Machu Pichu

Date: 1911
Owner: Wikimedia
Source Type: Images

In 1911, the U.S. academic and explorer Hiram Bingham III was the first modern foreigner to discover Machu Picchu, a city that had served as the winter retreat of the Incan rulers during the height of their empire. After reporting his findings, he organized the Yale Peruvian Expedition (YPE) that went to Peru in 1912 and began to excavate the ruins, collecting artifacts that they brought back to Yale for preservation and study.

The Bingham expedition was one of the earliest examples of the U.S. asserting its academic hegemony over Latin America. By denigrating the potential contributions of local scholars, U.S. scholars made the entire region of Latin America a "field" in which only they were qualified to conduct research.

Although the findings of the YPE were extraordinarily important to understanding Incan history, debates are now raging over whether the U.S. archaeologists stole objects that were the cultural right of Peru. Many patriotic Peruvians, and others who support indigenista movements, now consider Bingham's and similar expeditions to be a form of modern imperialism, one that exploits the pre-history of Latin America and places its people in a de facto position of inferiority.

There are, however, arguments that can be made on the behalf of such efforts by the U.S. Few Latin American institutions can provide comparable excavation teams nor do most Latin American museums have the technology and trained personnel to fully preserve ancient artifacts.


Lubow, Arthur. "The Posessed." New York Times Magazine 24 June, 2007.

CITATION: Martin St–Amant. Machu Picchu at dawn. December, 2006.