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Celebration of Machu Picchu

The following is a guest post by Barbara Tenenbaum, a specialist in Mexican Culture and Curator of the  Jay I Kislak Collection, Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Image from The story of Machu Picchu: the Peruvian expeditions of the National Geographic Society and Yale University. National geographic, v. 27, Feb. 1915: 172

On Wednesday, June 29 from 6-8 pm, the Hispanic Division and the Embassy of Peru are presenting a conference on “Machu Picchu:  a Centennial Celebration” in the Mumford Room, Madison Building, 6th Floor, Library of Congress.

This year is the 100th anniversary of the supposed “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham and there will be events throughout Washington to celebrate this centennial and the announcement that Yale University will return to Peru the artifacts Bingham had brought from the site.

The Library’s presentation will feature Dr. Margaret G.H. MacLean of the U.S. Department of State and Dr. Anita Cook, Associate Professor of Anthropology, The Catholic University of America, discussing one of the most interesting and special places in the Western Hemisphere.  Dr. MacLean has evaluated site management practices at Machu Picchu for the government of Peru and currently works with Latin American countries and international organizations to reduce looting and illicit trafficking in cultural property.  Dr. Cook has directed several major archaeological surveys and excavation projects in the Ayacucho and Ica Valleys in Peru.

Machu Picchu, the Inca site most universally known, is considered one of the seven wonders of the modern world.  It is located about 54 miles to the northwest of the fascinating Inca capital of Cuzco and lies roughly 8,000 feet (2,450 meters) above sea level surrounded by the cloud forest of the eastern Peruvian Andes.  Part of its mystique comes from the fact that Spanish conquistadores never found it and the site remained intact from its supposed abandonment in the 1530s to 1911.  Scholars now know that Emperor Pachacuti (1391-c.1473), whose name means “one who shakes the earth,” built Machu Picchu as his own personal estate.  Pachacuti is remembered as the most impressive of the Inca rulers, having conquered a wide swath of territory ranging from Lake Titicaca on the present Peru-Bolivia border to Quito, the modern Ecuadorian capital in the north.

Hiram Bingham from Bain News Service

Hiram Bingham (1875-1956), then a History professor at Yale University, came upon Machu Picchu in 1911 when looking for the Inca capital of Vilcabamba.  Bingham, the son of Protestant Missionaries who grew up in Hawaii, left Yale in 1917 to join the military as a pilot in World War I.  Upon his return, he was elected governor of Connecticut in 1924, and U.S. Senator from 1924 to 1933.  After the National Geographic Society spread the word about his expedition in its National Geographic Magazine, Machu Picchu suddenly became “the Lost City of the Incas.”  However, it was neither lost nor a city.  When Bingham and his group stumbled upon Machu Picchu, local farmers were there already and Agustín Lizárraga, a cusqueño, had visited the place at some point between 1894 and 1902.

Following the speakers, there will be a reception sponsored by the Hispanic Division and the Peruvian Embassy.  Please call Catalina Gomez (202) 707-6404 to reserve your seat.

This event will be filmed and later distributed as a webcast. If you want to learn more about Machu Picchu see the Science Reference Guide: Machu Picchu.

If you were not able to make it to the lecture, you can view the Machu Picchu: A Centennial Celebration webcast.

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