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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > January 2017 > Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

The Inca stronghold of Machu Picchu lay abandoned for over 350 years, until a whip-cracking archaeologist stumbled across it


Bingham had been scrambling ever upwards – often on hands and knees – for hours now. His legs ached, his clothes were damp with sweat, and his lungs struggled to take in the increasingly thin mountain air. And for what? A vague promise from a local man called Melchor Arteaga of Inca ruins at the top of a nearby precipice. For all Bingham knew, Arteaga could have been sending him on a wild – and exhausting – goose chase.

But then Bingham’s weary legs felt a surge of energy. For he and his guides suddenly came across what he later described as “an unexpected sight, a great flight of beautifully constructed stone terraces, perhaps a hundred of them, each hundreds of feet long and ten feet high”. Then, “suddenly I found myself confronted with the walls of ruined houses built of the finest quality of Inca stonework”. He had discovered the long-lost Inca city of Machu Picchu, and – though he couldn’t have known it at the time – it was to prove one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.

REAL INDIANA JONES After studying history at Yale, Hiram Bingham III was able to pursue his dream - finding the lost city of Vilcabamba


The Inca kept records with an elaborate series of knotted strings, called Quipu

BEGGING FOR MERCY Inca emperor Atahualpa pleads for his life before conquistador Francisco Pizarro


Hiram Bingham III is sometimes hailed as a kind of proto-Indiana Jones – a buccaneering archaeologist-turnedadventurer who felt more at home in the middle of a jungle than buried in a textbook. He developed a passion for Latin American history as a boy and, armed with a PhD in the subject, made the journey to Yale University to pursue a career as a lecturer. He might have stayed at Yale, had he not met and married Alfreda Mitchell, an heiress to the Tiffany jewellery fortune. Bingham now had the financial security to fulfil his dream – embark on his first expedition to South America.

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The January 2017 issue of History Revealed.