Wednesday 5 August 2015

Hiram Bingham Precursor to Indiana Jones

"Not only had it snow-capped peaks, great granite precipices, some of them 2000 feet sheer, and a dense tropical jungle; it has also many reminders of the architectural achievements of a bygone race."

It is the 1920's in the South American jungle.  A handsome professor wearing a panama hat, beige pants and a bomber jacket chases after a prized treasure, at the same time as a large ball thunders down an embankment, close on his heels.

Everyone remembers Raiders of the Lost Ark, starring Harrison Ford, the blockbuster movie which debuted in 1979.  It is believed that the main character, a history professor and amateur archeologist, is based on real life American Hiram Bingham III.  Bingham, sporting the trademark hat, was a Latin American History professor at Yale University in the early 1900's.

In 1908, Bingham led a Pan Am Scientific Congress to South America and wrote about his expedition in the book Across South America.  Addicted to exploring, Bingham returned in 1911, financed by his wife's money, an heiress to the Tiffany jewelry fortune.  There, Bingham discovered "an unexpected sight, a great flight of beautifully constructed stone terraces, perhaps hundreds of them, each hundreds of feet long and ten feet high".  He mistakenly believed them to be the ancient site of Vilcabamba (

On that same expedition, Bingham discovered the lost Inca city of Macchu Picchu, meaning Old Mountain.  It was believed to be the mountain retreat of the Inca emperor Pachacutec, abandonned in 1472 after his death.  Bingham gathered together artifacts (mummies, ceramics, bones) which he would return to Yale University.  Back in the United States, he reintroduced the world to Macchu Picchu.

Bingham returned to South America in 1912, 1913 and 1915, bringing back thousands more artifacts. In the 1920's, Bingham served as both a governor and senator for the state of Connecticut.

He penned the memoir Lost City of the Incas in 1948.  His memoir likely inspired the 1952 movie, Secret of the Incas, starring Charlton Heston.

Machu Picchu

Hiram Bingham's photograph circa 1913 courtesy

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