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6.11.2008

 

Bingham's Belloq


An 1874 map of the Urubamba Valley near Machu Picchu, which researchers claim identifies the archaeological site.

I never believed that Hiram Bingham actually "discovered" Machu Picchu. He was simply the first non-native to bring the ruins to the world's attention. And he may still hold that honor. However, according to an article by the Telegraph, he wasn't the first gringo to visit the site.

According to an article in the Telegraph, a German adventurer named Augusto R. Berns not only "discovered" the site but looted it with the permission of the Peruvian government in 1867 -- some four decades before Bingham. This explains the paucity of artifacts Bingham found after clearing the site.

So, what did he find? Any of the legendary lost treasure of the Incas? (The Incas supposedly hid many treasures in order to keep them out of the hands of the Spaniards.) Well, if he did, there's no record of it. So, the researchers who broke the Berns story are hoping to find the whereabouts of the loot by tracking down descendants of Berns and his associates.

Personally, I wonder if some pieces -- maybe even the mummy of the Inca emperor Pachacuti himself -- haven't been sitting secretly in private collections in Europe for all this time. It's a treasure hunt worthy of Indiana Jones himself.

Read: Machu Picchu 'ransacked 40 years before its discovery'

Comments:
The idea that A.R. Berns looted Machu Picchu in the 19th century is not true. There is no evidence to support the suggestion that Berns even new about or set foot in the archaeological ruin, let alone looted it.

Berns set up a stock company, "Huacas del Inca," in Peru in 1887 (the 1867 date in some stories is an error) with the purported goal of searching for Inca treasure, but no evidence has been presented to date — other than unbridled speculation, which only Baron Von Munchausen considers evidence — that he ever even turned a spade. Berns seemed more interested in the treasures in his investors’ pockets.

Berns had launched another company a few years earlier, in 1881, soliciting investments in a gold and mining venture on Torontoy, a property in Peru that he claimed had more such precious metals that any other site in the world. Nothing came of that venture either.

A gold mine is a hole in the ground atop which stands a liar — attributed to Mark Twain -- the liar in this case would be A.R. Berns.

On the larger question -- discovery -- Hiram Bingham is justifiably famed as the "scientific discoverer" of Machu Picchu, that is, he encountered, excavated, photographed, studied, and made known to the outside world the ruins known today as Machu Picchu.

The site was never completely unknown. Peruvian historians have found records of the ruins' existence going back to the 16th century. One might argue that it was never absolutely abandoned. So even if Berns visited the site in 1887 -- and there's no evidence that he did -- he's at the tail end of a long line that stretches back to the 1500s.

Dan Buck
 
The idea that A.R. Berns looted Machu Picchu in the 19th century is not true. There is no evidence to support the suggestion that Berns even new about or set foot in the archaeological ruin, let alone looted it.

Berns set up a stock company, "Huacas del Inca," in Peru in 1887 (the 1867 date in some stories is an error) with the purported goal of searching for Inca treasure, but no evidence has been presented to date — other than unbridled speculation, which only Baron Von Munchausen considers evidence — that he ever even turned a spade. Berns seemed more interested in the treasures in his investors’ pockets.

Berns had launched another company a few years earlier, in 1881, soliciting investments in a gold and mining venture on Torontoy, a property in Peru that he claimed had more such precious metals that any other site in the world. Nothing came of that venture either.

A gold mine is a hole in the ground atop which stands a liar — attributed to Mark Twain -- the liar in this case would be A.R. Berns.

On the larger question -- discovery -- Hiram Bingham is justifiably famed as the "scientific discoverer" of Machu Picchu, that is, he encountered, excavated, photographed, studied, and made known to the outside world the ruins known today as Machu Picchu.

The site was never completely unknown. Peruvian historians have found records of the ruins' existence going back to the 16th century. One might argue that it was never absolutely abandoned. So even if Berns visited the site in 1887 -- and there's no evidence that he did -- he's at the tail end of a long line that stretches back to the 1500s.

Dan Buck
 
Dan,

It's an honor to have you visit my on-again, off-again blog. I've read many of your pieces over the years, particularly in the South American Explorer. I know your research is meticulous, so with your comment you just increased the informational value of my original post tenfold. Muchas gracias! Tell me, what are you working on these days?
 
Don,

Thanks. I haven't written much on South American related topics in several years, aside from periodic pieces on the adventures of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in South America, which usually appear in periodicals devoted to the history of the U.S. West.

Some time ago I started poking around treasure frauds in the Andes, which resulted in a piece in AMERICAS on the fabled -- and nonexistent -- Jesuit gold trove at Sacambaya, Bolivia. (It might be online somewhere -- "Tales of Glitter or Dust," AMERICAS, May-June 2000) Last year I wrote a survey, as yet unpublished, on a number of 19th and early 20th century Inca treasure and gold mine frauds in the Andes, including a presposterous scheme to drain Lake Titicaca to recover alleged Inca gold at the bottom.

A.R. Berns has a cameo in that article. By the way, in the prospectus he wrote for his 1881 fraud, the Torontoy gold and silver mines, which is where he first floated the names Huacas del Inca -- a purported tunnel on his property jammed with Inca mummies, jewels, Indiana Jones's whip, etc. He told his potential investors that his property was so rich that one spot was called Llamajcansha, which he said meant in the ancient Indian language, "Gold Yard." Few of his victims would have had a clue that Llamajcansha means Llama Corral. He was selling them a load of cameloid dung.

Dan
 
Paolo Greer and I have had an exchange over at the Discovery News website. You can view the entire exchange at:
http://blogs.discovery.com/news_archaeorama/2008/06/not-exactly-ind.html

In Greer's August 9 post, he now concedes that there is no evidence that A.R. Berns ever visited Machu Picchu.

His fallback position now seems to be that because Berns lived in Urubamba and was an
explorer and a huaquero, he must have been to Machu Picchu. That's sounds to me more like a hope -- there's a pony in here somewhere. Keep in mind the evidence we have for Berns activities in Urubamba is his 1881 prospectus for the imaginary gold and silver deposits and the imaginary Huacas del Inca mummy tunnel, the same prospectus that excited his potential investors
with the news that the Incas had a gold washing sluice there, called Llamajcansha, which Berns helpfully translated as "Gold Yard."

Llamajcansha means, in Quechua, "Llama yard."
Berns was selling his investors a load of llama dung.

By the way, per the 1876 Peruvian cenus there were at that time more than 17,000 people living in the Urubamba Province. I suggest we designate all of them discovers of Machu Picchu and call it a day.

Dan


=================================================
Discovery News
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“There is no, repeat no evidence that A.R. Berns knew of, visited, intended to loot, or looted Machu Picchu,” Dan Buck.

Already, Buck has written more words of invalidation about my articleon various web sites than were contained in the original story.

I agree with him that, “The fact that Berns set up a company called‘Huacas del Inca’ is not proof of anything,” and “There are inumerable Inca ruins in the Urubamba and La Convencion districts of Cuzco.”

It is also true that these and other tidbits, in themselves, aren’t much proof that Berns was in Machu Picchu, especially if taken out of contextto pretend that such comments, alone, were my argument.

In fact, if readers were to ignore my article completely and depend solely upon Buck’s ongoing harangue, no connection between Machu Picchu and Berns would be apparent.

Or they could read my article for themselves.

Among other things, I wrote that for many years between 1867 and 1881 Berns lived at what is now Aguas Calientes, about two miles from Machu Picchu. During that period, he explored the region, using local guides whose families had been in the area for generations. He purposely searched for ruins.

Berns was in the business of looting Inca tombs and almost certainly made the effort to do so in Machu Picchu, virtually on his doorstep.

Since then, millions of tourists have taken the Machu Picchu shuttle from the site of Berns’ camp to the ruins, just a few minutes away.

There’s no reason to bring in Sherlock Holmes on this one.

Actually, I included enough evidence, including maps, in my account to allow the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. Anyone who wants to read and truly appreciate this research can find my article, “Machu Picchu before Bingham”, at the URL above.

Well, almost anyone.

My two quotes from the Discovery interview above were not contradictory.

I am sure that Berns did make an effort to find something in Machu Picchu, since the German was in the business and what are now the most famous ruins in Peru, if not in the Americas, was a short hike from his camp.

Several reporters were especially eager to know what “treasures” Berns took out, exactly. They wanted something sensational to print. I was asked to detail such golden plunder and I would not.

If Berns kept a list of his spoils, he has not shown it to me.

Thanks to Buck for typing out my interview. Even when the batteries in my hearing aid are fresh, I still miss a word or two.

However, the interview says what I said it did, no matter how “clearly” Buck heard otherwise.

Ms. Lorenzi’s recording above is only two and a half minutes long. It was done when she happened to ring me from Florence, Italy, to a busy internet café in Lima, Peru. In it I did not present the detail I explained in my article, or in the interviews that followed.

These are posted on Kim MacQuarrie’s blog.

Buona fortuna,

Paolo Greer


Posted by: Paolo Greer | August 09, 2008 at 06:49 PM========================================================
 
This morning I rec'd from Duke University Library a photocopy of the 48-page prospectus for Berns 1887 Huacas de Inca stock company. It's Indiana Jones mumbo-jumbo, with nary a clue as to any specific archaeological site. The basic premise is that there are ruins out in the hinterlands of Urubamba and La Convencion with unimaginable treasures waiting to be plundered: "las riquisimas y valiosisimas obras de arte que antes de 400 anos adoraban los templos y edificios publicos y reales de la metroploli Imperio Incasico," etc., etc.

Most of the prospectus is devoted to a potted summary of Berns's remarkable achievements, which included several $100 million construction projects (more than $2 billion today), none of which seem to have laid a single brick. My favorite was a $100 million mining project in Arizona. Berns tells his investors, "Arizona es un pais donde se ocupan mas de 500,000 personas en mineria, pues su principal industria es mineria." The total Arizona population in 1880 was 40,440.

The prospectus goes on to say that Berns's Arizona enterprise went so swimmingly that his backers allowed him to go to Peru, but not before bestowing on him stock worth $12 million (nearly a quarter billion dollars in today's currency). And so on.

There is no mention, however, of Berns's 1881 enterprise, the Torontoy gold and silver mine fraud.

The 1887 prospectus compares the Huacas del Inca organizers to Columbus, Galileo, and Robert Fulton. Re the last-mentioned there might be a connection, hot air.

Dan
 
Last Sunday, 8/31, La Republica in Lima published my op-ed about the Berns controversy. Below is the original essay, in English. The La Republica -- available on its website -- translation is a bit different, though the gist is the same.

Dan

=============================================================
Machu Picchu: Known and Unknown, There and Not There

By Daniel Buck

Mention the phrase "Lost City of the Incas" or "Inca treasure" and normally skeptical journalists drop their guard and credulously report the most unfounded speculations.
Earlier this year, the media worldwide reported that Machu Picchu had been discovered by Augusto R. Berns decades before Hiram Bingham III arrived there in 1911. Some of the stories even suggested that Berns, a German engineer and adventurer who had lived in Peru periodically during the second half of the 19th century, had looted the Inca site. One account said that "Bernsse había cargado en peso la mayoría de los vestigios arqueológicos de Machu Picchu."
The media reports were sparked by speculations from Paolo Greer, a researcher and explorer from Alaska who visits Peru frequently.
There are only two problems with Greer's announcements and the news stories. First, there has been no evidence presented to date that Berns even knew of Machu Picchu's existence, let alone that he visited or looted the site. Second, even if he had visited Machu Picchu in the late 1880s, countless others had preceded him. In any event, since he left no record of any such visit, he discovered nothing.
What Bingham accomplished was entirely distinct. During three expeditions between 1911 and 1915, Bingham excavated, photographed, studied, and made known to the world Machu Picchu. There can be no doubt that Bingham is the site's "scientific discoverer," an honorific bestowed on the Yale professor by José Gabriel Cosío, a Cuzco academic and official delegate to Bingham's second expedition.
It is also true that others had known of the ruins long before Bingham. One can make the case that Machu Picchu was never totally lost. It was periodically known and unknown, there and not there -- visited, lived in, farmed, and even bought and sold – from the 16th century until Bingham permanently removed it from obscurity.
In Urubamba: Benemérita Ciudad y Provincia Arqueológica del Perú (2007), Leandro Zans Candia summarizes colonial and republican era citations to Machu Picchu compiled by several Peruvian historians. But the site's archaeological importance was long ignored, its natural beauty unappreciated. Cosío, writing in the Boletin de la Sociedad Geográfica de Lima in 1912, put it succinctly: "No es verdad que el doctor Bingham haya sido el descubridor de los restos; él les ha dado la vida de la fama y del interés arqueológico."
Bingham was, if anything, a determined explorer. He combed archives, interviewed scholars, collected maps, and queried locals. He already knew about Machu Picchu before he headed down the Urubamba Valley. Yes, it's true that he was not always generous in crediting those who had assisted him. Like many explorers, Bingham had a large ego, a desire for fame, and sharp elbows.
So who was Augusto R. Berns and what does he have to do with Machu Picchu? He apparently – almost everything said about Berns has to be preceded by the word "apparently" because he was a congenital liar, a Baron Munchausen, a fantastist with an engineering degree, which is to say, apparently with an engineering degree. He said that he was born in Germany in 1842 and first came to Peru in the 1860s, and that he had worked on the Southern Peruvian Railway, and later for the Peruvian military. In the late 1870s and early 1880s he said he was outside Peru, chiefly in the United States.
In 1881, while living in Michigan, he organized the first of two enterprises that could more accurately be called swindles, "The Torontoy or Cercada-de-San Antonio Estate in Southern Peru." Berns mailed potential investors a letter, map, and prospectus, claiming that his property in the Urubamba Valley (across the river from the as yet undiscovered Machu Picchu) was in an area that, if developed, would be "universally recognized as the greatest gold and silver producing centre in the world." He declared that there was gold everywhere at Torontoy, loose in the ground and the sand, and in veins in the rocks, clay, and slate. He said that there was an ‘ancient gold-washing apparatus"cut out of solid rock, called "Llamajcansha," which "in the ancient Indian language, means ‘Gold Yard.'" It is unlikely the readers of his prospectus in the United States spoke Quechua, otherwise they would have figured out that Llamajcansha meant "llama yard." Berns was selling a load of llama dung.
Also on his property, near Llamajcansha, there was "said to be," Berns hinted, a tunnel, which, he further hinted, "there is reason to believe "was"used as a tomb to receive embalmed bodies of the Incas," as well as their ornaments. On his map, he marked the tunnel "Huacas del Inca."
In a letter to investors, written from Detroit, Michigan, Berns said that anything "less than $5,000,000 actual cash [dollars] would be inadequate "to develop Torontoy. Five million dollars in today's currency would be more than 100 million dollars. It is not known what became of his swindle, or if he raised a single penny.
At some point Berns returned to Peru, and in 1887 organized another scheme,a stock company called, coincidentally, "Huacas del Inca." The company's 48-page prospectus is Indiana Jones mumbo-jumbo, suggesting that there are unimaginable treasures waiting to be plundered: "las riquísimas y valiosísimas obras de arte" that "adoraban los templos y edifícios públicos y reales de la metrópoli imperio Incasio."
Specifically, the "Huacas del Inca" would be launching expeditions to search for the fabled lost treasure of the Incas,that portion of the Atahualpa ransom that had evaded the Spaniards. Berns told his investors that the "mitad por lo ménos, fué levada consigo por losindios, segun lo consigna la historia, á las montañas inmediatas al Cuzco,ósea las de Paucartambo, Lares y Santa Ana."
If Atahualpa's ransom was not sufficient to impress gullible investors,the company's organizers compared themselves to Columbus and Galileo.
What ultimately happened to "Huacas del Inca" is not known, but in 1888 its vice-president publicly resigned, accusing Berns of having misappropriated funds for personal use and, worse, of failing to launch a single expedition.
Nowhere in any of the materials made public to date about Augusto R. Bernsis there any evidence that he knew about, visited, intended to loot, or did loot Machu Picchu. In a recent post on the science history blog, Archaeorama, blogs.discovery.com, even Paolo Greer conceded that there is no real evidence that Berns ever set foot on Machu Picchu. Even if he did, he's in a long line of visitors that started centuries ago.

=============================================================
Daniel Buck is free-lance writer residing in Washington, D.C.. He wasa Peace Corps Volunteer in the Department of Puno, 1966-67.
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