New dates for Machu Picchu

Radiocarbon dating of burials from the Inca site of Machu Picchu has revealed that it was occupied several decades earlier than previously thought.

The famous UNESCO World Heritage site in Peru is believed to have been built after the Emperor Pachacuti rose to power, which earlier research based on historical sources suggested occurred in AD 1438. According to this chronology, Machu Picchu should not have been occupied until at least AD 1440, or more likely 1450. However, new research recently published in Antiquity indicates that the palace complex was already functioning by AD 1420, if not earlier.

Excavations in 1912 and over the following century discovered c.200 individuals buried in caves and rock shelters around Machu Picchu, believed to be retainers who lived and worked in the palace complex. AMS radiocarbon dating of bones and teeth from 26 of these individuals place occupation of the site between c.AD 1420 and 1530. If supported by future analysis, these radiocarbon dates could move the date of Pachacuti’s ascension to power back by at least two decades, rewriting not only the history of Machu Picchu, but also the history of the development of the Inca empire.

Text: Amy Brunskill
Image: 19022634 from Pixabay
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