The story of Hiram Bingham and the discovery of Machu Picchu is the stuff of Hollywood movie scripts and our most romantic notions of the life of an archaeologist. In fact, it is probably no mere coincidence that the hat you see here on Bingham's head is almost identical to the one made famous by that most romantic of archaeologists, Indiana Jones, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Bingham was an Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Yale University in 1911 when he mounted an expedition to climb what he believed to be the tallest mountain peak in Peru (Mount Coropuna) and to explore the the region northwest of the anceint Inca capital of Cuzco for ruins occupied by the last Inca rulers. On July 23, 1911 and just five days out of Cuzco he heard a tavern keeper, Melchor Arteaga, talking about Inca ruins in the rain forest above the Urubamba River. The next morning Bingham set off with Arteaga to cross a primitive log bridge over the Urubamba and climb for an hour and half up a steep slope through dense vegetation to a ridge between the peaks of Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu. "Suddenly, I found myself confronted with the walls of ruined houses built of the finest Incan stonework," he wrote in his journal of July 24.