Machu Picchu. Just the name alone conjures up mystery and ancient Inca glories. Add the idea of secret chambers full of Incan treasure and the lure of the place becomes an adventure, a place of promised revelations, with potential to once more get a glimpse into the past and not merely exist as a magnificent set of tourist-trodden ruins used for selfie backdrops. Because, as has been known for a few years, there exists a door, a sealed entrance that guards underground chambers. And although archaeologists want to explore and hopefully find artifacts, treasure, and clues to Machu Picchu’s past, they are having a difficult time gaining entrance.
Jim Dobson, writing for Forbes magazine, noted that in a recent visit to Machu Picchu, he observed quite a bit of construction and excavating going on at the ancient site. According to him, the work being done was “a massive five-year remodel that will forever change the experience for tourists.” That being said, Dobson then mentioned his enthrallment with “buried treasure” and how a French archaeologist and explorer named Thierry Jamin had uncovered a sealed “secret door” that could possibly lead to hidden treasure at Machu Picchu. And even though Jamin and others have done studies that indicate secret chambers exist behind the sealed-off door, the Peruvian government, in particular the Cusco (department in Peru) branch of the ministry of culture, has blocked attempts to excavate or find alternate ways into the secret chambers.
Heritage Daily wrote in 2013 that Jamin, who had acquired a name for himself for discovering as many as 30 archaeological sites in northern Cuzco, uncovered the door in 2011 after being contacted by David Crespy, a French engineer who had visited Machu Picchu in 2010 and noticed a small “shelter” in one of the main buildings of the ancient ruins. The doorway had been sealed by the Incas.
Jamin and other researchers would soon determine that the doorway resembled another burial sites he and his colleagues had discovered in Lacco and Chunchusmayo valleys. Encouraged, they and the Instituto Inkari then applied for and received permission to run a geophysical survey that would use, in part, data derived from electromagnetic (EM) conductivity instruments.
What they found was a chamber behind the sealed doorway. And, according to Heritage Daily, there were several more. The EM data also showed a staircase hidden just behind the door. Other techniques detected what appeared to be important archaeological material, which included metal objects and large amounts of gold and silver.
Thierry Jamin and other researchers believe, according to Dobson, that the hidden chamber was constructed around 1450. It is believed the secret areas behind the door could possibly be the burial tomb of Pachacuti Inca Yupanqui, the Inca ruler for whom archaeologists believe Machu Picchu was built.
But as eager as Thierry Jamin and the Instituto Inkari have been to see what ancient Inca treasures might await behind the door, they have found the Cuzco ministry of culture unresponsive, stonewalling their attempts to set up an archaeological site to explore the secret chambers. In fact, Cuzco officials do not agree with Jamin’s assessment of the site.
David Ugarte, the director of the ministry of culture in the Cusco region, has stated that Jamin’s initial study was allowed by the Ministry of Culture in Lima, but his proposition went too far when he wanted to “to excavate based on some hypothesis, because a laser scanner had detected an Inca tomb that was surrounded by children, and at the same time there were some steps lined in gold. It has been completely denied because this goes against the reality.”
Due to a history of past excavations that have ended with partial collapses of valuable ancient walls and the possibility of destabilizing the structure itself, the ministry of culture and park directors claimed to be worried. Also, there were fears that the Inkari group was really after the precious metals and artifacts to be found and not actually concerned about the historic nature of the Machu Picchu site.
But Peruvian officials may have cause for concern over their antiquities and the intent of archaeologists and scientists who want to excavate and explore. There are still a number of artifacts (uninventoried by outside sources, the number is estimated to be above 350) sequestered at Yale University that were acquired by Hiram Bingham III a century ago after he rediscovered Macchu Picchu. The Peruvian government has claimed ownership and have entered into talks with Yale several times to negotiate a return of the valuable relics. However, according to a New York Times Op-Ed by Elaine Karp-Toledo, former First Lady of Peru and a key negotiator in the talks, Yale wants certain conditions met, refuses to grant Peru sovereignty over the collection, has even demanded Peru give them a 99-year extension on keeping the artifacts, and has broken off talks. And all because Hiram Bingham III took the artifacts from Peru on “loan” for 12 months (and another six months via extension). But the nation of Peru has been demanding their return since 1920.
Regardless, is Thierry Jamin correct about the secret chambers at Machu Picchu? And will there ever come a time when the Cuzco ministry of culture will allow work to be done around the sealed door? Furthermore, just how might news of lost and recovered Inca treasure, perhaps the likes of Atahualpa’s roomful of silver and gold, impact tourism at Machu Picchu? And how might recovery of whatever might be in the secret chambers complement what is known about ancient Inca culture?
Machu Picchu is a World Heritage site. Located 2,430 meters above sea level atop a steep ridge in the Andes Mountains, it consists of roughly 200 religious, ceremonial, astronomical, and agricultural structures.
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