Posts Tagged ‘treasuresperu2010’

What You Need to Know About Machu Picchu

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010
A stone archway of Machu Picchu with the Andes in the background

A stone archway of Machu Picchu with the Andes in the background

Nobody wants to stand at a nice reception when an acquaintance announces she just got back from the absolutely fabulous Machu Picchu and have no idea what the fuss is all about. To make sure that never happens to you, here are the basics about Peru’s Machu Picchu so you can be as smart and cultured as the next guy.

  1. Machu Picchu is Quechua for ”Big Mountain.” The Quechua are the indigenous people of Peru, and the archaoelogical site of Machu Picchu is located south of the equator in the Andes Mountains and outside the city of Cuzco. But the location of the ruins is truly amazing as it sits in between the Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu mountains, making it difficult to approach and easily defensible in an attack.
  2. The city was built in 1450 at the height of the Incan Empire. By 1572, the city was abandoned, but there is some confusion as to why. It doesn’t appear that the Spanish conquistadors defaced or damaged any part of Machu Picchu, so it is thought that smallpox, which the Spanish brought from Europe, may have been a major factor in the fall of the city.
  3. The buildings located at the site were very well built using a technique called ashlar. This involved cutting blocks of stone and stacking them without the use of mortar. The result is a long-lasting, earthquake-proof structure.
  4. Popular culture has cited Hiram Bingham as the person who “discovered” Machu Picchu in 1911. However, there is some evidence that he wasn’t the first non-Native to stumble upon the site. Simone Waisbard, a longtime researcher in Cuzco, believes three men named Enrique Palma, Gabino Sánchez, and Agustín Lizárragal left their identities inscribed on a rock at the site on July 14, 1901. Others believe a German businessman named Augusto Berns looted the site – a common practice at the time—in 1867. Physical evidence has shown Machu Picchu to be listed on maps as early as 1874. While Bingham gets the most credit today, there may have been other visitors prior to his notable arrival in 1911.
  5. In 1983, Machu Picchu was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site and was described as “an absolute masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization.”

With these little tidbits in your back pocket, you can be the hit at the party too—or at least answer that Final Jeopardy question and impress your friends.

Have you been to Machu Picchu? Share below.

Want to go? Peru is truly amazing! We still have room on our 2010 tours, or you can plan for 2011!

Q&A with Study Leader Joan Gero

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Joan Gero is Professor Emerita of Anthropology from American University and a Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology in the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian. She has conducted archaeological excavations in the Andes (Peru and Argentina) since 1985 with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Science Foundation, Fulbright, the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the Heintz Foundation.

Peruvian woman carrying her child in traditional style. Photo by Aaron O'dea

Peruvian woman carrying her child in traditional style. Photo: Aaron O’dea

Smithsonian Journeys: Since Lima is a melting pot of European, Andean, and Asian cultures, how many variations in language, or perhaps dialects, can Smithsonian Journeys travelers expect to encounter here?

Joan Gero: Spanish is spoken as the dominant language today, imposed by the Conquistadors in the 16th century. Two centuries earlier, the Inca had imposed an imperial language (Quechua) of their own, replacing the multitude of local languages spoken by local indigenous groups. Today, some six million Quechua speakers remain (in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina combined).  Meanwhile, the southern native Andean language of Aymara is also alive and well, still spoken by an estimated three million people in Bolivia and Peru, so visitors will most likely hear Aymara in their travels as well.

Q. How did the Andeans come to develop such artistry—in colors, in design—in textiles?

A. Artistry INDEED! The fabulous Andean textiles are truly a treasure to behold. Possibly some designs evolved from earlier pyro-engraved decorations on gourds and calabashes, as well as adopting knotting techniques from producing fishing nets, twined baskets and reed mats, all of which we have recovered from very early sites on the north coast of Peru. But the textiles themselves also go far back in time and include an enormous diversity of techniques including double weaves, discontinuous warp weaves, embroidery and painting on textiles, laces and gauzes.  Colors were originally all derived from plant and animal products: onion skins make a lovely yellow, carbon produces a deep black, guano makes things white, and the red that comes from the cochineal bug is world-renown.

Q. The cuisine in Lima is cosmopolitan, influenced by its European (Spanish, Italian, German), Andean, and Asian (primarily Chinese) populations. How would you describe the cuisine in Cuzco? And are there really potato desserts?

A. Ah, sigh. Cuzco cooking is the real Andean experience, exotic but never straying far from comfort food with lots of satisfying carbohydrates: corn, rice and of course the indigenous potato! Generally there are delicious soups of rich broths and chunks of meat and roundels of corn to start a meal, followed by plates of carbs with delicious, delicate vegetable sauces, which the diner can make as spicy as they wish by adding in hot sauce. In the states, we have adopted two Andean-derived foods in our own diets: meat jerky (from the Quechua word “charqui”) and “corn nuts” as toasted corn kernels. Cuzco street foods are equally tempting, including roasted beef hearts and pork chitterlings, but also melons with spices on them and roasted corn on the cob. Expect simple, healthy, light and fresh home-made foods!

Have you been to Peru? What did you think of the food? Share below.

Shop for beautiful Andean textiles on Treasures of Peru, a Smithsonian Journeys Signature Tour—a great value with international airfare included!