What are the most confusing archaeological discoveries

The other members of his expedition - researchers, students, and technicians from Yale University - hadn't even made the climb and preferred to stay in camp. Nobody could have guessed that only half a day away one of the world's most important archaeological sites was waiting to be rediscovered.

Bingham had heard of a ruined city high in the mountains from a farmer named Melchor Artega, who was to take him there with a translator. Bingham did not believe that the 38-year-old researcher would find what he was looking for at an altitude of over 2,300 meters, nor did his colleagues waiting in the valley. The seven-person expedition set out mainly to find the last Inca capital, Vilcabamba. This is where the last of the once powerful people fled after the conquest of Cusco by Francisco Pizarro in 1536 - and there the Inca were finally subject to the Spanish conquerors 36 years later. "Machu Picchu", however, was the name of the mountain summit, on which the ruins should nestle according to Melchor Artega's statements, was far away from the area in which Vilcabamba should be located according to the ancient scriptures.

Bingham had already dreamed of becoming famous as a discoverer in his rather joyless childhood in Hawaii, where the strict parents - both were Puritan missionaries - converted the natives to the right faith. The very clever boy took refuge in the world of books, which at least in his mind led him to the freedom of the wide world. At the age of 17, he left Hawaii and the confines of his parents' home to study at the prestigious universities of Yale, Berkeley and Harvard and finally to obtain a doctorate with his research on Latin American history.

In 1905 Bingham, who had meanwhile been married to a millionaire heiress of the Tiffany & Co. jewelers and who was always registered as a "discoverer" in the "Who's Who", was in South America for the first time and had heard of the sunken cities of the Inca - including Vilcabamba that from now on he shouldn't get out of his mind and that he really wanted to find.

But now we went through the thicket at Machu Picchu together with Melchor Artega and an interpreter. When, in his book "Inca Land", published in 1922, he recalls that afternoon on July 24th, 1911 and raves about the "most elaborate masonry he has ever seen" or about buildings whose "lightness and elegance" are "barely conceivable". were; however, if he remembers experiencing "one surprise after the other in a confusing sequence", then this is evidence of, to put it mildly, a rather clouded memory. In truth, his enthusiasm was limited. After a few hours he was gone again; he hadn't even packed provisions. When he came back to Machu Picchu a few weeks later during the expedition, it was of all people who stayed in the camp - and sent his assistants and students up the mountain to take measurements.

It is an irony of history that shortly after his first visit to Machu Picchu, Bingham also discovered the real Vilcabamba - at least a small, dilapidated and unsightly part of it. Even if the ruins were exactly where they should have been according to the old reports, Hiram Bingham never wanted to admit it: In the many years after his discovery of Machu Picchu, Bingham came, who eventually became a politician and even the Senator of Connecticut led to the - and remained with - the conviction that the Inca fought their last battle in Machu Picchu, that Machu Picchu was the real Vilcabamba, which was already proven wrong at the time.

This article is included in Spectrum - Die Woche, KW 28, 2011