Day 78 of Colourisation Project – July 24
It was on this day, July 24, 1911, that Hiram Bingham III, uncovered one of the greatest archaeological finds of the last century, Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca site in a remote part of the Peruvian Andes and one of the rare Inca settlements that the Spanish had not discovered and destroyed.
Born in 1875, Bingham was an American academic, aviator, explorer and politician who with the guidance of local indigenous farmers unearthed the existence of the Quechua Citadel of Machu Picchu in 1911.
Bingham’s discovery made him an American hero. Said by some to be the real-life inspiration of the Indiana Jones character, Bingham was not however a trained archaeologist. It was during his time as professor in South American history at Yale that he re-discovered the largely forgotten Machu Picchu on a National Geographic funded expedition to find an ancient Inca Empire in the Andes mountains.
Located 2,430 metres (8,000 ft) above sea level, Machu Picchu was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1983. In 2007, it was crowned one of the New Seven Wonders of the World via a worldwide Internet vote.
Machu Picchu is now one of the major tourist attractions in South America, and Bingham is recognized as the main man who brought the site to world attention. The switchback-filled road that carries tourist buses to the site from the Urubamba River is called the Hiram Bingham Highway.
Bigham lived and breathed history. He earned degrees from Yale, Berkeley, and Harvard. With a doctorate in South American history, he traveled and explored that continent extensively. After an academic life, Bingham entered politics and in 1922 was elected Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut, an office he held for the next two years. In 1924 he was elected Governor, but served for only one day. A Senate vacancy had been created due to the suicide of one of the Connecticut senators. A special election was called which Bingham ran for and won. He served as United States senator from 1925 to 1933 after which he devoted himself to business interests.
Bingham died 0n June 6, 1956 and was interned in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington. One obituary writer observed that the Connecticut Republican “had crammed many careers into his lifetime, any one of which might have sufficed for most men.”
In the meantime tension had been growing over the ownership of Peruvian artifacts and relics taken from Machu Picchu. Fifty-two years after Bingham’s death in 2008, Peru launched a lawsuit for the return of artifacts that Bingham had taken back to the United States after his trips to Machu Picchu between 1911 and 1916.
Yale and Peru eventually resolved the lawsuit and in November 2012, just on 100 years after having been taken from the South American continent, Yale University returned the thousands of artifacts belonging to Machu Picchu.
“In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle.” — Hiram Bingham III