buildings, temples and plazas. The most stunning findings at Caral include the Main Pyramid, the Amphitheater Pyramid, and the residential Quarters of the Elite. The main pyramid at Caral is 60 ft (18 m) tall and almost as large as 4 football fields! Ruth Shady believes that Caral was the main focus of the civilization living in the Supe Valley.

Stairs leading up to a temple excavated at Caral

What sets Caral apart?

What sets Caral apart is not just its size, but also its age. Carbon dating of various organic materials found throughout the site indicates that the pyramids are approximately 5,000 years old!

These visitors admire the beautiful amphitheatre at Caral

Interestingly, the people that lived in Caral were dedicated to buildings with civic intensity, and dedication to construction improvements and additions, and the city saw periods of great change. They were always making and remaking the stone-and-mortar walls, plazas, and residences; building new floors; painting and repainting surfaces; breaking down walls, and making new ones. They were truly one of the first civilizations that we’re focused on making home improvements.

The artefacts: Love, not war

No weapons, battlements or mutilated bodies were found during the Caral excavations. This crucial evidence lead anthropologist Ruth Shady’s research to suggest that this was a peaceful society based on commerce and pleasure.

When excavating one of the pyramids, flutes made from pelican and condor bones were found along with cornetts made from llama and deer bones. The stunning remains of a child found wrapped and buried with a stone bead necklace were also discovered.

Another artefact found at Caral was a quipu. The quipu is a record-keeping system in which knots are tied on a rope. According to Gary Urton, a quipu was used in a binary manner, to record both phonological and logographic data. The Incas later used and perfected this system, providing further proof that the Caral civilization culture impacted the Inca Empire.

An Inca quipu that is on display in Lima’s Larco Museum

The fabled missing link

For many decades, archaeologists have searched for a missing link in archaeology or a “mother city”- a city that could answer questions about why and how humans became civilized. Researchers have long looked for the answer to this question in other parts of the world, such as in Egypt, China, India, and Mesopotamia (Iran). No one expected that the first signs of city life could be found in a Peruvian desert.

For many years historians believed that the fear of war was perhaps a primary motivator for people to build cities and form complex societies to protect themselves against threats. Caral however has no traces of warfare or weapons, yet the city became a thriving metropolis. This finding challenges modern ideas of the origins of cities as based on conflict.

A detailed map of Caral

Ruth Shady explained that Caral was home to a gentle society: “This great civilization was based on trade in cotton. Caral made the cotton for the nets, which were sold to the fishermen living near the coast. Caral became a booming trading centre and the trade spread.”

Caral was built on the basis of trade, not bloodshed. Warfare actually emerged way later in history. And this is what the finding of Caral as a “mother city” indicates: civilizations are not born in conflict – they are born in peace. It is time to re-think the emergence of civilization!

After almost 10 years of excavation, the great proportions of this grand site are now emerging in Caral, but much work remains to be done. When standing in the main plaza with pyramids surrounding you on every side, the power of a long-lost ancient city is felt. Discoveries made in the area continue to help answer the question: how and why did humans become civilized?

1,000 Years Ago, Patients Survived Brain Surgery, But They Had To Live With Huge Holes in Their Heads

1,000 Years Ago, Patients Survived Brain Surgery, But They Had To Live With Huge Holes in Their Heads

Healers in Peru carried out cranial surgery more than a thousand years ago to treat a host of conditions – often successfully. Without the benefits of a sterile operating theatre, state-of-the-art surgical instruments, anaesthetic and pain medication, the ancient people of the South American country undertook a surgical procedure that involves removing a section of the skull using a hand drill or a scraping tool – a practice called preparation. It was used to treat a variety of ailments, mainly head injuries but even, bizarrely, a broken heart.

Gruesome: Some 900 years ago, Peruvian healers used hand drills to make dozens of small holes in a patient’s skull

Excavating burial caves in the south-central Andean province of Andahuaylas in Peru, University of California bioarchaeologist Danielle Kurin and her research team unearthed the remains of 32 individuals that date back to the Late Intermediate Period (around AD 1000-1250).

Among them, 45 separate trepanation procedures were in evidence.

‘When you get a knock on the head that causes your brain to swell dangerously, or you have some kind of neurological, spiritual or psychosomatic illness, drilling a hole in the head becomes a reasonable thing to do,’ said Kurin, a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at UC Santa Barbera and a specialist in forensic anthropology. According to Kurin, trepanations first appeared in the south-central Andean highlands during the Early Intermediate Period (circa AD 200-600), although the technique was not universally practised. Still, it was considered a viable medical procedure until the Spanish put a halt to the practice in the early 16th century. But Kurin, whose findings appear in the current issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, wanted to know how trepanation came to exist in the first place and looked to a failed empire to find some answers.

‘For about 400 years, from 600 to 1000 AD, the area where I work — the Andahuaylas — was living as a prosperous province within an enigmatic empire known as the Wari,’ she said.

‘For reasons still unknown, the empire suddenly collapsed.’ And the collapse of civilisation, she drily noted, brings a lot of problems.

‘But it is precisely during times of collapse that we see people’s resilience and moxie coming to the fore,’ Kurin continued.

‘In the same way that new types of bullet wounds from the Civil War resulted in the development of better glass eyes, the same way IED’s are propelling research in prosthetics in the military today, so, too, did these people in Peru employ trepanation to cope with new challenges like violence, disease and depravation 1,000 years ago.’

A Peruvian actress impersonates an ancient female warrior in this file picture. Trepanning was common in the mysterious Wari culture

Kurin’s research shows various cutting practices and techniques being employed by practitioners around the same time. Some used scraping, others used cutting and still, others made use of a hand drill. It looks like they were trying different techniques, the same way we might try new medical procedures today,’ she said. They’re experimenting with different ways of cutting into the skull. Sometimes they were successful and the patient recovered, and sometimes things didn’t go so well. We can tell a trepanation is healed because we see these finger-like projections of bone that are growing,’ Kurin explained.

‘We have several cases where someone suffered a head fracture and was treated with the surgery; in many cases, both the original wound and the trepanation healed.’

It could take several years for the bone to regrow, and in a subset of those, a trepanation hole in the patient’s head might remain for the rest of his life, thereby conferring upon him a new ‘survivor’ identity. When a patient didn’t survive, his skull (almost never hers, as the practice of trepanation on women and children was forbidden in this region) might have been donated to science, so to speak, and used for education purposes.

‘The idea with this surgery is to go all the way through the bone, but not touch the brain,’ said Kurin. ‘That takes incredible skill and practice.

‘As bioarchaeologists, we can tell that they’re experimenting on recently dead bodies because we can measure the location and depths of the holes they’re drilling,’ she continued.

‘In one example, each hole is drilled a little deeper than the last. So you can imagine a guy in his prehistoric Peruvian medical school practising with his hand drill to know how many times he needs to turn it to nimbly and accurately penetrate the thickness of a skull.’

Some might consider drilling a hole in someone’s head a form of torture, but Kurin doesn’t perceive it as such.

‘We can see where the trepanations are. We can see that they’re shaving the hair. We see the black smudge of a herbal remedy they put over the wound,’ she noted.

‘To me, those are signs that the intention was to save the life of the sick or injured individual.’

But thanks to Kurin’s careful archaeological excavation of intact tombs and methodical analysis of the human skeletons and mummies buried therein, she knows exactly where, when and how the remains she found were buried, as well as who and what was buried with them. She used radiocarbon dating and insect casings to determine how long the bodies were left out before they skeletonised or were mummified, and multi-isotopic testing to reconstruct what they ate and where they were born.

‘That gives us a lot more information,” she said.

‘These ancient people can’t speak to us directly, but they do give us information that allows us to reconstruct some aspect of their lives and their deaths and even what happened after they died,’ she continued.

‘Importantly, we shouldn’t look at a state of collapse as the beginning of a “dark age”, but rather view it as an era that breeds resilience and foments stunning innovation within the population.’

The 1,000-year-old surgical kit found in Sican tomb, Peru

The 1,000-year-old surgical kit found in Sican tomb, Peru

The remains of an individual who served as a surgeon during the Middle Sican period (900-1050 AD) were found by experts from the Sican National Museum in the southern necropolis at the Mausoleum Temple of Huaca Las Ventanas, located in the Pomac Forest Historical Sanctuary in the province of Ferreñafe, Lambayeque region.

The funerary bundle No. 77 featured an individual who served as a surgeon. This is the first discovery of this type in the country’s northern region.

Sican National Museum Director Carlos Elera reported that this discovery was made as part of archaeological investigations initiated between 2010 and 2011 in the southern necropolis at Huaca Las Ventanas.

Instrumental recovered from the tomb

“This was a research project carried out by the Museum between 2010 and 2011; the context and part of it, which was covered with soil and sand, were partially removed, and we decided to bring it in a box because the river (La Leche River) was going to destroy part of this Huaca,” Elera told Andina news agency.

“So, taking advantage of the fact that there was a donation from the National Geographic Fund last year, we decided to excavate what had been documented at the funerary bundle of the external middle part,” he added.

The investigation was restarted in October 2021 and ended in January this year at the Sican Museum. 

“This individual is of Middle Sican cultural affiliation.

The funerary bundle included a golden mask pigmented with cinnabar, as well as a breastplate and a kind of poncho with copper plates and a gold hair remover,” he explained.

According to the museum’s director, there was a bottle —with two spouts and a bridge handle featuring a figure representing the Huaco Rey (King Huaco)— under the poncho.

“The bundle also included gilt copper bowls and a tumi (a ceremonial knife) (…). The most interesting thing was the set of awls, needles, and knives, several of which with a cutting edge on one side and a blunt edge on the other side; the sizes vary and some have wooden handles,” he added.

1,000-Year-Old Gold Mask Found in Tomb Was Painted With Human Blood

1,000-Year-Old Gold Mask Found in Tomb Was Painted With Human Blood

A 1,000-year-old mask discovered on the head of an ancient skeleton was painted using human blood, according to a new study.

(Image credit: Adapted from Journal of Proteome Research 2021, DOI: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.1c00472)

Archaeologists with the Sicán Archaeological Project unearthed the gold mask in the early 1990s while excavating an ancient tomb in Peru. The tomb, which dates to around A.D. 1000, belonged to a middle-aged elite man from the ancient Sicán culture, which inhabited the northern coast of Peru from the ninth to the 14th centuries.

The skeleton, which was also painted in bright red, was discovered sitting headless and upside down at the centre of a square burial that was 39 feet (12 meters) deep. 

The head, which was intentionally detached from the skeleton, was placed right side up and was covered with the red-painted mask. Inside the tomb, archaeologists discovered 1.2 tons (1.1 metric tons) of grave goods and the skeletons of four others: two young women arranged into positions of a midwife and a woman giving birth, and two crouching children arranged at a higher level.

At the time of the excavation, scientists identified the red pigment on the mask as cinnabar, a bright-red mineral made of mercury and sulfur.

1,000-Year-Old Gold Mask Found in Tomb Was Painted With Human Blood
A Sicán funerary mask at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is similar to the one recently analyzed by archaeologists.

But despite being buried deep underground for a thousand years, somehow the red paint — a thick, 0.04- to-0.08-inch (1 to 2 millimetres) layer — had managed to remain attached to the mask. “The identity of the binding material, that had been so effective in the red paint, remained a mystery,” the authors wrote.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed a small sample of red paint to see if they could figure out the secret ingredient responsible for the effective binding. 

First, with an infrared spectroscopy technique that uses infrared light to identify components of a material, they figured out that proteins were present in the red paint.

They then used mass spectrometry, a method that can sort different ions in a material based on their charge and mass, to identify the specific proteins.

The red paint contained six proteins found in human blood, the researchers found. The paint also contained proteins originating from egg whites.

The proteins are highly degraded, so it’s unclear what bird species the eggs came from, but the researchers hypothesize that it may have been the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata), according to a statement.

“Cinnabar-based paints were typically used in the context of social elites and ritually important items,” the authors wrote in the study. While cinnabar was restricted for elite use, non-elites used another type of ochre-based paint for painting objects, the authors wrote.  

Archaeologists had previously hypothesized that the skeletons’ arrangement represented a desired “rebirth” of the deceased Sicán leader, according to the statement. For this “desired” rebirth to take place, the ancients may have coated the entire skeleton in this bloody paint, possibly symbolizing red oxygenated blood or a “life force,” the authors wrote.

A recent analysis found that the Sicán sacrificed humans by cutting the neck and upper chest to maximize bleeding, the authors wrote. So “from an archaeological perspective, the use of human blood in the paint would not be surprising.”

The findings were published on Sept. 28 in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Proteome Research.

Study Investigates the Name of Machu Picchu

Study Investigates the Name of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is among the most recognized archaeological sites in the world. A lasting symbol of the Inca Empire, it’s one of the most visited attractions in Latin America and at the heart of the Peruvian tourist industry.

However, when Hiram Bingham first visited the ruins in 1911 and then brought them to the world’s attention, they were little known — even among those who lived in Peru’s Cusco region. 

More than 110 years after Bingham’s first visit to the site, historian Donato Amado Gonzales from the Ministry of Culture of Peru (Cusco) and archaeologist Brian S. Bauer from the University of Illinois Chicago reviewed Bingham’s original field notes, early 20th century maps of the region, and centuries-old land documents from different archives.

Their findings suggest that less was known about the site than what was previously thought.

In their paper, published by Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology, the researchers conclude that the Incas originally called it Huayna Picchu, for the rocky summit that lies nearest to the site, and not Machu Picchu, which is the name of the highest mountain near the ancient city. 

Study Investigates the Name of Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, Peru.

“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,” said Bauer, UIC professor of anthropology.

“There is significant data which suggest that the Inca city actually was called Picchu or more likely, Huayna Picchu.”

The researchers found that the ruins of an Inca town called Huayna Picchu are mentioned in a 1904 atlas that was published seven years before Bingham arrived in Peru.

Additionally, they detail that Bingham was told in 1911 of ruins called Huayna Picchu along the Urubamba River before he left Cusco to search for the remains.

A landowner’s son later told Bingham in 1912 that the ruins were called Huayna Picchu.

According to Bauer, the most definitive connections to the original name of the Inca city are preserved within accounts written by Spaniards relatively soon after the region came under their control 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.