Hiram Bingham

Notes on archaeologist Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham

Hiram Bingham (1875-1956) was the leader of the Yale University Peruvian Expeditions of 1911-1912 and 1914-1915, which rediscovered the ‘lost’ Inca cities of Machu Picchu and Vitcos. Bingham believed that Machu Picchu was Vilcabamba, the final refuge of Manco Inca, but this is now disputed, as other ruins seem to have a better claim to the title. Bingham later became a US senator.

While Bingham liked to present himself as the ‘discoverer’ of Machu Picchu, there is reason to believe that several earlier explorers and archaeologists (to say nothing of local people) were aware of the existence and location of the ruins. The Italian mapmaker Antonio Raimondi had mapped the approximate location of Machu Picchu, and the French explorer Charles Wiener had reported the existence of ruins at places named Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. A number of Peruvian archaeologists, both amateur and professional, had visited the site – one even left a plaque commemorating his visit – and Bingham’s discovery may have been assisted by Peruvian archaeologist Dr Alberto Giesecke, who passed on to him a description of the site given by a local landowner (Bingham was also familiar with Wiener’s account, and had a copy of Raimondi’s map). Lastly, there is evidence to suggest that the site had been intermittently occupied at various periods since its abandonment by the Incas. When Bingham first visited the site, he found local farmers living among the ruins.

Nevertheless, Bingham was certainly among the first non-Peruvians to visit Machu Picchu, and was arguably the first person to recognize its real importance and to describe it in detail to the world.

Bingham was responsible for naming many of the sites along the Inca Trail, giving them Quechua names of his own invention.


Hiram Bingham
Wikipedia article about Hiram Bingham
In the Wonderland of Peru
Hiram Bingham’s preliminary report to the National Geographical Society following the 1912 expedition.
Hiram Bingham III: Machu Picchu Explorer and Politician
Connecticut History’s biography of Hiram Bingham
Hiram Bingham
Congressional biography of Senator Hiram Bingham.
Hiram Bingham: A Story of Imperialist Plunder
An article about Bingham’s systematic removal of artifacts from Machu Picchu.
The ‘Discovery’ of Peru's Machu Picchu
Article by Survival International about Bingham’s ‘discovery’.