Machu Picchu has been referred to by the wrong name for over 100 years

(CNN) — Some mistakes are hard to shake off.

For over 100 years, one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, Machu Picchu, has been known by the wrong name, according to a report published in Ñawpa Pacha: Journal of the Institute of Andean Studies.

The Incas who built the ancient city probably named it Huayna Picchu, the report says.

Huayna translates to “new or young,” while picchu means “mountain peak” in the indigenous Quechua language, said Emily Dean, a professor of anthropology at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. She was not involved in the report. Machu means “old,” so we called it “ancient mountain peak,” she added.

According to report author Brian Bauer, a professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the Inca settlement was probably established around 1420 as an estate for royal Incas living in Cuzco, the capital of the Inca Empire.

When the Spanish later conquered the Incas, Huayna Picchu was abandoned, the report said. It was hidden deep in the Andes for centuries until American explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered it in 1911.

Lost in translation

In his field notes, Bingham decided to name the ancient city of Machu Picchu based on information provided to him by his guide Melchor Arteaga, a farmer who lived in the area, Bauer said.

While researching Machu Picchu, Bauer found evidence that its original name had been something else. The report’s author, Donato Amado Gonzales — a historian at Peru’s Ministry of Culture — independently discovered the same pattern, so they decided to team up and uncover the real name together.

The researchers began by looking at Bingham’s notes, in which he stated he wasn’t sure of the ruins’ name when he first visited them. From there, Bauer and Amado Gonzales reviewed maps and atlases printed before and after Bingham’s visit.

One of the most impressive documents was a report from 1588 that said the indigenous people of the Vilcabamba region were considering returning to Huayna Picchu, Bauer said.

The naming error isn’t surprising, Dean said, because many non-Peruvian archaeologists haven’t put much effort into researching site names and don’t fully understand Quechua.

“Broadly speaking, this finding challenges the popular narrative that Hiram Bingham discovered Machu Picchu,” she said. Locals knew of the site long before Bingham arrived.

A name change is unlikely

Despite the discovery of the area’s original name, it will likely remain Machu Picchu, Bauer said.

“We would not suggest changing the name as Machu Picchu is known worldwide,” he added.

Machu Picchu is also featured in thousands of books, articles, advertisements and legal documents, Dean said.

The Peruvian people and their government have embraced the new name, so while it’s an interesting addition to the site’s history, it won’t change the modern name, she noted. Machu Picchu has been referred to by the wrong name for over 100 years

Charles Jones

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