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A Question of Time

Posted on 8/31/2021 12:00:00 AM in Travel Trivia

Explorer Hiram Bingham made the remarkable re-discovery of Machu Picchu in 1911, and our knowledge of the ancient ruins has evolved greatly since then.

Question: When Yale researchers recently analyzed remains from Machu Picchu what new discovery did they make?

Answer: Machu Picchu is older than previously thought

Shrouded in mystery and mist, the ancient city of Machu Picchu leaves lots unknown. Since its re-discovery in 1911, researchers have worked to uncover its history, and recently, a team of anthropologists at Yale University got one step closer to understanding Machu Picchu and the chronology of the Inca Empire.

Based on previous historical documents, it was thought that Machu Picchu was built after 1440 or 1450, but new data suggests that it actually dates to at least 1420 or older. Here’s how they did it: using Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS), an advanced form of radiocarbon dating, researchers studied organic matter from 26 skeletal remains from Machu Picchu. The remains were unearthed in 1912, and even with a small amount of organic material from their bones and teeth, the team was able to date them to before 1440.

They discovered that the remains were most likely people who worked at the royal estate of Machu Picchu as attendants. The material showed little evidence of heavy physical labor or construction, suggesting that they were alive when Machu Picchu was already a city, not when it was being built.

The breakthrough study was the first one completed with scientific evidence to give an estimate for the founding of Machu Picchu. Until now, historians relied on contradictory accounts from the Spanish conquistadors to estimate the age of the former citadel and how long it was occupied. The new findings suggest that Pachucuti, whose reign led the Inca to become the largest and most powerful pre-Columbian empire, gained power earlier than previous sources indicate.

Following the completion of this study, researchers believe that even more can be uncovered about the Inca Empire and Machu Picchu using the same method of radiocarbon dating. With the power of advanced technology, there is so much more we can learn about this mysterious ancient treasure.

7 Lesser-Known Facts about Machu Picchu:

  • Machu Picchu is often referred to as the “Lost City of the Incas” because the Spanish never actually found the city when they conquered the empire in the 1500s.

  • It was unknown to outsiders until 1911 when it was brought to international attention by archeologist Hiram Bingham. It’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983 and was named one of the new 7 Wonders of the World in 2007.

  • Although Spanish conquistadors introduced their language to Peru, many Andean locals still speak their native language—Quechua. In this language, Machu means “old” and Picchu means “mountain”.

  • Machu Picchu was built by the Incas using a technique called ashlar where stones are cut so precisely that they fit together without the need for mortar. The ancient walls fit together so snuggly that you couldn’t even fit a knife blade in between them if you tried. The walls have withstood wind, rain, and even earthquakes.

  • It’s up for debate what Machu Picchu was used for by the Incas. Some say it was an important religious site while others think it was the place where kings were crowned. Most experts believe it was used as a royal retreat for emperors and nobles.

  • Another mystery lies in the fact that Machu Picchu was most likely abandoned before the Spanish arrived. Some think a smallpox epidemic caused them to abandon the site but there is little evidence to support this.

  • It’s believed that up to 300 peopled lived there at one time, and this number most likely swelled to more than 1,000 when the emperor was in town. It’s made up of 150 buildings including temples, bathhouses, and sleeping quarters. The Temple of the Sun is one of the most prominent buildings with an ancient sundial still remaining.

Explore the “Lost City of the Incas” and it’s many mysteries during our Machu Picchu & the Galápagos Small Ship Adventure.

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