Mar 25, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

Machu Picchu is Not Machu Picchu — Real Name Discovered

An embarrassing situation that many have found themselves in is to discover that the person you’ve been calling Jim is actually named John and was too nice to correct you. That same embarrassing situation has arisen on a much larger scale – a new study claims the Peruvian Inca site we’ve been calling ‘Machu Picchu’ for over 100 years is not its proper name. Does this mean the entire world – minus the two authors – should be embarrassed?

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Whatever the name, it's beautiful place

“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.”

In a University of Illinois at Chicago press release announcing the publication of the study in Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology, co-author and UIC professor of anthropology Brian Bauer explains that he and his co-author, historian Donato Amado Gonzales from the Ministry of Culture of Peru (Cusco), started with the original field notes of Hiram Bingham III, the American academic and explorer who announced the first non-Indigenous visit to the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911.

“We examine three data sources: the field notes of Hiram Bingham, toponyms on nineteenth century maps, and information recorded in seventeenth century documents.”

Bauer and Gonzales found that Bingham’s notes were incomplete when it came to determining the name of what he called Machu Picchu, so they turned to previous European incursions into the area. The first known records came from descriptions by Spanish invader Baltasar de Ocampo, who in the late 16th century reported seeing a magnificently decorated mountain fortress called Pitcos, filled with art and marble carvings. They then examined the maps from a plundering of the site in 1867 by a German businessman Augusto Berns and a visit by German engineer J. M. von Hassel. All of that data was compiled and it pointed to another name for the site.

“The results uniformly suggest that the Inca city was originally called Picchu, or more likely Huayna Picchu, and that the name Machu Picchu became associated with the ruins starting in 1911 with Bingham’s publications.”

The best evidence for the name Huayna Picchu came from the Spanish invaders and occupiers. An atlas printed in 1904 mentions the ruins of an Inca town called Huayna Picchu and Bingham himself noted hearing about ruins called Huayna Picchu along the Urubamba River, but he decided what he found was different and called it Machu Picchu. However, Bauer sides with late 16th century records showing that the indigenous people of the region were planning to take the site back from the Spaniards and referred to it as Huayna Picchu.

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Huayna Picchu

We've been using the wrong name for over a century ... how embarrassing. Who should we sent the apology to?

Moral of the story -- when in doubt, trust the indigenous people. Better yet -- don't take their stuff.

Paul Seaburn
Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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