One of the most popular destinations when visiting Peru is Machu Picchu. The site features the remains of an Incan citadel built in the 15th century. Some believe that Machu Picchu is the ruins of an estate for an Incan emperor, and others mistakenly call is the “Lost City of the Incas.”
There is much to learn about Machu Picchu, and any trip to Peru would be incomplete without a trip to this beautiful site. Machu Picchu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it has even been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
The City’s Accidental Discovery
Like many other great things, Machu Picchu was discovered by accident. Hiram Bingham, a lecturer from Yale University, discovered the great ruins during a hike on July 24, 1911.
Bingham’s hike was no ordinary one. It started with him chopping through growth in the jungle and then walking across a makeshift bridge of logs tied together with vines. He even crawled through brush that was infested with venomous snakes. But he was determined to make it through and get to the bottom of the rumors he had heard about ancient Incan ruins in the area.
Eventually, Bingham made it to a grass-covered hut, where he met two farmers who walked him over to a young boy, who would serve as his guide. The boy then led him to the ruins that would later be identified as Machu Picchu.
Bingham believed Machu Picchu to be the so-called lost city of the Incas, but that was later determined to be Vilcabamba. He also theorized that Machu Picchu was Tampu-tocco, believed to be the birthplace of the Incas.
Its Purpose is Still a Mystery
What, exactly, Machu Picchu was originally remains a mystery. There are many clues that have led to theories, but nothing has even been proven.
About 200 skeletons were discovered at Machu Picchu, but it is large enough to have held at least 750. No literature makes reference to Machu Picchu, but many believe that it was built for religious or ceremonial purposes, such as for housing the dead.
However, other theories have also been put forward, such as that it served as a retreat for nearby nobles, that it may have been a trading hub, or that it may have been used for crop testing (due to its terraces). Some even suggest that it might have been used as a prison since there are some cell-like structures on the site.
Many clues exist at Machu Picchu. For example, the Temple of the Sun is built so that the carved rock at the top creates a shadow that matches up perfectly with the two solstices. This has led some to believe the site was used for religious purposes or astronomical study. Another important stone one the site created shadows that matched perfectly with the September and March equinoxes.
Studies will continue about the purpose of Machu Picchu, popular tourist destination, and it may be years before a definitive conclusion is reached.
DNA Reveals a Prevailing Theory
As technology improves, it’s possible archaeologists may get closer to the truth about what happened at Machu Picchu. Now, DNA is being used to test the hypothesis that Machu Picchu was used as a retreat for noble people.
Researchers at George Washington University, Yale University, and the University of California-Santa Cruz are sequencing DNA from the skeletons found at Machu Picchu to look for patterns of diversity and migration. The testing will also look for relationships among the people found there, including whether they were related and whether they came from the same regions.
Even if the DNA testing doesn’t tun up any conclusive answers about the purpose of Machu Picchu, researchers are excited about what it will reveal about life and health before colonialism. They will compare these results to post-colonial DNA.
Travel Soars for Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu is a beautiful site with a rich historical legacy and an air of mystery. It’s no surprise that travel only continues to increase to the site.
Fortunately, travel to the site has had many advantages. It creates a lot of tax revenue that supports the local government and creates more local jobs. The entry fee for Machu Picchu alone generates $6 million a year for the country. Restaurant sales, hotel accommodations, sales taxes, permit fees, airport taxes, and more all provide additional financial support.
Though all that foot traffic to the site has had a lot of economic benefits, it has also had some negative effects. As many as 2,000 people visit the site each day, and that is causing slow erosion of the land. If measures aren’t put in place to protect the site, the growing number of visitors can literally stamp the space out of existence.
A Need for Sustainable Tourism
With an increased number of visitors to Machu Picchu, there is a rising need to focus on sustainable tourism. That involves better educating tourists to leave the most minimal impact on their visit – such as by teaching them how to respect the natural environment and to honor local customs.
Peru tour guides lead treks to Machu Picchu and other notable sites throughout Peru. Those who believe in sustainable tourism work hard to educate travelers on how to preserve the environment. Some hire local tour guides and include local people in their tours to teach visitors about customs and traditions. These practices not only keep some of the money in the community but also help to preserve local customs.