Machu Picchu may have had the wrong name for over 100 years


Historians now have good reason to believe that the correct name for Machu Picchu is actually “Huayna Picchu”. Photo / Unsplash

It is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, but its name may be incorrect due to a simple mistake.

Located high in the Andes in Peru, the ancient Inca city that we call “Machu Picchu” should probably be called “Piccu” or “Huayna Picchu”.

The discovery came from a new analysis historical documents.

When white American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham first saw the Inca ruins in 1911, he asked a local to write his name in his field journal.

The farmer, named Melchor Arteaga, wrote “Macho Pischo,” but Hiram thought it sounded more like “pecchu” when pronounced.

Since then, the new name has been used in maps, history books and other documents across the world without a doubt.

It was not until 1990 that some experts questioned its authenticity.

Despite its fame, many residents of the Cusco region were unaware of the Inca ruins until the early 20th century, although they were familiar with the mountains on either side of the long-lost city.

In most photos, the steep little peak behind the ruins is called ‘Huayna Picchu’ while the larger sloping peak is called ‘Machu Picchu’.

Before Bingham left on his expedition, his diaries describe a conversation with the leader of a nearby town, Adolfo Quevedo, who called the ruins “Huayna Picchu.”

A few days later, a local farmer told Bingham that there were ruins called “Huayna Picchu” nearby. There were other ruins at the top of Machi Picchu, the farmer said, but they were much smaller than those near Huayna Picchu.

In his journal, Bingham used the phrase “Maccu Picchu, Huayna Pichu” to describe the site.

However, once he spoke to Melchor Arteaga, he settled on “Machu Picchu”.

Experts wonder if Arteaga was talking about the ruins of Machu Picchu, instead of the ruins of Huayna Picchu.

“From his field notes and letter, it appears that in calling the ruined city Machu Picchu, Bingham was following information provided by Melchor Arteaga,” the authors write in a recent analysis.

“Since Mr. Arteaga lived at the base of the mountain and had previously visited the ruins, and even climbed Huayna Picchu, there was no reason for Bingham to question the name, even though in an earlier conversation, held in the city ​​of Urubamba, the ruins were specifically called Huayna Picchu.”

In the 1990s, Andean scholar John Rowe became one of the first to argue that “Machu Picchu” was a misnomer. Rowe referenced several 16th-century letters and documents from Spanish colonists that described an ancient Inca city known as “Picchu.”

“[W]Although negative evidence is never so satisfying, it is intriguing that we know of no reference to an Inca city called Machu Picchu until news of Bingham’s visit exploded across the world in 1912,” the authors wrote. researchers.

For this reason, the study is inconclusive, but researchers agree that “Machu Picchu” is likely incorrect and the site’s name is likely “Huayna Picchu”.

While the documents they analyzed have been around for centuries, previous scholars dismissed sightings and events that newer scholars deemed significant.

For example, in a diary entry, Bingham described “a talkative old man who had spent much of his life prospecting for mines in the department of Cusco, said he had seen ruins” finer than Choqquequirau “at a place called Huayna Pichu”.

This led the authors to say, “While Bingham suggested that the name of the fantastical ruins he brought to the world’s attention were ‘lost in the shadows of the past’, it is heartening that continued research is beginning to pierce those shadows and provide insight into the name and history of this city.”


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