Machu Picchu is two decades older than previously thought

The Huayna Picchu Peak, in Machu Picchu.

The Huayna Picchu Peak, in Machu Picchu.

Modern technologies used by a team of archaeologists have revealed that the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, in southern Peru, is older than previously believed.

The scientists, led by the archaeologist and anthropologist from the American University of Yale Richard Burger, have used a “mass spectrometry accelerator” (AMS) in their work and have determined that the complex is at least twenty years older of what the historical records establish.

AMS is one of the most advanced technologies used today for “radiocarbon” dating, Yale University explained after the publication of the results of this research in the journal Antiquity.

The new findings reveal that Machu Picchu was in use from approximately 1420 to 1530, and that this use ended around the time of the Spanish conquest.

Those dates reveal that the site is at least 20 years older than historical records suggest, according to the researchers, who have further emphasized that The new data raise new questions about the understanding of Inca chronology.

Some historical sources – Yale University has recalled – pointed out that the ruler of the Inca state Pachacútec took power in 1438 and later conquered the valley where Machu Picchu is located.

From those records it had been estimated that the citadel was built after the year 1440 and perhaps until 1450, depending on how long it took the new ruler to conquer and subdue that region and build the complex.

The archaeologists’ finding suggests that Pachacútec, whose reign put the Incas on the path to becoming the largest and most powerful empire in pre-Columbian America, gained power and began his conquests decades earlier than textual sources indicate.

According to the note released by Yale University, estimates of the age of Machu Picchu and the duration of its occupation were based until now on historical accounts written by Spaniards after the Spanish conquest, but they have pointed out that the data known so far should be reviewed.

The “AMS” techniques can, according to the same source, date bones and teeth that contain even small amounts of organic material, thus expanding the pool of remains suitable for scientific analysis.

For this study, the researchers used and analyzed human samples from 26 individuals that were recovered from four cemeteries in Machu Picchu during excavations carried out in 1912.

The bones and teeth used in the analysis probably belonged to servants or assistants who were assigned to the rulers, according to archaeologists, who have found that the remains show little evidence of participation in heavy physical labor, such as construction, so they surely belonged to the period when the site was used as a country palace, not when it was being built.

All human remains and archaeological materials from Machu Picchu that have been used for research at Yale University have later been returned to Cuzco, where they are kept in the Machu Picchu Museum, the same source has reported.


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