Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Tulane Anthropologist John Verano on Tonight's 'Nova'

February 2nd, 2010

Tulane anthropologist helps explain Peruvian ruins on tonight’s ‘Nova’

By: Dave Walker, The Times-Picayune
February 02, 2010, 5:00AM

John Verano’s role in tonight’s (February 2) cool Ghosts of Machu Picchu technically is that of a spoiler, both in the TV sense and in the scientific sense.

But both Nova and Frontline are going up against the all-night “Lost” juggernaut and will need all the help they can get drawing a crowd.

So, three words, delivered in the style of a Bourbon Street barker:

Magical! Incan! Virgins!

Step right up.

Tonight at 7 on WYES-Channel 12.

Verano, chairman of Tulane University’s department of anthropology, makes annual research treks to Peru.

The new documentary “Ghosts” draws on Verano’s work in re-examining bones unearthed by Machu Picchu’s original star trekker, Hiram Bingham, who “discovered” the ruins a century ago.

Among Bingham’s finds was a cache of skeletal remains that Yale University scientist George Eaton concluded were mostly female, and thus was born a theory that prevailed in the popular understanding of the ruins for decades.

Or at least a theory that Bingham — a proto-Indiana Jones, whose discovery made him a global celebrity — ran with:

That Machu Picchu was built as a sanctuary for Incan “Chosen Women,” or “Virgins of the Sun.”

Verano — a physical anthropologist who specializes in human skeletal biology, paleopathology, bioarchaeology and forensic anthropology — concluded that the ratio of females to males among the skeletal remains wasn’t as skewed toward females as Eaton and Bingham believed.


Photo: Macchu Picchu

And so died a romantic notion about Machu Picchu’s purpose…

See the full article in the Times-Picayune.