Machu Picchu Discovered (1911)

The outside world was introduced to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu when discovered by American historian Hiram Bingham on July 24, 1911.  Although several unsubstantiated claims of earlier discovery have been advanced, it remains clear and undebatable that Bingham was the “scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu.”

Hiram Bingham at Machu Picchu in 1912 (photo by Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History)

            Bingham was born in 1875 in Hawaii and spent his youth learning mountaineering from his missionary father.  He pursued history as a university student, eventually becoming a professor of Latin American History at Yale, where he served from 1907 to 1924.  Although not a trained archeologist, his historical knowledge and his rugged childhood made him a perfect jungle explorer.  Hiram Bingham, it appears, was a real life Indian Jones.

            He mounted an expedition in 1911 to find the so-called “Lost City of the Incas.”  On July 24 of that year, he and his guides emerged onto a plateau high in the Andean mountains to find an amazing discovery.  He wrote of that day, “…suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a jungle-covered maze of small and large walls….Surprise followed surprise until there came the realization that we were in the midst of as wonderful ruins as any ever found in Peru.”

Machu Picchu (photo by Diego Delso)

            Not only did he find the finest archeological site in Peru, but undoubtedly one of the finest in the world.  The ancient facility, constructed in the 15th Century, sits atop a mountain at 8,000 feet in elevation.  More than 200 structures comprise the site, divided among stone terraces running along the cliff side.  However, this is not the Lost City of the Incas, but rather a religious and ceremonial sanctuary built by the then Incan king for his personal use.

The biodiversity of the area is also a reason to protect Machu Picchu (photo by GuusSmid)

            UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1983.  Their declaration notes “the massive yet refined architecture of Machu Picchu blends exceptional well with the stunning natural environment, with which it is intricately linked.”  Along with the architecture, the site preserves exceptional biodiversity in the enormous range of micro-climates and ecosystems, from high-elevation grasslands to cloud forests and low-elevation lowland forests.

            More than one million visitors visit the site annually.  The 70,000-acre site is regulated by the Peruvian National Institute of Natural Resources.  As tourism has risen in recent decades, in 2015the government has instituted limits (2500 visitors per day) to protect both the site and the quality of the experience.  . 

Machu Picchu stands as a testament to the idea that nature can sustain humans in virtually any setting, as long as we work with, rather than against, the natural constraints of the place.

References:

Eisner, Peter. 2009.  Who Discovered Machu Picchu?  Smithsonian Magazine, March 2009.  Available at:  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/who-discovered-machu-picchu-52654657/.  Accessed July 24, 2017.

Encyclopedia Britannica.  Hiram Bingham.  Available at:  https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hiram-Bingham-American-archaeologist-and-United-States-senator.  Accessed July 24, 2017.

Romero, Simon.  2008.  The fights of Machu Picchu:  Who got there first?  New York Times, November 8, 2008.  Available at:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/08/world/americas/08iht-journal.1.18479442.html. Accessed July 24, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

June 1
US Announced Withdrawal from Paris Climate Agreement (2017)
June 2
Edwin Way Teale, Nature Writer, Born (1899)
June 2
Rodne Galicha, Philippine Environmentalist, Born (1979)
June 3
The World’s First Wilderness Area Established (1924)
June 4
Gaylord Nelson, Politician and Conservationist, Born (1916)
June 5
World Environment Day
June 6
Novarupta Volcano Erupted in Alaska (1912)
June 7
Thomas Malthus Published His Famous Essay (1798)
June 8
Bryce Canyon National Park Created (1923)
June 9
Coral Triangle Day
June 10
E. O. Wilson, Father of Biodiversity, Born (1929)
June 11
Jacques Cousteau, Ocean Explorer, Born (1910)
June 12
Frank Chapman, Creator of the Christmas Bird Count, Born (1864)
June 13
Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General, Born (1944)
June 14
Bramble Cay Melomys Went Extinct (2016)
June 15
Global Wind Day
June 16
Gray Whale Delisted (1994)
June 17
World Day to Combat Desertification
June 18
Alexander Wetmore, Ornithologist and Smithsonian Leader, Born (1866)
June 19
Feast of the Forest, Palawan, Philippines
June 20
Great Barrier Reef Protected (1975)
June 21
World Hydrography Day
June 22
Cuyahoga River Burst into Flames (1969)
June 23
Antarctic Treaty Implemented (1961)
June 24
David McTaggart, Greenpeace Leader, Born (1932)
June 25
David Douglas, Pioneering Botanist, Born (1799)
June 26
United Nations Chartered (1945)
June 27
Tajik National Park Added to World Heritage List (2013)
June 28
Mark Shand, Asian Elephant Conservationist, Born (1951)
June 29
Mesa Verde National Park Created (1906)
June 30
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Created (1940)
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