Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cradle of Gold

Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, the Real Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu
Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, the Real Indiana Jones, and the Search for Machu Picchu

This book is too academic to appeal to a general audience, though the use of footnotes isn't totally distracting. Mostly, my issue is that I never committed many names to memory, and there were a lot of names floating by. Bingham worked with many people in many capacities, and traveled to many places in Peru (and elsewhere!). If HE didn't even know which place was Machu Picchu, Vitcos the Old, or Vilcabamba, how was I to keep it straight?

It's not exactly what I was looking for, and I shouldn't have expected it to be. This book is about Hiram Bingham, not the Incas. It's about his discovery of Machu Picchu, not the archaeology of the site. Maybe it would have been clearer with an introduction describing the Incan civilization, and where Machu Picchu fit in. But as this is a book where the punchline is the discovery, that wasn't the plan. It does have a few interludes about three Incan emperors, but these stories left me wondering how they fit in with the sites that remain.

But it is a good story, and timely. The author does well to stay objective, pointing out all the unethical ways Bingham skirted Peruvian law to get the artifacts, but also stating Yale's reasons for holding onto the collection for so long. But he concludes, as one must, and as the courts did, that Yale must return the collection. I was lucky to see it on exhibit a few years ago, and maybe I'll be lucky to see some of it again in the spring, in Lima.

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