Thursday, August 26, 2010
Cradle of Gold: The Story of Hiram Bingham, a Real-Life Indiana Jones and the search for Machu Picchu
New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
Week 35 Non-fiction
My husband Thell’s mother always wanted to go to visit Machu Picchu in Peru, because she had read about it in National Geographic many years ago. Because she never got there, Thell has wanted to go in her stead. We finished reading Cradle of Gold by Christopher Heaney this week in anticipation of the trip we hope to make in the next year, while we are still young enough to travel to Cuzco, to ride the Hiram Bingham train, climb the steep cliffs and explore the ancient city of Machu Picchu.
One of the most colorful, but also unknown, figures of the late 19th and early 20th century, Hiram Bingham, was an American academic, archaeologist and adventurer. He spent much of his young adult life exploring in Peru, searching for the lost cities of the Incas, and the rest of his adulthood defending his discoveries.
The items he brought back to Yale were the stuff of controversy, because they included among other things, human bones—5415 pieces in all. Heaney outlines the several arrangements Bingham and Yale made with the various governments of Peru—there were failures and deceptions on both sides. Enshrined at the Peabody Museum at Yale, the artifacts remain controversial 100 years later. Recently, Peru sued Yale to have all the human remains returned to Peru; the court case is still pending.
Bingham went on to be a pilot during World War I and later a US Senator. He was truly a man of his age, and most likely the model for the movie hero, Indiana Jones. His was an amazing life, and Christopher Heaney does the man justice. We are at once fascinated and repelled by the man who would use his wife’s money and leave her at home alone with seven children.
It is engrossing reading of a subject about which not much has been written. The review in the Wall Street Journal was what encouraged me to read this book, which I read aloud with my husband. We both enjoyed it, and when we go to Peru, we will be glad that we had read it.
Christopher Heaney is a professor at the University of Texas. Here is his website:
Here is an interesting interview Heaney did with the Yale Daily News. It deals with the ongoing controversy that Hiram Bingham looted Machu Picchu and that Yale is withholding valuable gold pieces from the Peruvian government.