- Historic Sites
Raiders Of The Lost City
In July 1911 the author’s father climbed a remote ridge in Peru to discover, amid an almost impenetrable jungle, the fabled lost city of Machu Picchu, last capital of the Inca Empire. Or so the story goes.
July/August 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 5
Recent excavation of a number of similar, if smaller, settlements first reported by my father, in the once thickly populated mountain region between the Apurímac and Urubamba rivers, suggests that Machu Picchu’s history was not unique. Later discoveries of manuscripts and historical records confirm the location and chronology of Vitcos as the last Inca capital and Vilcabamba as the major population center of the rump empire, but no reference to Machu Picchu has ever been found, nor any support for its identification as a city of refuge from the Spanish conquerors. It may even have been abandoned for lack of an adequate water supply before Pizarro appeared on the scene.
One persistent myth that my father did his best to discourage was that he made use of others’ discoveries to find lost treasure and that he secretly shipped a hoard of Inca gold out of Peru. That one may be laid to rest only with a lessening of the social tensions of contemporary Peru. But Hiram Bingham is still recognized as the scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu, and his fame as a great explorer should remain for a long time. In any case, the splendor of the fabled Inca citadel will outlast all its myths.
Alfred Bingham recommends several books about his father’s work and the archeological exploration of South America. Of Hiram Bingham’s own writings, Lost City of the Incas (1948) presents his final story about Machu Picchu, thirty years later. It has been reissued in hardcover by Greenwood Press and in paperback by Atheneum. His Machu Picchu, a Citadel of the Incas (1930) is available in a lavishly illustrated edition from Hacker Art Books. John Hemming’s Conquest of the Incas (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973) is a fine history that includes an evaluation of Bingham’s work. In Antisuyo (Simon and Schuster, 1970), Gene Savoy, a later explorer, tells of retracing Bingham’s steps and finding other “lost cities.” A Search for the Apex of America, by Annie Smith Peck (1911), is the book that irritated Hiram Bingham.