Machu Picchu was called differently by the Incas

The ruins of the Inca city of Machu Picchu in Peru are world famous. But as it now turns out, the archaeological site can be called erroneously. Because even at the time of the Spanish conquistadors, the Incas apparently referred to this city as Huayna Picchu, as historical records indicate. The site was first known under the pseudonym Machu Picchu by American archaeologist Hiram Bingham.

The Inca city of Machu Picchu is one of the most famous and most visited archaeological sites in the world. More than a million people visit the ruins of this 2,430-meter-high city every year. The 216 buildings on stone terraces were built from 1450 on a mountain saddle between the peaks of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. The stone blocks, seamlessly assembled by the master Inca builders, form a structure perfectly integrated into the almost inaccessible mountain saddle terrain.

Searching for clues in historical records

But despite its fame today, it is not entirely clear how this city was named in the Inca era. The ruins became known as Machu Picchu through the descriptions of American archaeologist Hiram Bingham, who discovered this area in 1911. By that time, the relics had been largely forgotten by locals, according to Donato Amado Gonzalez of the Peruvian Ministry of Culture and Brian Bauer of Peru University of Illinois at Chicago. So the locals simply named the city after the highest mountain in the area, Machu Picchu.

When Bingham published a detailed description of the Inca city in National Geographic in 1913, he adopted the name—and Machu Picchu became famous by that name. However, Gonzalez and Bauer wanted to know more about it and used historical sources to examine the names that had been found for the Inca city in ancient records. “For our study, we examined three data sources,” the researchers explain. These records included 17th-century Spanish conquistadors, 19th-century historical maps, and field notes by Hiram Bingham.

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Huayna Picchu instead of Machu Picchu

Analysis of maps and records revealed that the Inca city actually had a different name at the time of the Spanish conquistadors than it does today. In documents from that time, the Inca city is usually referred to as Huayna Picchu, as the sugar-loaf-shaped mountaintop looms directly above the ruins. One such report says that locals were considering returning to a devastated city they named Huanya Picchu, Power reports. Inca ruins called Huayna Picchu are also mentioned in an atlas from 1904.

“There is significant evidence that the Inca city was originally called Picchu or more likely Hunina Picchu,” says Bauer. Therefore it was not given its current name Machu Picchu until the beginning of the 20th century. Then Hiram Bingham’s descriptions of this name became known to all. Since then, Machu Picchu has become a known “brand” all over the world – and this probably won’t change with the new results.

Source: University of Illinois Chicago; Specialized article: Journal of the Institute of Andean Studies, doi: 10.1080/00776297.2021.949833

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