A team of researchers, led by Richard Burger, professor of anthropology at Yale University, used radiocarbon dating to reveal that Emperor Pachacuti, who built Machu Picchu, came to power earlier than expected , according to a press release issued on Tuesday.
This means that Pachacuti’s first conquests took place earlier, helping to explain how the Inca Empire became the largest and most powerful in pre-Columbian America.
Based on historical documents, Machu Picchu was believed to have been built after 1440 or even 1450. However, Burger and his team used Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) dating of human remains to get a more accurate picture. .
AMS even works on small amounts of organic matter, which expands the pool of skeletons that can be studied. The team examined 26 individuals from Machu Picchu cemeteries that were recovered from the site during excavations in 1912.
Machu Picchu is represented in 1911.
Granger Historical Picture Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
The bodies were buried under rocks, overhanging cliffs or shallow caves, sealed with masonry walls, according to the study. There were also grave goods such as ceramics and bronze and silver shawl pins.
“This is the first scientifically-based study to provide an estimate of the foundation of Machu Picchu and the duration of its occupation,” Burger said in the press release.
The historical documents were written by the Spanish conquistadors after their takeover of the region, and the study results question the merit of drawing conclusions based on such documents, the researchers say.
Although the study recognizes the “limitations” of radiocarbon dating, the researchers said the documentary evidence is unreliable.
“Perhaps the time has come for radiocarbon evidence to take priority in reconstructions of the chronology of the Inca emperors and the dating of monumental Inca sites such as Machu Picchu,” the study reads.
The study was published in the journal Antiquity.
Revered as one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world, Machu Picchu is perched between two mountains.
The site is made up of around 200 stone structures, the granite walls of which remain in good condition although the thatched roofs are long gone.
These include a ceremonial public bath, temples, granaries and aqueducts. One, known as the Funeral Rock Guardian’s Hut, is said to have been used to embalm dead aristocrats.