November 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Hiram Bingham

Bingham is best known for publicizing one of the major tourist attractions of an entire continent: Machu Picchu.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on this day in 1875, Hiram Bingham became a lecturer and a history professor at Yale University. In 1908 he attended the First Pan American Scientific Congress at Santiago, Chile. He went to Peru in order to travel home to America, and there a local prefect took him to visit an old Incan city called Choquequirao. Bingham was fascinated and drawn to the idea of exploring Incan ruins previously unknown to most people.

In 1911 he returned to the Andes Mountains and Peru with a university expedition. A Peruvian farmer named Melchor Arteaga had discovered some ruins, and Bingham had him lead the expedition up the mountains to the site. What did Bingham see in that first visit?

Visitors to Machu Picchu today see the Incan citadel spread out high in the mountains in a breathtaking view (above), but when Arteaga first led the American expedition to the ruins, the ancient buildings and walls were overgrown by plants. See below the 1911 photo of Bingham and a Peruvian man (Arteaga?).


  • Here is a short video from National Geographic. 

  • Here is an art activity: making Incan masks. 

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