Who was the Greatest President?

While conservatives and liberals disagree on many issues, they tend to share some common ground when it comes to ranking U.S. presidents. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt receive the top honor in most polls. However, a recent book argues that none of these Presidents deserves to be ranked #1. Its choice is…John Tyler?

Who was John Tyler?

John Tyler was the 10th President of the United States. He was known as “His Accidency,” on account of the fact that he took over after William Henry Harrison’s untimely death. Most of his cabinet resigned during his term and his own party expelled him from its membership. According to Wikipedia, an aggregate of various scholarly polls rate Tyler as one of the worst presidents of all time. Heck, even the extremely controversial George W. Bush outranks him. Who would possibly consider President John Tyler #1?

Reevaluating the Presidency of John Tyler?

In his book, Recarving Rushmore, Ivan Eland argues that the reason most historians overlook John Tyler is because of flawed ranking systems. He points out four particular biases exhibited by historians:

  1. Effectiveness: Scholars tend to focus on a president’s ability to enact an agenda without considering the positive or negative results from that agenda.
  2. Charisma: Historians place undue emphasis on exciting personalities at the expense of dull ones.
  3. Service during a Crisis: Many historians will only rank a president highly if he served during a great war or financial crisis, giving little credit to those who avoided war or kept crises from happening in the first place.
  4. Activism: Presidents who did a lot are ranked higher than those who preferred minimal government.

Eland takes a unique approach to evaluating presidents. Instead of ranking them on the usual stuff, he ranks them on how well they achieved peace, prosperity, and liberty. Presidents earn points for avoiding “wars of choice,” pursuing economic freedom, and respecting individual freedoms as well as limits on presidential powers.

His analysis leads to some interesting conclusions that differ wildly from most polls. George Washington is still fairly high at #7. But he ranks Abraham Lincoln (#29) and FDR (#31) far lower than any historian I’ve ever read. His top five are John Tyler, Grover Cleveland, Martin Van Buren, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Chester A. Arthur. These presidents are barely remembered by most Americans today which, in a way, is the point. Their terms were boring, thanks to their decisions to avoid wars and pursue policies that led to economic success as well as personal freedom.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So what about John Tyler? Well, he ended the Second Seminole War and exhibited restrained responses to an internal rebellion and a border dispute with Canada. He also vetoed his own party’s wishes to enact high tariffs and create a national bank, which ultimately cost him a second term. His record on preserving individual liberty is considered “very good.”

Eland’s book is a decidedly libertarian look at American presidents. Conservatives and liberals alike will find much to debate within its pages. However, while some may disagree with his criteria or his rankings, his study is an important one. It forces us to take a whole new look at how we judge presidents and whether the ones we choose to remember are really deserving of that honor.

Bioweapons…during the Revolutionary War?

In 1777, George Washington signed an order to vaccinate his troops for smallpox. While some historians consider this a response to a normal outbreak, others point to a more sinister cause…a biowarfare campaign waged by the British during the Revolutionary War.

Biological Warfare during the Revolutionary War?

According to Wikipedia, Biological warfare is defined as “the deliberate use of disease-causing biological agents such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or biological toxins, to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war.” Biowarfare has a long sordid past. Hittite texts from as far back as 1500-1200 BC report the use of plague victims to spread disease into enemy territory.

According to a recent article entitled, British used Bioweapon in US War of Independence, smallpox was a particularly brutal disease back in the 1700s. In 1776, “more than half of all people caught smallpox at some point, and a third of those died.” Since a proper vaccination was still twenty-two years away, smallpox itself was used to immunize people. By deliberately infecting people with a less deadly strain, doctors managed to reduce casualty rates to just 1-2%.

However, people who had recently received the vaccination were capable of spreading the more deadly strain to others, making them, in effect, human bioweapons. British troops used this method to spread smallpox among North American Indians back in the 1760s and among Boston rebels in 1775. A year later, they supposedly infected prostitutes with smallpox and sent them behind American lines, causing 5,000 casualties.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Clearly, General Washington had reason to fear smallpox outbreaks during the Revolutionary War. It stands to reason that his order to send troops to Philadelphia to receive the primitive vaccination was due, at least in part, to concerns over human bioweapons. Later, he even “set up special clinics to inoculate all new recruits.”

These days, many people glorify the past as a simpler and more noble time. However, Britain’s biowarfare campaign serves as a stark reminder that this just isn’t the case. The weapons were less effective during the Revolutionary War. But the desire to cause mass enemy casualties, both military and civilian, was just as strong as it is today.

An Ancient Property Boom?

England contains numerous strange monuments called causewayed enclosures. Until recently, scholars believed that these mammoth earthen structures were built over many generations. However, new evidence suggests that they were constructed over a much shorter period, which represented mankind’s first known property boom.

The Mysterious Causewayed Enclosures?

Causewayed enclosures are hilltops surrounded by ancient circular ditches. Some examples include Maiden Castle and Windmill Hill. Researchers have long considered them to be a sort of ritual structure with each generation building new ditches to match those built by the previous ones. However, new dating techniques suggest that most of the causewayed enclosures were built, used, and abandoned in a fifty year time period around 3700 BC.

Previous archaeologists were hampered by highly inaccurate dating techniques. According to a recent article entitled, Archaeology Dating Technique Uncovers ‘Property Boom’ of 3700 BC, Carbon-14 dates, which are generated from organic material, can have margins of errors in the range of centuries. That made it difficult to pinpoint the exact age of the causewayed enclosures.

Dating the Causewayed Enclosures?

In order to address the problem, archaeologist Alex Bayliss and a team of experts compiled “hundreds of thousands of scraps of dating evidence.” They proceeded to match the Carbon-14 dates with other archaeological finds, in effect knocking down the margin of error from centuries to decades.

“The dates were not what we expected when we began this project but prehistorians are just going to have to get their heads around it, a lot of what we have been taught in the past is complete bollocks.” Alex Bayliss, English Heritage

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The purpose of these ancient causewayed enclosures is unknown. Some possibilities include: settlement, defense, cattle compounds, trade centers, meeting centers, ritual centers, and burial sites. And the reason for their sudden construction is also unknown. However, it seems safe to say that this ancient “property boom” was probably caused in part by increases in wealth and population.

The discovery of the property boom raises more questions which will hopefully be answered in the future. Why were these causewayed enclosures, which required tremendous effort to build, used sparingly? Why did they fall out of favor? And most importantly…

Why were they abandoned so suddenly?

The World’s First Fashion Capital?

Which city deserves to be called the “Fashion Capital of the World?” These days, experts might point to places such as London, Milan, New York, Paris, Tokyo, and Rome. But what about in ancient times? Where was the very first “Fashion Capital of the World?” And how did a mysterious color known as Tyrian purple bring about the birth of the fashion industry?

The 1200 BC Mystery?

Around 1200 BC, a mysterious event occurred in the Mediterranean region. It left the Egyptians in a weakened condition and wrecked the Hittite Empire. Traditionally, this event is associated with an invasion by the strange Sea Peoples although research done by Mike Baillie suggests that a comet shower may be the more likely culprit (see: Did a Comet Cause the Black Death?).

Regardless, the event created a power vacuum which was subsequently filled by Phoenicia. Phoenicia was a group of loosely-connected city-states situated throughout large parts of northern Africa, western Asia, and southern Europe. During its heyday, it was widely known for its trading prowess, a reputation which lasted until it was conquered by Cyrus the Great in 539 BC.

Tyrian Purple & the Birth of Fashion?

According to Keith Roberts’ book, The Origins of Business, Money, and Markets, around 1200 BC, the Phoenicians discovered that Murex sea snails found in the eastern Mediterranean contained a mucous secretion. Through a process that has been largely lost to time, they managed to turn this black substance into a rich, purplish, powdered dye. Tyrian purple, as it was called by the Greeks, lit the world afire.

Up until that point, clothing had consisted largely of plain fabrics. But the emergence of powdered Tyrian purple enabled people to add permanent color to garments. The dye was particularly prized for the fact that it didn’t fade with sunlight or weathering. Instead, it brightened.

Tyrian purple quickly became a luxury good, available only to rulers and the wealthy. As such, purple textiles became a status symbol to the ancient civilizations that inhabited the Mediterranean region. Tyrian purple even outlasted the Phoenicians and only ceased production after Constantinople was sacked in 1204 AD.

During his excavation of the ancient Phoenician city-state of Sarepta, located in present-day Lebanon, James B. Pritchard discovered crushed Murex shells and dye-stained pottery containers. It is now believed that these artifacts represent the first production center for Tyrian purple. After the Phoenicians drove the Murex snail to near extinction in the eastern Mediterranean, production moved west to present-day Morocco.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The invention of Tyrian purple enabled Phoenicia to become a trading powerhouse. Using their dye-making expertise, they proceeded to create a second dye, which sometimes goes by the name of Hyacinth purple. In a short matter of time, Phoenician traders, widely known as the “traders in purple,” dominated the trade routes along the southern half of the Mediterranean Sea.

Although Tyrian purple eventually disappeared, its impact on the fashion world did not. It led to a long-lasting desire for colorful, luxury textiles that continues to this day. Perhaps more than any other civilization, Phoenicia created the modern fashion industry as we know it. And that makes the city-state of Sarepta the first “Fashion Capital of the World.”

Did Ancient Egyptians Conquer the Seas?

Around 1477 BC, Queen Hatshepsut funded a mysterious overseas expedition to the Land of Punt, or “the Land of God.” For over a century, archaeologists have questioned the ability of Egypt to conduct such an oceanic voyage, with many believing that the Land of Punt was inland or even fictional. Now, new evidence indicates that the ancient Egyptians weren’t just masters of the land…they were masters of the seas as well.

The Mysterious Land of Punt?

The famous expedition is depicted in relief at Deir el-Bahri. It consisted of five ships. Each ship measured about seventy feet long and carried 210 men. After reaching Punt, the expedition returned with plants, animals, incense, ebony, and even people native to the Land of Punt.

Interestingly enough, this is not the first nor the last recorded visit to Punt. Pharaoh Sahure led a similar expedition almost one thousand years earlier. And after Hatshepsut’s expedition, trade flourished between Egypt and Punt for another four hundred years until Egypt’s New Kingdom came to an end. Then trade ceased and Punt became known as a mythical, lost land.

Where was the Land of Punt?

The exact location of the Land of Punt has baffled scholars for decades. Many researchers doubted the ability of ancient Egyptians to master the deep seas. They tended to think that stories of long voyages were false and that Punt was accessible by land or perhaps, a mythical place from the beginning. However, a recent article by Discovery Magazine indicates that the Egyptians “
mastered oceangoing technology and 
launched a series of 
ambitious expeditions 
to far-off lands.”

Since 2003, a team of archaeologists led by Kathryn Bard have been excavating the dried-up ancient Red Sea port of Mersa Gawasis. Their most recent discovery, an ancient sophisticated harbor, provides substantial proof that the Egyptians traveled far beyond the Nile. Over the years, the team has also located supporting evidence in a series of nearby, hand-hewn caves. These caves, which may have once served as ancient boat houses, were found to contain timbers, rigging, limestone anchors, steering oars, cedar planks, and reed mats, amongst other things. The evidence points to the existence of numerous Egyptian ships, powered by rowers and sails, and capable of surviving deepwater excursions.

“These new finds remove all doubt that you reach Punt by sea. The Egyptians must have had considerable seagoing experience.” ~ John Baines, Egyptologist

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The ancient Egyptians were clearly incredible builders on land. And now, thanks to these new discoveries, it appears that their expertise extended to the sea as well. While the exact location of the Land of Punt remains a mystery, the evidence continues to mount that the Egyptians traveled throughout the Red Sea and perhaps into the Arabian Sea. Someday soon, we might even learn that ancient Egyptian vessels traveled far out into the Indian Ocean, voyaging to faraway points such as India…and perhaps, even beyond.

The Yellowstone Conspiracy?

Yellowstone National Park is one of the most famous parks in the world. It covers almost 3,500 miles of lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountains. But underneath the idyllic scenery lies a cold, hard truth. Yellowstone has been in danger since its establishment…from the very people designated to protect it.

The (Mis)management of Yellowstone?

Yellowstone is the world’s oldest national park. It was created on March 1, 1872 when Ulysses S. Grant signed its existence into law. Early visitors such as John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt praised the Park’s management of the wild land. But by 1934, a sinister truth began to emerge. Yellowstone had not been preserved at all. In fact, the very people managing it had driven it straight into the ground.

“It is probable that white-tailed deer, cougar, lynx, wolf, and possibly wolverine and fisher are gone from the Yellowstone fauna. Add the grizzly to this list, and you have the carnivore situation at Rocky Mountain.” – Fauna of the National Parks of the United States, 1934

How did something that seemed so right go so wrong? The whole sordid tale was told by the brilliant author Michael Crichton in a speech entitled: Fear and Complexity and Environmental Management in the 21st Century.

What went wrong at Yellowstone?

The basics go something like this. During the 1890s, Park rangers believed that elk were close to extinction. They began quietly feeding the elk and encouraging population growth. By 1915, officials began to notice that other animal populations, such as antelope and deer, were in decline. Convinced that predators were to blame, rangers began to illegally hunt the wolf, cougar, and coyote. They succeeded in eliminating the wolf and cougar populations and were well on their way to doing the same thing with the coyote population when the truth of their activities came out.

Soon after, studies showed that the problem wasn’t an abundance of predators. Rather, it was an explosion in the elk population. The elk ate heavily. With less food to eat, animals such as the antelope and deer died or fled their homes. Overgrazing also reduced Yellowstone’s trees, nearly wiping out aspens and willows. Unable to make dams, beavers disappeared. Without the dams, the meadows dried, causing even more animals to disappear.

The oversized elk population was a massive problem with far-reaching side effects no one had ever envisioned. So, how did the National Park Service respond?

“Pretty soon the park service initiated a PR campaign to prove that excessive numbers of elk were not responsible for the park’s problems, even though they were. This campaign went on for a decade, during which time the bighorn sheep virtually disappeared.” ~ Michael Crichton

“Simplistic, Cause-and-Effect Thinking”

The National Park Service’s attempts to engineer Yellowstone didn’t end with the elk. For example, in the 1970’s, rangers began to move grizzly bears away from publicly-accessible areas in order to reduce lawsuit risk. Quickly, grizzlies became an endangered species. These sorts of manipulations continue today, with officials treating Yellowstone like some kind of giant experiment in scientific management.

While the National Park Service acted illegally and in secrecy, it didn’t knowingly set out to cause irreparable damage. Still, its good intentions led it to commit nothing less than an environmental disaster. In his speech, Crichton argues that the Yellowstone problem developed due to a reliance on “simplistic, cause-and-effect thinking.”

“So, in conclusion: What happened at Yellowstone? I would say, somebody really believed the world operated like this schematic diagram. And they acted on that belief. Because the diagram implies that things are simple: Kill the wolves, and save the elk. Move the grizzlies, and avoid the lawyers. And on, and on. It’s this simplistic, cause-and-effect thinking that must go.” ~ Michael Crichton

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Yellowstone is a giant slice of land, filled with all kinds of life and all sorts of interlocking factors that escape even our current level of understanding. I would argue that it’s far too complex to ever be “managed” by any single person or group of people. Unfortunately, this isn’t always apparent since actions taken today may not yield unintended consequences for years, decades, or even centuries. Hopefully however, it is a lesson that the National Park Service will someday take to heart.

 

Guerrilla Explorer’s Man vs. Nature Coverage

Did the Nazi’s build America’s Atomic Bomb?

On May 14, 1945, the U-234 surrendered to the USS Sutton. Subsequently, members of the Sutton sailed the Nazi submarine to Portsmouth Naval Yard near Portsmouth, NH. Upon opening its holds, awe-struck officials quickly covered up and classified details of the U-234’s incredible cargo. But why? What was it carrying?

The Strange Voyage of the U-234

The Nazi’s built the U-234 as a minelaying submarine. Later, it was repurposed into a cargo carrier for long-range missions. As the European theater of World War II came to a close, the Nazi’s decided to send the U-234 to Japan with twelve passengers and two hundred and forty tons of cargo.

On April 15, 1945, the submarine launched from Kristiansand, Norway. On May 4, the U-234 received a partial transmission indicating that Adolf Hitler had died and that Admiral Karl Dönitz had assumed control of Germany. Six days later, the submarine received its last order from Admiral Dönitz. All submarines were to surface, hoist black flags, and surrender to Allied forces.

Believing that he and his crew would receive better treatment from the Americans, Captain Johann-Heinrich Fehler headed west. After learning about his decision, two Japanese passengers committed hari-kiri and were buried at sea.

The U-234’s Shocking Cargo

The surrender of the U-234 became a major news event. This was primarily due to the capture of high-level passengers including General Ulrich Kessler of the Luftwaffe, Kai Nieschling, Dr. Heinz Schlicke, and August Bringewalde. The reporters who fought to catch glimpses of the submarine had no idea that the U-234’s most valuable assets were stored in her cargo holds. So, what was this mysterious cargo?

  • Technical drawings
  • The Nazi’s newest electric torpedoes
  • One crated Me 262 (the world’s first jet-powered fighter)
  • One Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb
  • And last, but not least…five hundred and sixty kilograms of “uranium oxide.”

The exact nature of this “uranium oxide” is one of the greatest mysteries of history. A recently-discovered secret cable message stated that the “uranium oxide” was stored in gold-lined cylinders. Gold, thanks to its radioactive shielding properties, is often used for shipping highly-enriched, pure uranium. Also, one Nazi radio operator who watched these cylinders being loaded onto the U-234 noticed the two Japanese passengers labeling them as “U-235.” U-235 may refer to Uranium-235, the same material used to fuel Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

Was Nazi Uranium used to build America’s First Atomic Bomb?

Intriguingly, in December 1944, the chief metallurgist at the Los Alamos laboratory indicated that the Manhattan Project would only generate fifteen kilograms of U-235 by May 1945, far short of the 64 kilograms eventually used in the construction of Little Boy. Then, in March 1945, Senator James Byrnes sent a memo to President Roosevelt, indicating his worry that the Manhattan Project would fail. Finally, shortly after the surrender of the U-234, the output of U-235 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory abruptly doubled.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Is it possible that America lucked on a large cache of Nazi uranium, which enabled it to complete its own atomic bomb? It certainly seems possible. And if that’s the case, was the U-234 the only Nazi sub that fled Europe with enriched uranium in its holds? Or were there others…others that might’ve hidden their cargos or sank to the bottom of the ocean…others still waiting to be found?

The Ship that Nearly Sank America

On September 3, 1857, the SS Central America left the port of Colón, Panama, en route to New York City. It never arrived. What happened to it? And how did this ship’s failure to reach its destination nearly ruin the United States of America?

The Lost Treasure of the SS Central America?

The SS Central America was a side-wheel steamship that sailed routes between Central America and the east coast of the United States. In 1857, fifteen tons of gold were prospected in California and shipped to Panama via the SS Sonora. Since the Panama Canal was not yet in existence, the enormous gold shipment was transported by train across the country and reloaded onto the Central America.

As the Central America sailed towards New York City, it initially encountered few difficulties. But all that changed on September 9. While sailing off the coast of North Carolina, the steamship found itself engulfed by a Category 2 hurricane. The crew, under the direction of Captain William Lewis Herndon, fought mightily to stave off disaster. But eventually, the hull cracked, sending the gold and over four hundred people to the bottom of the ocean.

The SS Central America and the Panic of 1857?

According to historian Bray Hammond, the ship’s gold represented more than 20% of Wall Street’s gold reserves at the time. As such, the news of the shipwreck caused major financial ramifications throughout the United States.

Early in 1857, agriculture and other industries began drawing against their bank deposits, putting increased pressure on banking gold reserves. The New York Office of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company failed. Other New York banks followed suit as they found themselves unable to pay employees or creditors. A delay in gold shipments from California only added to the bleak situation. And when the SS Central America sank, it ended the last hope of New York bankers to stave off a major financial crash. The Panic of 1857, as it is known today, was perhaps the worst economic depression of the 1800’s. Some historians even consider it a major factor behind the Civil War.

Salvaging the SS Central America?

On September 11, 1987, one hundred and thirty years after the sinking of the SS Central America, the Columbus-America Discovery Group located the wreck in 8,000 feet of water using an ROV. Led by engineer Tommy Thompson, the Group excavated gold in the amount of $100-$150 million dollars. This haul included an eighty-pound ingot, which at that time was determined to be the most expensive piece of currency in the entire world.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The sinking of the SS Central America was one of the greatest maritime disasters in history. It caused over four hundred deaths and caught off all hope of quickly ending the Panic of 1857. The Panic, in turn, helped bring the country one step closer to a full-blown Civil War. The Central America is not widely known today. But in my opinion, it deserves to be recognized as one of the most significant shipwrecks in American history.

Where is the Colossus of Rhodes?

The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  At over 100 feet tall, it stood far higher than any other statue of its time.  Mysteriously, this behemoth disappeared over a thousand years ago and has been missing ever since.  So, what happened to it?

The Colossus of Rhodes?

Rhodes was a powerhouse of the ancient world.  After the death of Alexander the Great, it joined forces with Ptolemaic Egypt to control trade in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.  Unhappy with the situation, King Antigonus I Monophthalmus of Cyprus ordered his son to invade Rhodes.  The invasion was turned back.  A subsequent siege also failed and the Cyprus army was forced to flee, leaving behind most of its equipment.  The leaders of Rhodes decided to celebrate the victory by constructing a mammoth statue dedicated to Helios, the god of the sun.

In 292 BC, the sculptor Chares began work on the statue.  He used iron tie bars as framework and giant plates of brass as skin.  The Colossus of Rhodes was completed in 280 BC (Chares is believed to have committed suicide shortly before it was finished).  It stood close to one hundred and ten feet tall and with the addition of at least one fifty foot high marble pedestal, it reached over one hundred and sixty feet into the sky.

There is some confusion regarding the location of the statue.  Medieval historians believed that it straddled the harbor with each foot resting on a giant pillar.  However, modern archaeologists and engineers consider this unrealistic, since it would’ve been structurally unsound and forced a long-term closure of the port.  Instead, they believe that the Colossus of Rhodes rested on a single pedestal or on a hill overlooking the area.

The Collapse of the Colossus of Rhodes?

In 226 BC, a giant earthquake struck Rhodes, wreaking havoc on the city.  And after just 56 years, the mighty Colossus of Rhodes broke at the knees.  Afterwards, the ruins lay on the ground for over 800 years, becoming a tourist attraction in their own right.  In 654 AD, a Muslim leader named Muawiyah I conquered Rhodes.  Supposedly, he sold the ruins to a Jewish merchant who broke them down and transported them back to his home via camel.  However, this may be nothing more than a metaphor.

And a great number of men hauled on strong ropes which were tied round the brass Colossus which was in the city and pulled it down. And they weighed from it three thousand loads of Corinthian brass, and they sold it to a certain Jew from Emesa – Barhebraeus, 13th Century

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

So where is the Colossus of Rhodes today? If we are to believe the stories, then the Colossus is gone, melted down and repurposed.  However, in 2008, German archaeologist Ursula Vedder proposed an alternative explanation.  She suggested that the Colossus of Rhodes had originally rested at the top of the Acropolis of Rhodes which sits on a hill overlooking the port.  There is a large rock base in the area, situated between a recently discovered stadium and racetrack.  If Vedder is correct, then the mystery of the lost Colossus may eventually be solved.  For all we know, the giant statue might be lying near these other ruins, buried deep in the sand, waiting for a team of explorers to unearth it.

Who Discovered Machu Picchu?

Although constructed around 1450, the spectacular city of Machu Picchu remained unknown to the outside world until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911. But did he really discover Machu Picchu? Or did someone else beat him to it?

Hiram Bingham’s Expedition to Machu Picchu

Situated almost 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu towers over Peru’s Urubamba Valley. Its exact purpose remains unknown although modern researchers believe it was a royal estate for Pachacuti, the ninth Sapa Inca, or king, of the Kingdom of Cusco.

In 1911, historian/treasure hunter Hiram Bingham led the Yale Peruvian Expedition into the Andes. A few days later, on July 24, he “discovered” Machu Picchu thanks to a young local boy named Pablito Alvarez. At the time, other locals resided in the ruins. Bingham is rightly recognized as the explorer that brought world attention to Machu Picchu. But was he the first outsider to lay eyes on the ruins?

Other Claims to Machu Picchu’s “Discovery”?

As soon as Bingham’s discovery went public, other people came forward to dispute his claim. A missionary named Thomas Payne claimed to have found the ruins in 1906 with the help of Stuart McNairn. He even said that he told Bingham about Machu Picchu in the first place. Another early claimant was a German engineer named J.M. von Hassel.

More recently, Peruvian historians have gathered evidence pointing to a German adventurer named Augusto Berns. In the 1860’s, Berns purchased land near Machu Picchu and secured permission from Peru’s government to prospect it for gold and silver. In the process, he supposedly plundered a series of old Incan sites.

The question of who reached the site first is not just an academic one. The stakes are high and future revelations may impact the destination of 40,000 artifacts that currently reside at Yale University.

Who owns Yale’s Machu Picchu Artifacts?

An 1887 prospecting authorization given to Berns indicates that Peru held national sovereignty over the area prior to Bingham’s arrival. They are using this to help lay claim to Yale’s artifacts. Yale’s lawyers counter that if Berns reached the site first, it stands to reason that he removed the most important artifacts. Thus, they don’t feel that the artifacts in their possession are unique or important enough to require their return to Peru. Adding to the drama, property records show that local families owned Machu Picchu before Bingham arrived. Their descendants are seeking compensation for loss of property.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

I’d be surprised if Bingham was the first outsider to ever set eyes upon Machu Picchu. But as far as I can tell, there is no solid evidence to support any of the other claims. New evidence will continue to emerge however, so anything is possible. But regardless, Hiram Bingham will always be remembered as the man who shone public light on the fabulous ruins known as Machu Picchu.

“In the variety of its charms and the power of its spell, I know of no place in the world which can compare with it. Not only has it great snow peaks looming above the clouds more than two miles overhead, gigantic precipices of many-colored granite rising sheer for thousands of feet above the foaming, glistening, roaring rapids; it has also, in striking contrast, orchids and tree ferns, the delectable beauty of luxurious vegetation, and the mysterious witchery of the jungle.” ~ Hiram Bingham, 1922