Machu Picchu is ‘several decades’ OLDER than expected

The famous Inca site of Machu Picchu is decades older than previously thought, archaeologists have discovered.

Carbon dating of human remains suggests it was in use in 1420 — more than 20 years earlier than scientists had expected.

Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Emperor Pachacuti, who, according to historical records, rose to power in 1438 before conquering the area where the site is located.

This led experts to believe that it was built after 1440 and perhaps as late as 1450.

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Surprising discovery: Famous Inca site of Machu Picchu (pictured) is decades older than previously thought, archaeologists have discovered

Carbon dating: Researchers dated 26 individuals recovered from three cemeteries in Machu Picchu during excavations in 1912.  Archaeologists are pictured at the site in 1911

Carbon dating: Researchers dated 26 individuals recovered from three cemeteries in Machu Picchu during excavations in 1912. Archaeologists are pictured at the site in 1911

WHAT IS CARBON DATING AND HOW IS IT USED?

Carbon dating, also known as radiocarbon dating or carbon-14 dating, is a method used to determine the age of an object.

Carbon-14 is a carbon isotope widely used by archaeologists and historians to date ancient bones and artifacts.

The rate of decay of carbon-14 is constant and easy to measure, making it ideal for giving age estimates for anything over 300 years old.

It can only be used on objects that contain organic matter – which was once ‘living’ and therefore contained carbon.

Carbon-14 occurs naturally in the atmosphere as part of carbon dioxide and animals absorb it when they breathe. Animals stop ingesting it when they die, and a finite amount of the chemical is stored in the body.

Radioactive substances all have a half-life, the time it takes for a substance to lose half of its radioactivity.

Carbon-14 has a long half-life, 5370 years to be exact. This long half-life can be used to find out how old objects are by measuring how much radioactivity is left in a sample.

Its long half-life has allowed archaeologists to date objects up to 50,000 years old.

Radiocarbon dating was first invented in the 1940s by an American physical chemist named Willard Libby. He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery in 1960.

“Machu Picchu is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world,” said the study’s lead author, Prof. Richard Burger of Yale University.

‘But until now estimates of the antiquity and duration of the occupation have been based on conflicting historical accounts written by Spaniards in the period after the Spanish conquest.’

He added: “This is the first study based on scientific evidence to estimate the founding of Machu Picchu and the length of its occupation.”

Prof Burger and a team of experts from several US universities performed accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) dating of human remains from Machu Picchu.

AMS dating is an advanced form of radiocarbon dating that can date skeletons with only small amounts of organic material left, increasing the amount of remains that can be examined.

In this case, the team dated 26 individuals found in three cemeteries in Machu Picchu and recovered during excavations in 1912.

The study found that the site was in use from 1420 to 1530 – ending around the time of the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire.

It also suggests that Pachacuti ascended the throne and his conquests began decades before the accepted historical records indicate.

Pachacuti took control of a city-state, but his reign set the Inca on the path to becoming the most powerful empire in pre-Columbian America.

Researchers said the discovery could have dramatic implications for our understanding of Inca history, as well as question the reliability of colonial troops’ use of historical records.

“The results suggest that the discussion about the development of the Inca Empire, based mainly on colonial records, needs to be reconsidered,” says Prof. Burger.

“Modern radiocarbon methods provide a better basis for understanding Inca chronology than the conflicting historical records.”

Machu Picchu is located in the present-day Peruvian region of Cusco, on a 7,970 ft (2,430 m) long mountain ridge.

It was built in the classical Inca style, with polished dry stone walls.

The site was abandoned during the Spanish conquest, but was not discovered by the invading forces.

Geologic analysis has suggested that the location of the citadel over a network of intersecting tectonic faults was deliberately chosen.

These would have provided an abundance of easily worked rock, as well as a source of water and drainage.

Carbon dating, also known as radiocarbon dating or carbon-14 dating, is a method used to determine the age of an object.

Machu Picchu is pictured during the 1912 expedition when the tested remains were first found

Machu Picchu is pictured during the 1912 expedition when the tested remains were first found

Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Emperor Pachacuti, who, according to historical records, came to power in 1438 before conquering the area where the site is located

Machu Picchu was built as an estate for Emperor Pachacuti, who, according to historical records, came to power in 1438 before conquering the area where the site is located

The study found that the site was in use from 1420 to 1530 - ending around the time of the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire

They analyzed the remains of three cemeteries

The study found that the site was in use from 1420 to 1530 – ending around the time of the Spanish invasion of the Inca Empire. They analyzed the remains of three cemeteries (pictured right)

Carbon-14 is a carbon isotope widely used by archaeologists and historians to date ancient bones and artifacts.

Later years radiocarbon dating of ancient fish remains revealed that Aboriginal Australians settled in the Riverland region of the continent 22,000 years earlier than previously thought.

The dated shells — remnants of “meals eaten long ago” — set a record of Aboriginal occupation stretching back 29,000 years in the Katarapko Riverland floodplain, South Australia.

They faced unpredictable river flows and heavily salted valley waters that may have limited their seafood options.

Radiocarbon dating was first invented in the 1940s by an American physical chemist named Willard Libby, who won the 1960 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery.

The new study is published in the journal antiquity.

Who were the Incas? People indigenous to South America who ruled from modern Ecuador to central Chile in 1532

The Incas, also spelled Inka, were an indigenous people of South America who, at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1532, ruled an empire stretching from the northern border of modern Ecuador to central Chile.

The Incas established their capital at Cusco (a city in present-day Peru) in the 12th century and began a campaign of expansion in the early 15th century, which would bring some 12 million people under their rule.

Much of the information we have today comes from the written accounts of Spanish conquistadors when the Incas passed on their history through storytelling and other oral traditions.

Machu Pichhu is the most famous site of the Inca Empire, once the largest and richest in America

Machu Pichhu is the most famous site of the Inca Empire, once the largest and richest in America

Best known for the brutal practice of human sacrifice, the Inca Empire is also known for its advanced farming techniques, unique art and architecture.

At its peak, the Inca Empire was the largest and richest in the Americas. Its demise is believed to have been brought about by rebellion, disease and the Spanish invasion.

The most famous and arguably best-preserved site surviving from Inca times is the citadel of Machu Picchu, located in Peru.

Source: Britannica, Ancient History Encyclopaedia

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