Although Machu Picchu is one of the most well-known and studied archaeological sites in the world, it seems that it has a false nameaccording to a new analysis of historical documents, which ensures that the ancient Inca city should probably be called “Picchu” or “Huayna Picchu”.
In 1911, when the American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham first made his way to the ancient Inca ruins, he asked a local landowner to note the name of the place in his field journal. The local farmer, named Melchor Arteaga, wrote “Macho Pischo,” a word that Hiram noted sounded more like “picchu” when spoken out loud..
From then on, the name stuck. For more than a century, the world has repeated this title over and over again, on maps, documents, and history books. Only in the 1990s did some experts question the name.
Mention of Huayna Picchu in the 1904 atlas
Now, according to a press release from the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), historian Donato Amado Gonzales, from the Ministry of Culture of Peru (Cusco), and archaeologist Brian S. Bauer, professor of anthropology at UIC, have reviewed the Bingham’s original field notes, maps of the region from the early 20th century, and centuries-old land documents from various archives. Their findings suggest that less was known about the site than previously thought.
None of the historical sources mentions the name of Machu Picchu, the researchers write in an article for the scientific journal Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of Andean Archaeology.
For their part, the researchers discovered that the ruins of an Inca city called Huayna Picchu they are mentioned in an atlas from 1904, seven years before Bingham arrived in Peru.
In addition, they detail that Bingham was told in 1911 of some ruins called Huayna Picchu along the Urubamba River before he left Cuzco to search for the remains. Later, the son of a landowner told Bingham in 1912 that the ruins were called Huayna Picchu.
“We started with the uncertainty of the name of the ruins when Bingham first visited them and then went through various printed maps and atlases prior to Bingham’s visit to the ruins,” Bauer said. “There is significant data to suggest that the Inca city was actually called Picchu or, more likely, Huayna Picchu,” he added.
Stories written by the conquerors
The most definitive connections with the original name of the Inca city are preserved in the accounts written by the Spanish conquistadors shortly after they took Cusco in the late 16th century, according to Bauer.
“We ended with an impressive story from the end of the 16th century, when the indigenous people of the region considered re-occupying the place, which they called Huayna Picchu,” he explained.
Huayna Picchu is currently the name of the mighty mountain peak that looms behind the Inca city on most grounds. Machu Picchu refers to both the archaeological site and the mountain located on the other side of the ruins.
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