Page last updated at 08:47 GMT, Friday, 6 June 2008 09:47 UK

Machu Picchu ruin 'found earlier'

By Dan Collyns
BBC News, Lima

Machu Picchu, Peru
Locals knew about Machu Picchu before Western explorers found it

A team of historians says the lost city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, in Peru was discovered more than 40 years earlier than previously thought and ransacked.

Machu Picchu, now Peru's biggest tourist attraction, was famously believed to have been discovered in 1911 by US explorer Hiram Bingham.

The ruins are the crown jewel of Peru's archaeological sites in Peru and draw thousands of tourists every day.

Machu Pichu carries symbolic value for Peru's indigenous people.

It was built by one of the last Inca emperors, Pachacutec, in around 1450 and kept secret from the Spanish conquerors who invaded about 100 years later.

Now the story about its discovery by the western world has been shaken up by a team of historians who say a German businessman looted its treasures more than 40 years before.

They say the adventurer, Augusto Berns, who traded in Peru's wood and gold, raided the citadel's tombs in 1867 apparently with the blessing of the Peruvian government.

He had set up a sawmill at the foot of the forested mountain on which Machu Picchu stands and systematically robbed precious artefacts which he sold to European galleries and museums.

Only when one of the historians found a map in Peru's national museum were his activities traced.

Until now it has been believed that Hiram Bingham, an American academic from Yale University, brought the Inca city to the attention of the world in 1911, although local people clearly already knew of its presence.

Mr Berns had a far less noble objective and researchers are now trying to find out how many artefacts he spirited out of the country at a time when there were no known archaeological expeditions in Peru.

Sadly more than a century later, Peruvian archaeological treasures are still being looted by grave robbers and sold on the international black market.

Yale to return Peruvian artefacts
17 Sep 07 |  Americas
In pictures: Machu Picchu relics
18 Sep 07 |  In Pictures
Peru bans flights over Inca ruins
08 Sep 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Peru
18 Dec 07 |  Country profiles

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