Machu Picchu – The Lost City of the Incas
Last Sunday archaeologist David Drew gave a lecture about the so-called lost city of Machu Picchu. Of course, the Andean citadel was never truly lost and was well known to the locals even to the extent that some farmed amongst the ruins. As it happened, there was a lot we didn’t know about Andean culture before it was disrupted and destroyed so effectively until well into the 20th century.
The western encounter with Machu Picchu only goes back 100 years when American archaeologist and adventurer, Hiram Bingham persuaded the National Geographic Magazine to sponsor him on a series of expeditions to Peru. An account was published in the magazine and so the myth of lost cities was born. Indeed, Bingham’s account was very evocative whilst at the same time exaggerating his claim in all sorts of ways. Not only was the myth of lost cities founded but also that of the action adventurer. It doesn’t take to much thought to realise why Indiana Jones had such resonance with the public decades later.
Today Machu Picchu is an iconic site in South American tourism and there are real dangers that the advent of mass tourism will destroy the very thing people want to see. Controls are now in place to limit access to the site but the weight of numbers more generally is threatening local culture in the surrounding area. A new airport near Cuzco is about to be built and this is bound to have a massive impact which will not be for the benefit of everyone. In a sense, I hope our talk last Sunday will act as a scholarly substitute to the need to visit. Excellent as it is to learn about world cultures, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t need to consume them in ways which has the result of destroying the very thing we love and admire otherwise things will become truly lost forever.