By Hiram Bingham
Hiram Bingham was the genuine article. It is obvious that he was at least in part the model for the Indiana Jones character, but Bingham was no Hollywood hero. Though he was not trained as an archaeologist he discovered most of the known major ruins of the Inca civilization long hidden by jungle and protected by almost impassible mountains and raging rivers.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section is a brief history of the Incas. Though superseded by new discoveries this section is still worth reading. However, it is not adventure travel and the reader can safely skip to the second section where he describes the search. The third section is about the discovery of Machu Picchu.
“Suddenly I found myself confronted with the walls of ruined houses built of the finest quality of Inca stone work. It was hard to see them for they were partly covered with trees and moss, the growth of centuries, but in the dense shadow, hiding in bamboo thickets and tangled vines, appeared here and there walls of white granite ashlars carefully cut and exquisitely fitted together. . . . Dimly I began to realize that this wall and its adjoining semicircular temple over the cave were as fine as the finest stonework in the world. It fairly took my breath away. What could this place be?”
Bingham’s discoveries fundamentally changed the conventional wisdom about indigenous American cultures. Here was evidence of a civilization that built structures at least equal to anything in Europe.
The Urubamba river had a disastrous flood in late January 2010, and Machu Picchu is as of this writing almost as inaccessible as it was in Bingham’s day. It is a humanitarian disaster that has been overshadowed by the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.
Image: Hiram Bingham in 1911 after returning from the jungle site of Espiritu Pampa. Note the saddle mule, the snake-proof boots, the waxed cotton jacket with the bulge of a pistol just above his left hand, and the battered felt hat. This is the epitome of the experienced jungle explorer. He looks very thin in this and other photos taken at the time. There was no Cipro or other antibiotics. Photograph taken with Bingham’s camera by an unknown member of the expedition.