Abstract: What's New at Machu Picchu

Lecturer: James Kus

Since its discovery a century ago 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 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 competing commercial interests.

After Hiram Bingham’s last work at Machu Picchu, he sent a large number of artifacts to Yale University with the promise to return them within 18 months.  They still reside in New Haven, however, although tentative agreements for their return have been worked out.  But as we approach the centenary of Bingham’s discovery, the issue of the artifacts remains a “hot potato” political issue in Peru.  Another controversy surrounds the very high end hotel adjacent to the site – should it remain?  And what about the conflicting interests of the people of the nearby town of Aguas Caliente (now being called Machu Picchu Pueblo)?  They argue that the do not receive their fair share of revenues from the site, although tourists visiting Machu Picchu spend large amounts of money in their town.

Note:  Dr. Kus has visited Machu Picchu more than twenty times since 1970 and has been involved in efforts to return the artifacts to Peru.  This has been his most popular AIA lecture in recent years.

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Elise A. Friedland is Associate Professor of Classics and Art History in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the George Washington University. Her research... Read More

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