Looks like we’ve been misnaming Machu Picchu for a century now

(ORDO NEWS) — One of the world’s most famous archaeological sites may have been named after a simple misunderstanding.

The ancient Inca city known to us as “Machu Picchu” should probably be called “Picchu” or “Huayna Picchu”, according to a new analysis of historical documents.

In 1911, when the white American historian and explorer Hiram Bingham was first led to the ancient Inca ruins, he asked a local landowner to record the name of the site in his field journal. In the middle of the page, a local farmer named Melchor Arteaga wrote “Macho Pisho,” a word that Hiram says sounds more like “peccha” when spoken aloud.

Since then, the name has been attached to this attraction. For more than a century, the world has been repeating this name over and over again on maps, in documents and history books. Only in the 1990s, some experts questioned this strange name.

Regional studies

At the beginning of the 20th century, many local residents of the Cusco region simply did not know about the ruins of the Incas.

However, they knew the mountains on either side of the long-lost city very well. The small and steep peak behind the ruins is called “Huayna Picchu” in most of the photos, while the larger, sloping peak to the south is called “Machu Picchu”.

As Bingham gathered information before setting out to explore, his diaries mention a conversation with Adolfo Quevedo, the leader of a nearby town, who referred to the ruins as “Huayna Picchu”.

A few days later, Bingham’s group was approached by a local farmer who reported that there were ruins nearby called “Hayna Picchu”. According to him, there were other ruins on the top of Machu Picchu, although they turned out to be much smaller than those located closer to Huayna Picchu.

Bingham later wrote “Makku Pikku, Huayna Pichu” in his diary to refer to the place. It wasn’t until Arteaga scrawled the now-famous name in response to Bingham’s question that Bingham settled on Machu Picchu for good. But perhaps Arteaga had in mind not the ruins of Huayna Picchu, but the ruins of Machu Picchu.

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

“Since Mr. Arteaga lived at the foot of the mountain and had previously visited the ruins and even climbed Huayna Picchu, Bingham had no reason to doubt the name, although in an earlier conversation held in the city of Urubamba, the ruins had been specifically named Huayna Picchu.”.

Additional information

Even before Bingham began his journey, an Inca city called Huayna Picchu is mentioned in a 1904 atlas created by another researcher.

If we turn to the documents of the Spanish settlers, there are several other sources that mention the city of Picchu or the ancient city of Huayna Picchu.

At the same time, there is absolutely no mention of a city called Machu Picchu. Therefore, in 1990, Andean scholar John Roe was the first to use archival documents to prove that the name “Machu Picchu” was incorrect.

He pointed to several letters and documents from 16th-century Spanish colonists that referred to an ancient Inca city known simply as “Picchu.”

The authors of the new work agree that “Machu Picchu” is probably the wrong name, but according to a local source, the correct one is most likely “Huayna Picchu”.


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