Archaeological Methods

Hiram Bingham and Johan Reinhard

Archaeology as we know it today is very different from the ways and methods that were used when people were first discovering artefacts and important ancient sites. Over 200 years of treasure hunters and archaeologists have helped develop the technology we use today to be more reliable, in some ways easier, and to be able to learn more about the past.

One of the greatest ever discoveries were made in 1911 by Hiram Bingham III, who rediscovered and excavated the famous Incan settlement Machu Picchu. Bingham had showed a keen interest in the area since he had read upon the written records of a previous explorer, who had noted the possible existence of an important Incan settlement but had failed to find it. After venturing to the valley to find out more he spoke with local farmers, who had reported sights of stone terraces amongst the hillside crops thanks to a new road the government had built. Bingham led his team of experts including a topographer, naturalist, a professor of geography and a mountaineer who proved handy as he navigated the path through sheer terraces and steep cliffs. Finding the remnants of stonewalls eventually led to the discovery of what we today call Machu Picchu. With the limited tools and technology of the time it was a feat for Bingham, who returned over a several year period to clear, excavate and interpret the site.

Comparatively, in June 1996 a man named Johan Reinhard set off with his team to investigate the mountaintop of Cerro Llullaillaco, as he had previously climbed the mountain twice before and had found evidence that lead to the possibility of an important Incan discovery.   His assistant was a local to the area, and he also brought with him mountaineering experts to assist him with the ascent. They spent five days acclimatising to the altitude and at one of their campsites Reinhard found Incan artefacts that led to the understanding that they were looking in the right place. Once at the...