Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca citadel perched on a mountain ridge in Peru, is one of the most stunning and mysterious archaeological sites in the world. For decades, historians have relied on Spanish colonial documents to date the construction and occupation of this marvel of engineering and architecture. However, a new study has challenged the conventional wisdom and suggested that Machu Picchu may be older than previously believed.
The study, published in the journal Antiquity, used radiocarbon dating technology to analyze human remains found in a cemetery at Machu Picchu. The researchers used a technique called accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to measure the amount of carbon-14 in the bones, which decays at a known rate over time. By comparing the carbon-14 levels in the samples with those of known age, the researchers were able to estimate when the people lived and died.
The results showed that Machu Picchu was in use from about A.D. 1420 to A.D. 1530, making it at least 20 years older than the accepted historical record suggests. According to the documents written by Spanish conquistadors, Machu Picchu was built after 1440 by the Inca emperor Pachacuti, who expanded the Inca empire to its greatest extent. However, the radiocarbon dating evidence indicates that the site may have been built by his predecessor, Viracocha, or even earlier.
This finding has important implications for our understanding of Inca history and culture. It suggests that Machu Picchu was not a mere retreat for the Inca elite, but a strategic and ceremonial center that played a key role in the consolidation and expansion of the Inca state. It also challenges the reliability of using colonial documents as the sole source of information for dating ancient ruins in the Americas. The study argues that “perhaps the time has come for the radiocarbon evidence to assume priority in reconstructions of the chronology of the Inca emperors and the dating of Inca monumental sites such as Machu Picchu.”
Machu Picchu is a remarkable example of the architectural and engineering skills of the Inca civilization. The site consists of about 200 structures, including temples, palaces, terraces, and fountains, built on a steep mountain ridge about 2,420 meters above sea level. The Inca used simple tools and local materials to carve and fit the stones, some weighing more than 50 tons, without using mortar or wheels. They also developed sophisticated systems of water management and agriculture to sustain the site.
Machu Picchu is almost the only Inca site in Peru that survived the Spanish invasion and the last 500 years unscathed. It is one of the few places where you can experience the architectural ingenuity of the Inca masons. The site was rediscovered in 1911 by the American explorer Hiram Bingham, who led several expeditions to excavate and document the ruins. Since then, Machu Picchu has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction, attracting millions of visitors every year.
These findings not only provide a more accurate timeline for the construction and use of Machu Picchu but also offer a deeper understanding of Inca history and culture. As researchers continue to delve into the mysteries of this ancient site, who knows what other secrets Machu Picchu may reveal?