June 2, 2008. Source:
When Peruvian locals led Hiram Bingham to Machu Picchu in 1911, it was a discovery which would make the Yale professor famous, highly respected and richer.
Bingham went on to become a governor of Connecticut and member of the US senate, and his book on Machu Picchu became a bestseller. Such was his prominence in early 20th century archaeology, that some have speculated that Bingham was the inspiration for the character of Indiana Jones.
But Bingham's claim to be the first to discover Peru's lost city of the Incas is looking more than a little doubtful. Detailed investigations by a US historian have revealed that Machu Picchu was, in fact, discovered over 40 years earlier by a German businessman.
Little is known about Augusto R Berns, an obscure entrepreneur now largely lost to history, but documents unearthed in US and Peruvian archives by the American historian Paolo Greer, reveal that Berns discovered Peru's most famous archaeological site in the late 1860s before setting up a company specifically to loot Machu Picchu and its immediate surroundings.
Berns had set up a railway sleeper production business in Peru, and stumbled on the unknown ruins of Machu Picchu after purchasing nearby land to fell trees for timber. He explored the mountain citadel ruins between 1867 and 1870.
In archives in Peru, documents written by Berns and discovered by Greer reveal how the German found several sealed underground structures. Berns predicted that they would "undoubtedly contain objects of great value" – the "treasures of the Incas".
His company, the aptly-named Companhia Anonima Explotadora de las Huacas del Inca (the Inca Sites Exploitation Company) had the backing of some of the most important people in Peru, including the country's president at the time, Andres Avelino Caceres.
In 1887 the Peruvian government consented to the looting of Machu Picchu, even making an agreement with Berns allowing him to export the material as long as he gave the government a 10 per cent cut. One of Berns' business partners in the venture appears to have been the director of Peru's national library. The vice- president of Berns' company was a pathology professor at a university in Lima, a collector of antiquities who eventually sold his collection to a museum in Berlin.
Machu Picchu was originally built in the 15th-century by the Inca emperor, Pachacuti, who was almost certainly buried there when he died in 1471.
The city had an important temple to the sun and Pachacuti's tomb and the temple are likely to have been adorned with substantial amounts of gold.
While most of that gold was probably removed in 1532 in a futile attempt to ransom the last reigning Inca emperor, Atahualpa, who had been captured by the Spanish conquistadors, it is conceivable that Berns found substantial quantities of high status ceramics not required for the ransom.
The revelations come at a time when Peruvian demands are increasing for the return of Hiram Bingham's Machu Picchu material, thousands of items of ceramic and bone currently in Yale University.
Greer, who has launched an international search for the lost Inca treasures, located a list of 57 of Berns' American, British and other contacts and potential contacts who may have bought antiquities that Berns found in Machu Picchu. But so far no list of finds has been discovered and the investigation will extend to the US and Europe to try to track down lost treasures in private collections. Greer's findings will be published in the next issue of South American Explorer magazine.
New light shed on who found (and looted) lost Inca city Machu Picchu
June 2, 2008. Source
Times Online by
Mark Henderson, Science Editor
Machu Picchu, the “lost city of the Incas”, may have been found and looted up to 40 years before the arrival of the explorer credited with its rediscovery, research suggests.
The first westerner to visit the mountaintop fortress, built in about 1450 at the height of the Inca empire and abandoned a century later after the Spanish conquest, is usually considered to have been Hiram Bingham, an American academic from Yale University who reached it in 1911. A new study, however, has suggested that by the time Bingham located Machu Picchu it had already been despoiled, with the complicity of the Peruvian Government.
Documents and maps identified by Paolo Greer, an independent American researcher and explorer, have provided hints that the site was known to Augusto R. Berns, a German adventurer, as far back as the late 1860s. Berns looted the tombs and treasures, giving a 10 per cent share of the profits to the Peruvian authorities, Mr Greer believes.
When Bingham reached Machu Picchu in 1911, he removed thousands of artifacts, including mummies, ceramics and bones. Many were recently returned to Peru by Yale after a long-running dispute.
If Mr Greer's theory is correct, however, these items may only have been what Berns left behind several decades previously. Many of the lost city's richer treasures would already have been removed and sold, and their whereabouts remain unknown.
Alex Chepstow-Lusty, of the French Institute for Andean Studies, an Inca specialist who has examined Mr Greer's findings, said it seemed highly likely that Berns did reach Machu Picchu first. “We know from Berns's papers that he had permission to exploit an Inca huaca, or sacred place,” Dr Chepstow-Lusty said. “It does look very much as if that huaca was Machu Picchu.”
Mr Greer, who has been researching Machu Picchu since the 1970s, found an 1887 pamphlet written by Berns to promote a company that would exploit an Inca huaca. In it, Berns wrote: “During my stay in those provinces for four years ... I was able to discover the existence of significant rustic buildings and underground structures that had been closed with stones, some of them carved, which will undoubtedly contain objects of great value, and form part of those treasures of the Incas.”
Mr Greer said: “This is in fact the earliest known description of Machu Picchu.” He also found three maps which support the idea that Berns was working near the site.
Even Bingham may have been aware that Berns beat him to the city. In his book Inca Land, Bingham wrote: “With the possible exception of one mining prospector, no one in Cuzco had seen the ruins of Machu Picchu or appreciated their importance.”
Mr Greer said: “Berns was probably the prospector Bingham had heard about, the one who had been to Machu Picchu decades before him.”