What's New at Machu Picchu


James Kus
Dept. of Geography,
California State University at Fresno

Thursday, April 11, 2013, 7:00 P.M., The Montclair Art Museum, 1 South Mountain Ave., Montclair, NJ*

Since its discovery (or re-discovery) in 1911 by Yale professor and explorer Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu has become the premier tourist attraction in Peru, and perhaps all of South America.  It was recently ranked as one of the "Seven Wonders of the World" in internet balloting and is listed as a UNESCO "World Heritage Site."  Yet, from the very beginning, controversy has swirled around the site – questions about who built it, why it was built, and why it was built in that particular location, were the focus of much debate during the first half of the Twentieth Century.  In recent years, however, the focus has shifted as research has provided answers to these basic questions.  Today, the two most important unresolved issues associated with Machu Picchu are 1). the future status of artifacts removed from Peru by Hiram Bingham and 2). how best to protect the site in the face of ever increasing tourist numbers (and modern commercial interests).
When Hiram Bingham left Peru in 1916, he reputedly removed some 74 crates of artifacts under an agreement with the Peruvian government that allowed the study of these items at Yale University for a period of 18 months.  After years of controversy, some of these objects have recently been returned to Peru, and more should reach Peru in the near future.  The ultimate disposition of the Machu Picchu artifacts remains a “hot potato” political issue in Peru – the people living near the site would like them to be displayed in a new museum at the site, whereas politicians in Cuzco and Lima seem to prefer that they be displayed in a museum in a larger city (some are already on display in a temporary museum in Cuzco).  A separate issue relates to the existence of a small (and very expensive) hotel adjacent to the site.  The Orient Express Corporation, which currently operates the hotel (along with the railroad that connects Machu Picchu to the outside world), would like to expand the hotel.  Most evironmentalists and archaeologists, on the other hand, insist that there is no place for a hotel within the archaeological sanctuary.  The people of the nearby town of Aguas Calientes present a further conundrum – they depend on tourists for their livelihood, but argue that they do not receive their fair share of revenues generated by the site.  This lecture, then, focuses on a variety of interesting archaeological ideas, including geography, history, exploration, tourism, and development, all tied together at this magnificent site.
Note – Dr. Kus has visited Machu Picchu more than twenty times since 1970, and worked “behind the scenes” with the Peruvian scholars who forced the return of the artifacts previously housed at Yale University.  This has been his most popular lecture in recent years.
Further reading:
Wright, Kenneth R., and Alfredo Valencia Zegarra.   Machu Picchu: a civil engineering marvel. With Ruth M. Wright and Gordon McEwan. American  Society of Civil Engineers, Reston, VA., 2000.

*Parking in lot behind museum.