Machu Picchu was discovered on July 24, 1911, by the American historian and Yale lecturer, Hiram Bingham.
Bingham and his crew started their journey down the Urubamba River. Along the way, Bingham asked locals to show them the Inca ruins. On July 24, a farmer by the name of Melchor Arteaga lead Bingham across the river and up the Huayna Picchu mountain. At the top of the mountain they found a family of Quechua, indigenous farmers, farming the original Machu Picchu agricultural terraces. The Quechua led Bingham along the ridge to the main ruins.
The ruins were overgrown with vegetation except for the cleared agricultural terraces and space used by the farmers as vegetable gardens. It was too overgrown for Bingham to recognize the full extent of his discovery. He took notes, measurements and photographs. He was unclear of the original purpose of the ruins but did not believe he had found what he was looking for.
In 1912, Bingham returned to Machu Picchu, sponsored by Yale and National Geographic and with full support of the Peruvian President. The expedition worked for four months clearing the site with local labor.
Controversy arose when rumors started circulating among the workers and locals that Bingham and his team were stealing artifacts and smuggling them out of Peru. Bingham was removing artifacts, openly and legally; they were brought to the Yale University Museum (but they have all since been returned to Machu Picchu). The local media began accusing the group of malpractice, stating the excavations harmed the site and deprived the local archaeologists of knowledge about their own history. Landowners began to demand rent from the excavators. By the time Bingham and his team had left, locals had formed coalitions to defend their ownership of Machu Picchu and its cultural remains.