Some mistakes are hard to shake.
For more than 100 years, one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, Machu Picchu, has been misnamed, awpa Pacha: according to a report published in the Journal of the Institute of Andean Studies.
The report states that the Incas, who built the ancient city, called it Huayna Picchu.
Emily Dean, a professor of anthropology at Southern Utah University in Cedar City, said huayna translates to “new or young”, while picchu means “top of the mountain” in the indigenous Quechua language. She was not involved in the report. Machu means “old”, so we have been calling it the old mountain peak, she said.
The Incan settlement is thought to have been built around 1420 as an estate for the royal Incas living in Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire, according to report author Brian Bauer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
When the Spaniards later conquered the Incas, Huayna Picchu was abandoned, the report said. It was hidden in the Andes mountains for centuries until it was rediscovered by American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.
lost in Translation
Bauer said that in his field notes, Bingham decided to call the ancient city of Machu Picchu based on information provided by his guide Melchor Artega, a farmer who lived in the area.
During Bauer’s research at Machu Picchu, he found evidence that its original name was something else. Report author Donato Amado Gonzales – a historian at the Ministry of Culture in Peru – independently discovered the same pattern, so they decided to piece together the real name.
The researchers began by looking at Bingham’s notes, where he said he was uncertain about the name of the ruins when they first visited him. From there, Bauer and Amado Gonzales reviewed printed maps and atlases before and after Bingham’s visit.
One of the most surprising documents was a 1588 report that said indigenous peoples of the Vilcabamba region were considering returning to Huayna Picchu, Bauer said.
The name error is not surprising, Dean said, as many non-Peruvian archaeologists do not put much effort into researching place names and do not fully understand Quechua.
“More broadly, this discovery challenges the popular legend that Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu,” she said. The locals knew about the site long before Bingham came.
A name change is unlikely
Despite the discovery of the area’s original name, it is likely to remain Machu Picchu, Bauer said.
“We would not suggest that the name be changed because Machu Picchu is known around the world,” he said.
Dean said that Machu Picchu is also published in thousands of books, articles, advertisements and legal documents.
The Peruvian people and their government have adopted the new name, so it is an interesting addition to the site’s history, but it will not change the modern name, she noted.