Inca breakthrough: History rewritten as Machu Picchu was built years earlier than thought

Tourist makes terrifying ascent up Wanya Picchu’s ‘stairs of death’

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Tucked away among the tall peaks of the Peruvian Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu is a testament to the might of the Inca civilisation. Believed to have been founded in the early to late 15th century, the citadel was abandoned some 100 years later and remained a secret until its rediscovery in 1911. But, according to a new study published by Yale University Richard Burger, the iconic site could be several decades older than previously thought.

The study, which was published in the journal Antiquity, used a novel method of radiocarbon technology to date human remains recovered from the site.

The corpses were discovered in the early 20th century after Yale historian Hiram Bingham led an expedition to the Inca citadel.

Based on their analysis of the bodies, Dr Burger and his team determined Machu Picchu was inhabited between 1420 and 1530 AD – about the time of the Spanish Conquest.

The discovery suggests Machu Picchu is at least 20 years older than thought, raising new questions about the timeline of the rise and fall of the Inca civilisation.

According to our present understanding, Machu Picchu was raised in the Andes under the rule of Inca Emperor Pachacuti (1418 to 1472 AD).

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Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in the Andes

Inca breakthrough: The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu was built decades earlier than throught (Image: GETTY)

Inca breakthrough: Machu Picchu aerial picture

Inca breakthrough: The impressive ciatdel was built in the Andes Mountains in Peru (Image: GETTY)

Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui was the ninth emperor of the South American empire, whose name in the Quechua language meant “reformer of the world” and “with honour”.

Historical sources suggest Pachacuti rose to power in 1438 AD, after which he conquered the lower Urubamba Valley where Machu Picchu was built.

Based on these sources alone, historians have dated the citadel’s construction to between 1440 and 1450 AD.

Dr Burger and his team, however, now believe this timeline is inaccurate.

The archaeologist said: “Until now, estimates of Machu Picchu’s antiquity and the length of its occupation were based on contradictory historical accounts written by Spaniards in the period following the Spanish conquest.

“This is the first study based on scientific evidence to provide an estimate for the founding of Machu Picchu and the length of its occupation, giving us a clearer picture of the site’s origins and history.”

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The revised timeline also offers some new insight into Pachacuti’s conquest of the region.

It now appears as though his conquests began decades earlier, paving the way for the Inca civilisation to become the biggest power in Pre-Columbian America.

The Pre-Columbian period spans the original settlement of North and South America during the Upper Palaeolithic through to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.

Dr Burger said: “The results suggest that the discussion of the development of the Inca empire based primarily on colonial records needs revision.

“Modern radiocarbon methods provide a better foundation than the historical records for understanding Inca chronology.”

The accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) technique used by the researchers can date bones and teeth that contain tiny amounts of organic materials.

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Archaeologist Hiram Bingham III

Inca breakthrough: The site was redsicovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham III (Image: GETTY)

For this study, the researchers focused on samples collected from 26 remains discovered at four Inca cemeteries.

The remains were unearthed during excavations carried out in 1912, a year after Machu Picchu was rediscovered.

According to the study, the analysed teeth likely belonged to attendants at the royal estate.

Sometimes known as the “Lost City of the Incas” Machu Picchu avoided discovery after the Spanish invasion of South America, starting in 1493.

The citadel sits on the eastern edge of the Andes Mountain, towering over the picturesque valley at a height of 8,000ft.

Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The citadel today is comprised of some 200 structures built from dry-stone walls.

The discovered buildings served religious, ceremonial and even astronomical purposes.

The city is split into two parts, separating the agricultural centre from its residential quarters.

UNESCO said of the site: “To this day, many of Machu Picchu’s mysteries remain unresolved, including the exact role it may have played in the Incas’ sophisticated understanding of astronomy and domestication of wild plant species.”

Harry Byrne

Harry Byrne

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