Reporters on the Job

Machu Picchu's Mysteries : As staff writer Danna Harman did her reporting for today's story about Peru's battle with Yale over artifacts from Machu Picchu, she was struck by the passions the issue is raising in the country.

As word got out that she was working on the story, she received e-mails from several Peruvian archeologists saying they were willing to meet her "at any hour whatsoever," to discuss the topic. "One woman wrote that 'our heritage and our future as a proud nation depend on this case,' " says Danna. Even the souvenir vendors were up to speed on the controversy.

"I was chatting with a little boy trying to sell postcards of Machu Picchu in front of the cathedral in Cusco," says Danna. "He had never been to the ruins because he (like many other Peruvians) did not have the money to pay for the train or the entrance fee. Nonetheless, he was massively proud of the ruins. He could explain what angle each postcard was taken from, and knew that there was 'gold and other stuff' that had been 'stolen' by the US."

Danna admits that she is no archeology maven, but she was awed by the beauty of the ruins and their mystery.

She notes that Yale historian Hiram Bingham had multiple theories about Machu Picchu: that it was a training ground for Inca priestesses; the last Inca stronghold abandoned as the Spanish invaded; or the city of origin of the Incan empire, which dominated South America from Colombia to Chile for about a century. Experts now say Bingham got it wrong on all counts, and that Machu Picchu was a summer sanctuary of the Inca Emperor Pachacutec. But, partly thanks to Bingham's romantic misconceptions, the enigmatic Machu Picchu has become South America's best-known archeological site and attracts half a million tourists every year.

"Since none of the experts, tour guides, or tour books agree on the site's purpose," says Danna, "I followed the suggestion to just enjoy the aesthetics of it, which is not hard to do."

David Clark Scott
World editor

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