Ancient Vacation Retreat for Wealthy Incans Just Got Older


Machu Picchu Is Older Than Previously Thought, Radiocarbon Dating Suggests

by Nora McGreevy/

Machu Picchu, the breathtaking mountainside settlement in southern Peru, is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the “Lost City of the Inca.”

In truth, the site was not a city at all: Fifteenth-century emperor Pachacuti likely constructed the stunning cluster of stone buildings as a palace where Inca elite could escape the pressures of nearby capital Cusco, enjoying hunting, gambling, feasting and more. In other words, the so-called “city” functioned more like a vacation retreat than a locus of state power.

Historians have long relied on colonial-era textual evidence to determine when Pachacuti came to power and began constructing Machu Picchu. But new research led by Yale University anthropologist Richard Burger employs advanced scientific techniques to suggest that Machu Picchu is decades older than previously thought.

Burger and his colleagues used a type of radiocarbon dating called accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) to date the teeth and bones of 26 individuals recovered from burial sites around Machu Picchu. Their results, published this week in the journal Antiquity, indicate that the famous landmark is at least 20 years older than colonial texts suggest.

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