Machu Picchu Does Not Exist, Historically Speaking

The real name doesn't have quite the same ring, but at least it's historically accurate
By Mike L. Ford,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2022 4:10 PM CDT
Machu Picchu Does Not Exist, Historically Speaking
   (Getty - Skouatroulio)

In 1911, when American explorer Hiram Bingham first reached the ancient Incan city in the clouds, his guide told him it was called Huayna Picchu. Soon after, per NPR, another guide called it Machu Picchu, and that’s the name Bingham carried to the outside world. At the time, the city had been abandoned for over 400 years and nobody knew much about the ruins. The mislabeling was due to a simple misunderstanding over toponyms (place names derived from topographical features), according to a new research paper. After poring over historical documents and maps, Peruvian and American researchers determined, "There's really no doubt about it." The site is Huayna Picchu, or simply Picchu; Machu is not mentioned anywhere.

Early Spanish references refer to a region and town named Picchu, including a document from 1588—a half-century after Spain’s conquest and about 15 years after the city was abandoned—describing local inhabitants' desire to return to the town of Huayna Picchu and restore their own religion. There is also mention of Huayna Picchu in a 1904 atlas, but explorer Bingham evidently did not have a copy. It’s all fascinating, but NPR notes the find doesn't mean a name change is looming. As one Latin American history put it to the Guardian, "Machu Picchu is an established brand very linked to Peruvian identity, so what would be the point of changing it?” (Read more Machu Picchu stories.)

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