According to a news release published Tuesday, a team of researchers led by Richard Berger, professor of anthropology at Yale University, used radiocarbon dating to reveal that Emperor Pachacuti, who built Machu Picchu, came to power earlier than expected.
This means that the early conquest of Pachacuti occurred earlier, helping to explain how the Inca Empire became the largest and most powerful in pre-Columbian America.
Based on historical documents, it was thought that Machu Picchu was built after 1440 or perhaps 1450. However, Berger and his team used accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating of the human remains to obtain a more accurate picture.
AMS also acts on small amounts of organic matter, which enlarges the pool of skeletons that can be studied. The team looked at 26 individuals from cemeteries in Machu Picchu that were recovered from the site during excavations in 1912.
Machu Picchu is painted in 1911.
Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
According to the study, the bodies were buried under boulders, hanging rocks or shallow caves that were sealed with masonry walls. There were also grave goods such as ceramic and bronze and silver shawl pins.
“This is the first study based on scientific evidence to estimate the length of the founding and occupation of Machu Picchu,” Berger said in the news release.
Historical records were written after the acquisition of the area by Spanish conquistadors, and the results of the study call into question the ability to draw conclusions based on these types of documents, according to the researchers.
Although the study acknowledges 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 the reconstruction of the chronology of the Inca emperors and in the dating of Inca monumental sites such as Machu Picchu,” the study reads.
The study was published in the journal Antiquity.
Regarded as one of the world’s great archaeological sites, Machu Picchu is situated between two mountains.
The site is made up of about 200 stone structures whose granite walls are in good condition, although thatch roofs have been around for a long time.
These include a ceremonial bathhouse, temple, granary and aqueduct. One, known as the caretaker’s hut of Funeral Rock, is believed to have been used for the bodies of the dead aristocrats.