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Encountering Ancient America: Machu Picchu in Popular Culture, 1911–1965

Orientation Gallery

In 2007, over 100 million people worldwide voted on the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” and Machu Picchu numbered among the winners. This 15th-century Inca royal estate is now one of the most recognizable Pre-Columbian sites in the Americas, but it wasn’t always so. Before 1911, Machu Picchu lay beneath a dense cover of vegetation, known only to a handful of local farmers in the Urubamba Valley in Peru. Over the next century, archaeologists, adventurers, photographers, and artists would work to make Machu Picchu the world-famous site that it is today. In the process, Machu Picchu became an object of indigenous pride, national consciousness, and neocolonial exploitation.

The history of this transformation is on display in Encountering Ancient America: Machu Picchu in Popular Culture, 1911–1965. The exhibition’s objects range from comic books to postcards, all taken from the Dumbarton Oaks Ephemera Collection. Together, they tell the story of how outsiders appropriated Machu Picchu for divergent and often contradictory purposes, in the process turning this once-obscure site into a worldwide icon of Inca civilization. The exhibit will run in the Orientation Gallery until late April 2018.

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