In 1911, the Yale Peruvian Expedition led by archaeologist Hiram Bingham 1898 came upon the well-preserved remains of an ancient Incan city cradled between twin peaks. The city was Machu Picchu, and it has since gained a nearly iconic status as one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in human history.
On Sept. 9, at a special preview event attended by around 50 people, objects and pictures from the original expedition were put on public display at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. The exhibit offers both a vivid picture of life atop the mountain city nearly 500 years ago and an account of Bingham’s expedition.
Richard Burger, director of graduate archeological studies, and Peruvian archaeologist Lucy Salazar are co-curating the exhibition. Burger gave a lecture, after which the two held a book signing.
Machu Picchu, at the height of Incan civilization, was a palace retreat for the Incan emperor and his noble elite. After the 16th-century Spanish incursion of South America, residents of the mountain city were forced to flee. The city, though abandoned, somehow survived in nearly immaculate condition until its discovery three centuries later.
“It’s one of the greatest integrations of architecture and landscape in the world,” Burger said.
He said the exhibit uses photos and objects to bring the magic of Machu Picchu to life. The exhibition includes a replica of an ancient Incan house constructed of fiberglass castings of actual Incan edifices, a scale model of Machu Picchu, a virtual tour of the mountain city and some of Bingham’s original photographs.
Burger and Salazar have been working on the project for over 15 years, but the exhibit was completed only two years ago. It opened briefly in New Haven and then went on tour across the country. The travelling exhibition, which Peabody anthropology curator Andrew Hill said is the largest project in the museum’s history, was viewed by over one million visitors.
Virginia Santos, a former Yale Spanish professor, drove from New York to attend the event. Laura Jackman SOM ’07 said she had no former interest in Machu Picchu but was impressed by the high level of detail in the exhibit.
The exhibit, which had its official opening Sept. 10, will likely be shown for a year.