March 6, 2006

Peru claims that Yale officials are not acting in good faith

Posted at 11:20 pm in Similar cases

More information on Peru’s attempts to secure the return of Inca artefacts currently held by Yale university, but officially lent to them for only eighteen months in 1916.

The Scotsman

Sun 5 Mar 2006
Peru to sue Yale for Inca treasure ‘theft’

PERU plans to sue Yale University to recover thousands of artefacts excavated from Machu Picchu more than 90 years ago.

The South American country is seeking the return of some 4,900 artefacts from the Inca citadel, including ceramics, cloths and metalwork.

Peru says they were lent to Yale for 18 months in 1916 but that the university in New Haven, Connecticut, has held on to them ever since.

“Yale does not recognise the Peruvian state’s ownership of these artefacts,” Peru’s ambassador to Washington, Eduardo Ferrero, said in a statement.

He complained that after three years of talks, Yale officials were no longer acting in “good faith”.

The statement said US explorer Hiram Bingham had originally been given permission to export the items on the understanding they were on loan and would be returned.

The university said in a statement that it had submitted a revised proposal last week for a settlement that would include returning many of the objects.

“We are disappointed that the government has rejected this proposal and is apparently determined to sue Yale University,” the statement said.

It added that the collection was legally excavated and exported “in line with practices of the time”.

“We are disappointed that the government of Peru has broken off negotiations before the upcoming elections in Peru, instead of working out the framework for a stable and long-term resolution,” it said.

The South American country holds elections in April. The statement noted that Yale had proposed to work with the government of Peru to set up parallel exhibitions of Inca objects at Yale and at a new museum to be built in Peru.

The country has been seeking to retrieve the artefacts now because it aims to put them on public display in 2011 for the centenary of Machu Picchu’s rediscovery by Bingham.

Peru’s ambassador said the latest Yale proposal was unacceptable because it did not recognise Peru’s ownership of the items. “[Yale] maintains that these archeological artefacts belong to humanity, but at the same time it is trying to appropriate them as part of its collection,” Ferrero said.

“The Peruvian government… will bring a suit against Yale University before the American courts,” Ferrero said.

Bingham, a Yale graduate, found Machu Picchu in the Andes under thick forest in 1911. The pre-Columbian ruins of an entire city were essentially forgotten, perched on a mountain saddle 8,400ft above sea level. Machu Picchu lay at the heart of the Inca empire, which dominated South America from Colombia to Chile until being toppled by Spanish conquistadors in the 1530s. The Andes site attracts more than 500,000 tourists every year.

The 4,902 objects of gold, silver, bone, ceramic and stone from the Inca citadel were carried back to Yale in 1912 by Bingham, an archaeologist, who had reached what he dubbed “the lost city of the Incas” the year before.

Recent research indicates that Machu Picchu was actually discovered in 1902 – nine years before Bingham’s expedition – by Peruvian farmer Agustin Lizarraga and two companions, Gabino Sanchez and Enrique Palma, on a trek through the southern jungle province of Cuzco.

With a peasant boy as his guide and a Peruvian civil-guardsman as an escort, Bingham arrived at the site of the Inca citadel on July 24, 1911.

The battle between Yale and Peru over the historic treasures has highlighted a worrying issue for museum curators: how many prized treasures in their collections are plundered goods that should be restored to their rightful owners?

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art seemed to set some sort of an example last week when it announced it would return to Italy a number of antiquities, including a 2,500-year-old Greek vase looted from a tomb north of Rome in 1971 and sold to the museum a year later.

It might be an unwelcome precedent for other institutions, not least the British Museum.

It is locked in battle with Greece to retain marble statues removed from the Parthenon in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin, and known as the Elgin Marbles.

The quarrel between Peru and Yale’s Peabody Museum is similar, even if Bingham won a “special dispensation” from the government to take Inca artefacts out of Peru.

For decades, the mainly ceramic treasures sat in boxes at Yale as Peru called for their return. Three years ago, the Peabody staged an Inca exhibition that included artefacts the American explorer had brought home.

The Peruvians were furious – all the more so considering that President Alejandro Toledo, the first indigenous Peruvian to hold the country’s highest office, has saluted the nation’s Inca heritage and held part of his inauguration ceremony at Machu Picchu.

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