Twenty-six human bone and tooth samples found at Machu Picchu have recently been subjected to radiocarbon analysis. The results of these tests indicate that the fundamental historical documents that have long been used for determining the age of Machu Picchu are wrong.
This news was released by Cambridge University Press on August 4th, 2021 in their journal Antiquity. The article, authored by Richard Burger, et al. is titled “New AMS dates for Machu Picchu: results and implications”. I provide the highlights below but recommend you read the original article if you want more details.
“Machu Picchu has been the focus of considerable scholarly attention, but despite this, it has never been directly dated using AMS radiocarbon analysis based on a large number of samples from secure contexts.”
Professor of Anthropology Richard Burger, et al.
Machu Picchu was discovered in the Andes Mountains in 1911 and quickly became the most well-known site in all of South America, attracting more than a million tourists annually (before Covid-19). The site is an belonged to the Incan Empire and contains approximately 200 granite structures that have been well-preserved throughout the centuries. It includes temples, aqueducts, bathhouses, and more. The current academic paradigm for Incan chronology was heavily established by John Rowe in the mid-20th century.
The site was dated by Spanish historical records to sometime after the 1440’s or 50’s. Archeologists in this field of scholarship had long rejected radiocarbon dating because they trusted in the historical records. But C-14 dating has improved and become more accurate over time. These new results will be harder to ignore given the improvement in precision. The site is now being dated as early as 1420, which means that emperor Pachacuti built Machu Picchu and rose to power 20 years or more earlier than was previously believed.
“Until now, estimates of Machu Picchu’s antiquity and the length of its occupation were based on contradictory historical accounts written by Spaniards in the period following the Spanish conquest.”
The Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology in Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences
Burger and others are hopeful that the results will provide the solid foundation for Incan chronology that they don’t believe is provided by the Spanish historical records.
“Modern radiocarbon methods provide a better foundation than the historical records for understanding Inca chronology.”
Can the carbon dating results be trusted? Should the contradictory Spanish records be the basis of Incan chronology? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Check out this other recent news:
If you’ve never seen Machu Picchu before, here are some pictures:
 – Burger, R., Salazar, L., Nesbitt, J., Washburn, E., & Fehren-Schmitz, L. (2021). New AMS dates for Machu Picchu: Results and implications. Antiquity, 1-15. doi:10.15184/aqy.2021.99
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