Thursday, October 8, 2009
finding a lost city
Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham went looking for a “lost” city of the Inca when he was 36. It was 1911 when he headed to southern Peru, into the Inca’s Sacred Valley. He asked residents if they could point him in the direction of jungle-covered ruins. Sounds a bit like Indian Jones, right? It should, because Hiram was the real-life Indi, and the tales of our handsome Dr. Jones are based on his quest. He was looking for Vilcabamba, the legendary hiding place of Manco Inca, a leader in the rebellion against the Spanish (1536-1537). Manco had sought refuge in the jungle after the uprising failed. In Ollantaytambo, today the oldest occupied Inca village in Peru, Manco and his forces did defeat the Spanish in 1537, but we know the story - one empire gave way to another.
Bingham walked through the Sacred Valley and along the rushing Rio Urubamba, through a landscape sculpted under Inca rule. This spot on earth, with its flowing river, mirrored the flowing Milky Way, a celestial river. Dark silhouettes of cosmic llamas, toad, partridge, and fox drank from it, and if you look, their shadows -the dark spots in the Milky Way’s starlit haze- are still there.
Hiram did find an amazing city that had been lost to many people. It wasn’t a cosmic revelation; Hiram lucked out and met a person who led him to Machu Picchu. This great city sat atop a mountain and was truly cloud-shrouded and overgrown with jungle, but historians say it wasn’t Vilcabamba. Hiram would continue to believe that he had found the lost city, and the hiding place of Mancos and his rebel company. He thought so after his 1912 and 1915 excavations, and until the end of his life