Almost exactly a century ago, Hiram Bingham (Yale University) stumbled upon the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru after enlisting a local guide to direct him to ruins in the mountains, thinking he was going to find the lost capital of the Incas, Vilcabamba. Instead he found this sprawling site, whose purpose is still relatively unknown. Most likely, the site was a sacred settlement, smaller and more isolated than the usual Inca cities.
The massive stone blocks used in construction are carved and aligned so tightly without the use of mortar that one can’t slip a sheet a paper in between the stones.
Since the Inca had no written language (or at least any evidence surviving), the only eyewitness records of Inca cities came from the accounts of the invading Spaniards. Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450AD, yet no account exists among Spanish records, suggesting the Europeans never discovered the site. Different artifacts such as ceramics and personal ornamentation match the assemblages of other communities within the empire, suggesting inhabitants hailed from the surrounding settlements.
For more info, check National Geographic’s World Heritage Site summary here.
(Photograph by David Evans, National Geographic)
For my History of Anthropological Theory course last year, we had to read this really cool book about the society and economics of the Inca:
Patterson, Thomas C. The Inca Empire: The Formation and Disintegration of a Pre-Capitalist State. Berg Publishers, 1992.
It’s pretty short, but chock full of great info…I’m not really well-versed in South American archaeology, but it was super-interesting.