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Encyclopédie des historiographies : Afriques, Amériques, Asies

 | 
Nathalie Kouamé
, 
Éric P. Meyer
, 
Anne Viguier

M

Machu Picchu, a Royal Estate of the Inca Ruler Pachacuti

Machu Picchu, un domaine royal du souverain Inca Pachacuti

Antti Korpisaari

Résumé

Situé dans la basse vallée péruvienne de l’Urubamba, Machu Picchu est l’un des sites archéologiques les plus emblématiques des Amériques. Il est devenu le symbole de l’Empire inca né au Cuzco sur les hauts plateaux méridionaux du Pérou. Au cours du xve et au début du xvie siècle, les Incas ont rapidement conquis de vastes espaces avant de disparaître face aux Espagnols au cours des années 1530. Peu après la découverte scientifique de Machu Picchu en 1911, les hypothèses les plus fantaisistes ont commencé à circuler sur la nature et la fonction de cette « cité perdue des Incas ». Néanmoins, depuis les années 1980, la connaissance archéologique et ethnohistorique du site s’est considérablement accrue. Les chercheurs s’accordent maintenant sur le fait que Machu Picchu n’était pas un établissement inca typique mais plutôt un domaine royal personnel de l’empereur Pachacuti et qu’il daterait probablement du milieu du xve siècle.

Texte intégral

Introduction

  • 1 Terence N. D’Altroy, 2015, p. 463‑468); http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/274 (accessed May 5, 2017); (...)
  • 2 https://www.inei.gob.pe/estadisticas/indice-tematico/tourism1/ (accessed May 5, 2017).

1The iconic image of the Inca site Machu Picchu, with the main group of ruins in the foreground, and Huayna Picchu Mountain (on which there are Inca ruins too) in the background (Figure 1), is known to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The Historic Sanctuary of Machu Picchu, established in 1981, was added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1983, and in 2007, Machu Picchu was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in a worldwide Internet poll1. According to Peru’s Instituto Nacional de Estadística e Informática, close to 700,000 international tourists and over 270,000 Peruvians visited this famous archaeological site in 2012 (the most recent year for which statistics are available)2.

2To the great majority of its visitors, Machu Picchu is marketed as “the lost city of the Incas.” The attribute “lost”, which has some truth in it, stems from the fact that Machu Picchu is not mentioned in the sixteenth and seventeenth‑century chronicles, written in the wake of the Spanish Conquest of Peru (1532‑1533). Therefore, the site was unknown to the academic community before its scientific discovery by Hiram Bingham iii in 1911. The attribute “city”, however, is very incorrect, as Machu Picchu was no ordinary settlement. Rather, it very likely functioned as the centre of one of the royal estates of the Inca emperor Pachacuti, who ruled in the fifteenth century.

Figure 1. The architectural core of Machu Picchu seen from the south, with Huayna Picchu Mountain in the background

Figure 1. The architectural core of Machu Picchu seen from the south, with Huayna Picchu Mountain in the background

Photo by Antti Korpisaari

The Layout of the Site

  • 3 D’Altroy, 2015, p. 231‑232; Salazar, 2004, p. 27‑33.

3The world‑famous, well‑preserved architectural core of the Machu Picchu estate is situated on the forested eastern slopes of the Andes. More specifically, it is located on a ridge crest between Machu (Old) Picchu Mountain and Huayna (Young) Picchu Mountains, at an altitude of 2.430 m above sea‑level. Fourteen residential house groups were identified by Bingham. Due to their size, layout, and the quality of their stonework, the three house groups in the site’s northeast sector (to the right of the central plaza in Figure 1) probably housed members of the Inca elite. Behind these elite household compounds, there are rows of simpler buildings, which were likely inhabited by retainers (yanaconas in Quechua) and/or specialized workers (camayocs in Quechua). The probable residence of the Inca ruler stood in the southwest sector, set apart from all other domestic architecture.3

  • 4 Burger, 2004, p. 100‑101; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 232‑235; Salazar, 2004, p. 33‑42.
  • 5 Burger, 2004, p. 102; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 234‑235.
  • 6 D’Altroy, 2015, p. 233‑234.

4In addition to residential architecture, Machu Picchu also contains around thirty structures used for religious activities. Among the most important of these are the Temple of the Sun (also referred to as the Torreón), a curved structure, which encloses a carved rock outcrop (Figure 2), and the Temple of Three Windows, whose architecture probably alluded to the cave of Tambotoco, the mythical origin place of the Incas (Figure 3). A 750‑meter-long, stone‑lined canal conducted fresh spring water to Machu Picchu’s descending series of sixteen ritual fountains.4 Excavations below one of Machu Picchu’s plazas have shown that the site’s surface was heavily modified in order to stabilize the ground and facilitate construction work.5 However, it is equally clear that, at other times, Inca architects and stonemasons allowed natural boulders and rock outcrops to guide their work, leading to some beautiful cases in which natural bedrock melds almost seamlessly into built stonework6 (see Figure 4). Series of descending agricultural terraces frame Machu Picchu’s residential and religious core on its western, eastern, and southeastern sides, and the site’s ridge‑crest location offers wonderful views of the Urubamba Valley and the surrounding mountains (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 2. The Torreón or Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu. Note also the series of descending agricultural terraces on the right and the Urubamba River far below

Figure 2. The Torreón or Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu. Note also the series of descending agricultural terraces on the right and the Urubamba River far below

Photo by Antti Korpisaari

Figure 3. The so‑called Temple of Three Windows at Machu Picchu

Figure 3. The so‑called Temple of Three Windows at Machu Picchu

Photo by Antti Korpisaari

Figure 4. This picture of the outside of the Torreón or Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu exemplifies how skilfully the Incas could meld bedrock and man‑made walls

Figure 4. This picture of the outside of the Torreón or Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu exemplifies how skilfully the Incas could meld bedrock and man‑made walls

Photo by Antti Korpisaari

The scientific discovery of Machu Picchu and Bingham’s interpretations regarding the site

  • 7 Bingham Hiram iii, 1951, p. 137‑151, 172‑194; Bingham Hiram iii, 2004[1913], p. 10‑13; see also Sa (...)
  • 8 D’Altroy, 2015, p. 226‑227, 463‑468; Salazar, 2004, p. 23.
  • 9 Bingham, 1951, p. 12‑13, 143, 206‑212; Bingham, 2004[1913], p. 17‑18; see also Salazar, 2004, p. 2 (...)

5Hiram Bingham and his Yale Peruvian Expedition scientifically discovered Machu Picchu on July 24, 1911. In 1912, Bingham led another expedition to Machu Picchu, clearing and excavating in the central architectural core and studying cave tombs on the eastern slopes. Bingham’s last expedition to Machu Picchu took place in 1914‑19157. In 1911, Bingham was actually looking for Vilcabamba, the citadel where a small neo‑Inca polity endured from 1536 until 1572.8 Although he soon came to believe that Machu Picchu would in fact have been Vilcabamba, Bingham first identified Machu Picchu as the above‑mentioned Tambotoco of Inca myths. More specifically, he thought that the large windows of Machu Picchu’s Temple of Three Windows (Figure 3) were the three “cave openings” from which, according to the myth, the Incas and other tribes had originally come forth.9

  • 10 Bingham, 1951, p. 175‑183.See also Burger, 2004, p. 87); D’Altroy, 2015, p. 236‑237.
  • 11 Bruhns & Stothert, 2014, p. 138‑140; Pärssinen, 1992, p. 157‑161.
  • 12 Burger, 2004, p. 87; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 236‑237; Salazar,2004, p. 43‑44.

6A third erroneous interpretation of Bingham was that Machu Picchu would have been occupied by the so‑called acllas.10 These were “chosen girls / women” educated in guarded “cloisters” since the age of ten or so. Many of the women eventually became the wives of men the ruler wanted to honour, and some acllas the ruler even took as his own concubines. Additionally, some young acllas were set aside for sacrifice, and yet others spent their whole lives in the acllahuasis, the “houses of chosen women”.11 Bingham’s argumentation in this matter was inspired by the fact that his 1912 expedition’s osteologist, George Eaton ‑ who was rather unfamiliar with the particularities of human skeletal remains from the Andes ‑ came to the conclusion that around 80 percent of the individuals buried in Machu Picchu’s cave tombs would have been females. However, some fifteen years ago, physical anthropologist John Verano re‑examined the human remains in question, finding the female‑to‑male ratio to actually be 1.46:1. Therefore, the two biological sexes are relatively balanced in the Machu Picchu osteological collection, and Bingham’s hypothesis of Machu Picchu as a kind of an acllahuasi finds very little support.12

The Current Thinking regarding the Function of Machu Picchu

  • 13 Salazar, 2004, p. 24‑25.
  • 14 Rowe, 1990, p. 139‑145).
  • 15 Niles, 2004, p. 49‑50; Pärssinen, 1992, p. 201; Rowe, 1990, p. 142‑143; Salazar, 2004, p. 26.

7The current scholarly understanding regarding the actual Inca‑era nature and function of Machu Picchu dates back to the 1980s. In 1982, Richard L. Burger and Lucy C. Salazar suggested that the site would have been a personal royal estate built by an Inca emperor.13 A few years later, John H. Rowe convincingly demonstrated that, in all likelihood, Machu Picchu indeed was Pachacuti Inca’s royal estate.14 According to the most generally accepted chronology, Pachacuti, arguably the most important of all Inca emperors, ruled 1438‑1471. He was responsible for the Inca conquest of the Urubamba Valley, in the lower part of which Machu Picchu is located. Inca rulers used to commemorate their conquests by establishing private royal estates, the produce of which helped support their rule. After an emperor’s death, his estates and other private belongings remained in the possession of his kin group (panaca in Quechua), which was composed of his descendants and which, among other duties, took care of the deceased ruler’s mummy and ancestor cult.15

  • 16 Pärssinen, 2004, p. 93‑94; Rowe, 1990, p. 139‑145.

8It has long been acknowledged that Pisac and Ollantaytambo, located upstream of Machu Picchu (and, therefore, closer to the Inca capital Cuzco), were Pachacuti’s royal estates. As opposed to the first two, Machu Picchu is not mentioned in any of the surviving Spanish chronicles, that is, longer treatises on the history and nature of Inca rule written in the aftermath of the conquest. This fact is often erroneously taken to mean that the Spanish conquerors would have been completely unaware of the site’s existence. However, the chronicles are only the tip of the iceberg among the great multitude of various types of documents produced by the Spanish in the wake of their conquest of the Inca Empire. As John Rowe has demonstrated, there are at least three sixteenth-century documents in which the site name Picchu, Piccho, or Picho is mentioned; in another text, from the year 1657, the name even appears in its current, complete form: Machu Picchu. The aforementioned sixteenth-century documents convincingly prove that the stretch of the Urubamba River along which Machu Picchu is located belonged to Pachacuti and, later, to the Spaniards Hernando Pizarro and Arias Maldonado. Furthermore, Hirram iii Bingham knew at least one of the three documents, written in 1565 by Diego Rodríguez de Figuroa and published in 1910 by Richard Pietschmann, as he cited it as early as in 1912. However, either Bingham failed to make the connection between “his” Machu Picchu and the Picho of Rodríguez’s text, or he chose not to do so on purpose, preferring that Machu Picchu retain its aura of “mystery”.16

  • 17 Burger, 2004, p. 86‑87, 94‑97; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 237‑238; Niles, 2004, p. 57‑58; Rowe, 1990, p. 1 (...)

9Machu Picchu’s identification as the centre of a royal estate means several things: for one, the site’s permanent population was probably rather small, numbering only a few hundred people. Furthermore, as was customary in the Inca Empire, it is likely that these servants and artisans had been drawn from various regions of the vast state. In the Machu Picchu archaeological collection, this multiethnic character of the site’s occupants is reflected in various ways. For instance, grave good assemblages often contain artifacts with links to the Lake Titicaca region, whereas other finds testify to the presence of artisans from the north coast of Peru (more specifically, from the Chimú cultural area) in the palace complex at Machu Picchu. Isotopic analyses of tooth enamel also support the notion that Machu Picchu’s resident population had indeed been drawn from several different parts of the Central Andes17.

  • 18 Burger, 2004, p. 104‑106; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 232‑233; Niles, 2004, p. 58‑60; Rowe, 1990, p. 144; S (...)

10Another implication of Machu Picchu’s function as a royal estate is that Pachacuti and his retinue (and, after the ruler’s death, his kin group) would have spent time there only periodically. According to the chronicles, such visits to a country estate involved relaxation, hunting, and entertaining other Inca nobles and foreign dignitaries, among other activities. The high number of cult-related buildings at Machu Picchu suggests that religious ceremonies and rituals, as well as astronomical observations ‑ all of which were activities central to the royal court ‑ were also carried out at this particular estate18.

Epilogue

  • 19 Rowe, 1990, p. 143; Salazar, 2004, p. 47.
  • 20 Salazar, 2004, p. 22.

11Following the Spanish Conquest, when the Inca socioeconomic system collapsed, Machu Picchu and other royal Inca estates quickly lost their reason and resources to function, and were abandoned. In the Colonial period, the zone in which Machu Picchu is located was neither a major transit route nor of much economic importance. Therefore, it is only natural that the Spanish chroniclers overlooked this area, and Machu Picchu was gradually “lost” to history.19 However, precisely because of its remote location and long abandonment, Machu Picchu could survive to offer “the most complete example of classic Inca architecture and planning known to date”.20

  • 21  http://news.yale.edu/2015/06/04/peru-yale-partnership-future-machu-picchu-artifacts (accessed May (...)
  • 22 Alderman, 2014, p. 4587‑4589; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 239.

12For about a century, thousands of the artifacts Hiram iii Bingham excavated at Machu Picchu were housed at the Peabody Museum at Yale University. As early as in the 1910s and the 1920s, Peru unsuccessfully demanded repatriation of these objects. In the year 2000, Peru revived its claims. In late 2008, after negotiations had failed, Peru filed a lawsuit in the United States, seeking the return of Yale’s Machu Picchu collection. Finally, in late 2010, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement that Yale would return all artifacts to Peru upon completion of an inventory. Accordingly, in 2011‑2012, the archaeological collections in question were finally transported back to Peru21.22

Bibliographie

Books

Bingham Hiram iii, 1951, Lost City of the Incas: The Story of Machu Picchu and Its Builders, Phoenix House, London, 224 p. [9780297607595]

Bruhns Karen Olsen & Stothert Karen E., 2014, Women in Ancient America, Second Edition, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 312 p. [9780806146287]

D’Altroy Terence N., 2015, The Incas, Second Edition, Wiley Blackwell, West Sussex, 408 p. [9781405116763]

Pärssinen Martti, 2004, Andien ihminen : Ihminen ja ympäristö Keski-Andeilla [L’homme des Andes : les hommes et la nature dans les Andes centrales], Iberialais-amerikkalainen säätiö, Suomen Madridin-instituutti, Madrid, 239 p. [9525481034]

Papers and Contributions to Books

Alderman Kimberly, 2014, “Yale’s Repatriation of the Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru”, in Smith Claire (ed.), Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, Springer, New York, Heidelberg, Dordrecht, and London, p. 4587‑4589; 8015 p. [9781441904263]

Bingham Hiram iii, 2004 [1913], “The Discovery of Machu Picchu”, in Burger Richard L. & Salazar Lucy C. (eds.), Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, Yale University Press, p. 6‑18, New Haven and London, 256 p. [9780300097634]

Burger Richard L., 2004, “Scientific Insights into Daily Life at Machu Picchu”, in Burger Richard L. & Salazar Lucy C. (eds.), Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p. 84‑106.

Niles Susan A., 2004, “The Nature of Inca Royal Estates”, in Burger Richard L. & Salazar Lucy C. (eds.), Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p. 48‑68, 256 p. [9780300097634]

Pärssinen Martti, 1992, Tawantinsuyu: The Inca State and Its Political Organization, Studia Historica 43, Suomen Historiallinen Seura, Helsinki.

Rowe John H., 1990, “Machu Picchu a la luz de documentos del siglo xvi” [Machu Picchu à la lumière des documents du xvie siècle], Histórica, vol. XIV, n1, p. 139‑154.

Salazar Lucy C., 2004, “Machu Picchu: Mysterious Royal Estate in the Cloud Forest”, in Burger Richard L. & Salazar Lucy C. (eds.), Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, p. 20‑47, 256 p. [9780300097634]

Turner Bethany L., Kamenov George D., Kingston John D. & Armelagos George J., 2009, “Insights into Immigration and Social Class at Machu Picchu, Peru Based on Oxygen, Strontium, and Lead Isotopic Analysis”, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 36, p. 317.

Notes

1 Terence N. D’Altroy, 2015, p. 463‑468); http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/274 (accessed May 5, 2017); https://world.new7wonders.com/wonders/machu-picchu-1460-1470-peru/ (accessed May 5, 2017).

2 https://www.inei.gob.pe/estadisticas/indice-tematico/tourism1/ (accessed May 5, 2017).

3 D’Altroy, 2015, p. 231‑232; Salazar, 2004, p. 27‑33.

4 Burger, 2004, p. 100‑101; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 232‑235; Salazar, 2004, p. 33‑42.

5 Burger, 2004, p. 102; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 234‑235.

6 D’Altroy, 2015, p. 233‑234.

7 Bingham Hiram iii, 1951, p. 137‑151, 172‑194; Bingham Hiram iii, 2004[1913], p. 10‑13; see also Salazar, 2004, p. 21‑22.

8 D’Altroy, 2015, p. 226‑227, 463‑468; Salazar, 2004, p. 23.

9 Bingham, 1951, p. 12‑13, 143, 206‑212; Bingham, 2004[1913], p. 17‑18; see also Salazar, 2004, p. 22.

10 Bingham, 1951, p. 175‑183.See also Burger, 2004, p. 87); D’Altroy, 2015, p. 236‑237.

11 Bruhns & Stothert, 2014, p. 138‑140; Pärssinen, 1992, p. 157‑161.

12 Burger, 2004, p. 87; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 236‑237; Salazar,2004, p. 43‑44.

13 Salazar, 2004, p. 24‑25.

14 Rowe, 1990, p. 139‑145).

15 Niles, 2004, p. 49‑50; Pärssinen, 1992, p. 201; Rowe, 1990, p. 142‑143; Salazar, 2004, p. 26.

16 Pärssinen, 2004, p. 93‑94; Rowe, 1990, p. 139‑145.

17 Burger, 2004, p. 86‑87, 94‑97; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 237‑238; Niles, 2004, p. 57‑58; Rowe, 1990, p. 143‑145; Salazar, 2004, p. 27, 45; Turner and al., 2009, p. 330.

18 Burger, 2004, p. 104‑106; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 232‑233; Niles, 2004, p. 58‑60; Rowe, 1990, p. 144; Salazar, 2004, p. 26‑27, 33‑42.

19 Rowe, 1990, p. 143; Salazar, 2004, p. 47.

20 Salazar, 2004, p. 22.

21  http://news.yale.edu/2015/06/04/peru-yale-partnership-future-machu-picchu-artifacts (accessed May 5, 2017).

22 Alderman, 2014, p. 4587‑4589; D’Altroy, 2015, p. 239.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. The architectural core of Machu Picchu seen from the south, with Huayna Picchu Mountain in the background
Crédits Photo by Antti Korpisaari
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/26680/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 596k
Titre Figure 2. The Torreón or Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu. Note also the series of descending agricultural terraces on the right and the Urubamba River far below
Crédits Photo by Antti Korpisaari
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/26680/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 640k
Titre Figure 3. The so‑called Temple of Three Windows at Machu Picchu
Crédits Photo by Antti Korpisaari
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/26680/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 336k
Titre Figure 4. This picture of the outside of the Torreón or Temple of the Sun at Machu Picchu exemplifies how skilfully the Incas could meld bedrock and man‑made walls
Crédits Photo by Antti Korpisaari
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/26680/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 587k

Auteur

University of Helsinki, Finland

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