October 27, 2011

Yales decision to return Inca artefacts to Machu Picchu

Posted at 12:48 pm in Similar cases

An in-depth article in three parts, looking at the decision made by Yale University to return Inca artefacts to Peru.

Yale Daily News

Returning to Machu Picchu
Yale and Peru
By Sarah Nutman
Senior Reporter
Monday, February 14, 2011

This is a three-part series exploring Yale’s decision to return artifacts from Machu Picchu to Peru: the history behind it, the negotiations leading up to it, and its ramifications. Part 1 investigates the century-long conflict between the University and Peru over the artifacts, which Hiram Bingham III 1898 brought to Yale nearly 100 years ago. (Read part 2 and part 3.)

The corner of Room 188 in building A21 on Yale University’s West Campus is filled with crates marked “fragile” and destined for Peru. Over the next weeks and months, between now and the end of 2012, thousands of objects excavated from Machu Picchu nearly a century ago will be carefully packed. In March, the first set of objects will be shipped by plane to Lima. By July 24, the 100th anniversary of Hiram Bingham’s III 1898 arrival at Machu Picchu they will be in Cusco, capital of the former Inca empire, and the waypoint for travelers headed to the great citadel.

On Friday, University President Richard Levin and Víctor Aguilar, the president of the Peruvian university to which the objects will go, signed an agreement of collaboration. The document formalizes a research partnership and creates the framework for the center that will house the objects and be jointly governed by the two universities. But most of all, it marks a pivotal step required for more than 5,000 pieces that Peru says were wrongfully kept, to finally return.

Since Yale and Peruvian officials signed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the return of the objects last November, both sides have been eager to underscore the goodwill between the two parties. The document, they say, allows Peru and Yale to move beyond the mistrust that has often characterized their interactions over the century-long struggle — it has eliminated any underlying disagreement.

For the most part, the two sides agree. Peru will repatriate thousands of pieces. Some will arrive in time for the centennial this July; the rest will be in Peru by December 2012. But there remain aspects about which Yale and Peru tell very different stories. For instance, how the pieces came to stay in New Haven for so long, and why, after nearly a decade of bickering, Yale simply offered to cede them to Peru.

This is the story, based on hundreds of pages of legal documents and articles, as well as letters and journal entries found in the archives of Bingham’s expeditions. It includes the accounts from more than 30 conversations beginning in December, in Peru and the United States, with those intimately involved in negotiations between the two countries, those who will be responsible for the artifacts upon their return and those who just want to see the pieces come home.


In October 1912, questions of patrimony in Peru seemed clear. Just over a year before, while looking for Vilcabamba, the last stronghold of the Inca empire, Bingham had reached Machu Picchu, which, he wrote, “fairly took my breath away.” With the support of the National Geographic Society and Yale, along with significant contributions by alumni and his wife’s family, the founders of Tiffany & Co., he had returned to Machu Picchu in June, “with the object of exploring it as thoroughly as possible,” clearing the ruins and excavating.

Bingham went though the proper legal channels, receiving permission to excavate and export through an October 1912 agreement between Yale and the Peruvian government. The contract made an exception to a law banning the exportation of artifacts. According to Supreme Resolution No. 1529, Bingham could bring the pieces to New Haven. But Article IV of the resolution noted, “The Peruvian Government reserves the right to exact from Yale University and the National Geographic Society of the United States of America the return of the unique specimens and duplicates.”

This caveat was deliberate and is the linchpin of the stance held by Peru today.

“As originally conceived it was a loan,” historian Chris Heaney ’03 said. His book, “Cradle of Gold,” based on research he did as a Fulbright Scholar in Peru, tells the story of Bingham’s Peruvian expeditions.

Bingham returned to Peru again in 1914 and again received permissions to excavate. But he primarily dug at sites besides Machu Picchu, and the agreement loaned Yale the findings for only 18 months.

In October 1920, Peru exercised its right to solicit the return of the objects taken by the 1912 expedition. Though he lamented having to give the pieces back, Bingham recognized the legitimacy of such a request (though he seemed to have confounded the 1912 and 1914 expeditions). In a letter to Gilbert Grosvenor, then-president of the National Geographic Society, in November the explorer wrote, “I suppose we shall have to raise some more money to ship the material back to Peru. I wish there were some other way out of it.”

Yale Treasurer George Day 1897 found one. Two days later, he wrote to the Peruvian consul and asked for an extension until Jan. 1, 1922. The Peruvian government granted Day’s request, but the objects were never returned.

This is the history supported by papers sitting in the archives of Yale University and the National Geographic Society. It is a history supported by members of the Bingham family. It was, at least for a time, a history supported by Hiram Bingham III himself.

But it is a history very different from the one Yale later told.


The University has stressed its efforts to reach out to Peru and the importance of the work done by Bingham and his co-investigators; it points to the sites they found, their research on the objects collected and the communications of their findings to the world.

Prior to November’s agreement, Yale officials emphasized its efforts to reach out to Peruvians had said they continued to thwart the University’s attempts to collaborate. That, Yale officals say, is what happened 10 years ago, shortly after Alejandro Toledo became president of Peru. Yale professor Richard Burger ’72 and Peabody Museum curator Lucy Salazar, the caretakers of the Machu Picchu artifacts, approached his administration about co-sponsoring an upcoming exhibit based on the Bingham collection. “In 2001, we didn’t think that it would be an issue,” Salazar recalled in January. It became one.

According to Burger and Salazar, Toledo and his wife, Eliane Karp-Toledo, initially seemed interested in the proposal. But at a meeting in August 2002, she made clear that the only collaboration she sought was repatriation of the entire collection.

It was the beginning of a painful decade for both parties with negotiations, on and off, starting in 2003 and spanning two Peruvian administrations. Before November, Peru and Yale had twice reached an agreement. In 2008, the University gave Peruvian officials an opportunity to see the collection. Twice, Yale says, Peru backed away from discussions, ending them in ultimatums and threats of legal action. In the last month of 2008, Peru actually filed a suit. According to the inventory completed by then-head of the Peruvian National Institute of Culture, Cecilia Bákula, 46,332 pieces were being held illegally. A 2008 fact sheet published by the University said that her actions “fuel[ed] a misunderstanding over the number of objects at issue and speculation that Yale and Peru had a major disagreement.”

Peru said it wanted them all back.

“And once it was in court,” Burger said, “Well, it is very hard to negotiate and go to court at the same time.”


In the courts of Washington, D.C., and then in the U.S. District Court of Connecticut, the dispute between Yale and Peru waged on. The University moved repeatedly for dismissal — on issues of where the case should be tried and, after the case was finally moved to Connecticut, whether the statue of limitations had been exceeded. (In other words, Yale claimed, Peru had waited too long to file suit.)

Peru argued that the case should be heard because the 1912 agreement was made pursuant to Peruvian law, under which the statute of limitations would not apply.

Daniel Schnapp, a litigator at the New York office of Fox Rothchild LLP and creator of the firm’s “Art Law blog,” explained that it is hard to predict which side would have prevailed should the matter have gone through the courts. In cases involving ownership of cultural property and artwork, extrapolating from other cases is difficult.

“The facts involved will always be different,” he said, adding that courts tend to resolve such disputes on a case-by-case basis.

But what was clear, long before the hearings in federal court, was that if the case proceeded, it would do so slowly. The court had to rule on the statue of limitations first. Even if it ruled in favor of Peru, Eduardo Ferrero, Peru’s lawyer, estimated it would take more than two years for any piece to return. The objects would still be in New Haven in July 2011, the 100th anniversary of Bingham’s arrival to Machu Picchu. They would not return under the administration of President Alan García, which has actively pursued the repatriation of misappropriated artifacts and ends on July 28.

And 100 years from now, Peru could still have been waiting.


“We were dealing with a timetable,” Liliana Cino de Silva, Peru’s undersecretary for cultural foreign policy, explained. It was a timetable made explicit by the whiteboard in her office in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where “24 Julio 1911” had been written in big letters and circled.

This date has loomed large during her tenure as undersecretary; she is García’s point-person for winning back objects smuggled or illegally taken from Peru. Cino was part of the delegation that travelled to the United States in 2008 to negotiate with Yale officials. Last April, she attended the Conference on International Cooperation for the Protection and Repatriation of Cultural Heritage, which brought together countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and Greece that are contending with missing artifacts. At the end of the conference, each country made a wish list of pieces they wanted to recover. The Machu Picchu artifacts topped Cino’s list.

She also faced increasing public pressure to retrieve the objects, including a popular movement to indict the University on criminal charges in Peruvian court. According to Cino, in response to public sentiment García escalated a social and political campaign in late September that had begun the spring before. He issued an ultimatum on September 28, calling July 7, 2011, a “dividing line” between achieving an understanding and ensuring antagonism (July 7 is the anniversary of the day Machu Picchu was named on of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and the day many Bingham centennial celebrations will take place.)

Echoing William Howard Taft 1878, who, in 1912, had written to then-Peruvian President Antonio Leguía on Bingham’s behalf and requested permission to export the artifacts, García wrote to President Barack Obama seeking his assistance in getting them back. On October 24, García announced that protests would occur in Lima and in Cusco; his office praised a group of nine Peruvians running the New York Marathon with shirts emblazoned, “Yale, return Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru.” Thousands of people attended the November 5 protest in Lima; 4,000 attended the one in Cusco.

The Peruvians chanting “Devuelvenos el patrimonio” joined a larger chorus calling on Yale to return the objects. Then-Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd released a statement supporting the Peruvian position after travelling to South America in June. The president of Ecuador also voiced his support, adding that he would bring the issue to the Union of South American Nations.

Blame came from within Yale, too. In March, Heaney sent a copy of “Cradle of Gold,” which ultimately calls on the University to return the objects, to Levin, Burger and University spokesman Thomas Conroy. A group of 23 Yale alumni living in Peru sent a letter to Levin on Sept. 21 criticizing the position Yale expressed in court.

“A clear implication of Yale’s actions is that it gives a low priority to future relationships with Peru,” it said.

Publicly, Yale remained resolute. Neither Heaney nor the alumni received a direct response. The University had stated repeatedly that the issue could only be solved by negotiation, a process by which Peru had been twice disappointed. University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson wrote in an Oct. 27 e-mail that Peru’s warnings to bring criminal charges demonstrated fear over the outcome of the lawsuit.

A notice released by the University two days earlier warned that the government’s actions stood in the way of a resolution.

“This dispute cannot be resolved by threats,” it said.

And then in early November, shortly after the protest, Levin called Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde. A Yale delegation led by Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81, director of Yale’s Jackson Institute of Global Affairs and former President of Mexico, would head to Lima. Two weeks later, Yale would cede the entire 1912 and 1916 Machu Picchu collections.

From the outside, the University had, all of a sudden, changed its mind. Yale officials offered little explanation — they said they were just glad the two sides were finally talking again.

Yale Daily News

Digging into Peru deliberations
Yale and Peru | Part 2 of 3
By Sarah Nutman
Tuesday, February 15, 2011

This is a three-part series exploring Yale’s decision to return artifacts from Machu Picchu to Peru: the history behind it, the negotiations leading up to it, and its ramifications. Part 2 investigates the deliberations surrounding the repatriation of the artifacts. (Read part 1 and part 3.)

Peruvian President Alan García held a press conference on the morning of Nov. 18. He had just returned from an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting where he had met with President Barack Obama. A reporter asked if he had spoken with Obama about the Machu Picchu artifacts at Yale — a question he should have expected after sending a letter to Obama two weeks earlier requesting his intervention in the matter.

García said he had not, but added that he “knows that he convened to the White House representatives of Yale.” And, García said, within 48 hours a group from the University would be in Peru.

The Yale delegation arrived at the Presidential Palace the afternoon of Nov. 19. At 7:14 p.m. that evening, the Peruvian press secretary announced through the Presidential Palace Twitter page that Yale had agreed to return the pieces from Machu Picchu. After half a day’s work, 100 years of animosity had been undone.

Within an hour and a half the basic terms of the agreement had been established. Later that evening, head of the Yale delegation Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81, Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonio García Belaúnde and Peruvian Undersecretary for Cultural Foreign Policy Liliana Cino De Silva were beginning to draft a memorandum of understanding, when, as Zedillo recalled, “someone comes in and gives a note to the minister saying that the president is on national TV discussing what we were just talking about.” García announced to the nation that Yale would return all of the artifacts, with the first shipment arriving in the first months of 2011.

The following day, the Peruvian press had its top headline. Zedillo had an invitation to dine with the president.

Cino, Peruvian chief counsel Eduardo Ferrero and professor Richard Burger ’72, who curates the Machu Picchu collection at Yale, all cited the lead negotiators as critical factors in helping the process run smoothly. “One of the real breakthroughs was that Ernesto Zedillo could negotiate on Yale’s behalf because that way he was negotiating with the president of the country,” Burger said. García’s presence, he explained, acted as a guarantee for Yale that the new commitment would be honored, which was of prime importance given that Peru had backed out of a 2007 accord and continually criticized Hernán Garrido-Lecca, the minister who had led those failed efforts.

Cino, a former diplomat, highlighted the high level of the negotiations. Referencing the failed memorandum of understanding, she said “the right people were not in it.” To include two presidents and a foreign minister, as opposed to a Yale deputy provost and a Peruvian housing minister, meant that “this time, the negotiations were done with the experts,” she added.

Presidents, after all, broker deals about things more contentious, and with more severe consequences, than the whereabouts of artifacts.

The University also arrived in Peru willing to make a different offer. “Yale was finally coming with the right message,” Cino said of the relative speed of the deliberations, which took less than three weeks from start to finish. “Yale came and said, ‘We want to give the objects back.’”

This offer, it appears, was pivotal.

“Once they offered that they were planning to return the pieces all has been set,” Peruvian Minister of Culture Juan Ossio said.

But from Yale’s perspective, much was set long before Zedillo and his delegation landed in Lima. Over coffee in the Peruvian capital that summer, Yale Peabody curator Lucy Salazar and Burger’s wife had met with Victor Aguilar, the rector of the University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco, to discuss the possibility of academic collaboration. Though during the deliberations it would be García who first suggested that UNSAAC act as the depository for the objects, by the time the University’s commission arrived in late November, Burger and Salazar had been in confidential conversation with Aguilar for months.

It had taken some time, but Peru had come to the conclusion Yale wanted, apparently all by itself.


The focus of the conversations was how to provide a home in Peru that would keep intact the collection mostly comprising pot shards and bone fragments. The Bingham collection contains no gold and scant silver, which is mostly in the form of small shawl pins. Of the more than 20 vaults in the laboratory on West Campus where the pieces are stored, only one contains metal and tools made from bones.

Most everything else is ceramic. Of the more than 5,000 pieces in the collection, less than 400 are considered to be of good enough quality to be shown in a museum.

Even these objects are modest. The Inca are known for their citadels and terraces, not for their pots. Their ceramic pieces aren’t painted beautifully like those of the Nazca or Wari, empires that predate the Inca in the Andean region. Nor are they shaped like the whimsical faces found on the vessels of the Moche. There is far less gold, too; the Spanish conquestadores melted much of it down in the 16th century. It’s telling that most of the major Peruvian museums’ Inca exhibits have at least one large architectural model.

The Bingham collection is, perhaps, especially simple. Machu Picchu is thought to have been abandoned as the empire was collapsing; the valuable objects are thought to have left with the people.

But both Yale and Peruvian officials agree that to discuss the nature of the objects is to miss the point.

In explaining the impetus for returning the objects, Yale emphasizes the distinct importance of these objects to Peru. “The collections are unique in a sense that Machu Picchu has become synonymous with Peruvian national identity,” Burger said. “That is the reality that Yale’s acknowledging.”

Peruvians, however, highlight another reality, one that goes beyond the issue of national identity. “It is about Yale keeping its word,” Cino said. “Yale promised to give [the objects] back and, if you promise to give something back, then you should.” It is a case of rightful ownership and one that Ossio said should have been solved “in previous years.”

For their part, many members of the Bingham family have taken a position similar to Peru’s, though they emphasize that there is not an official family position. “I think back to when I was at Yale in 1961 which was the 50th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu, and remember feeling somewhat embarrassed that the artifacts were still at Yale,” recalled John H.L. Bingham ’61, Hiram’s grandson. “We had all known in the family that they were supposed to be returned to Peru.”

Abigail Bingham Endicott, recalled a letter that her father, Hiram Bingham IV, wrote to his father the explorer in 1942 that “used the phrase ‘these artifacts should be returned,’” citing the amount of time that had passed and the relative importance of the objects to Peru as compared to Yale.

The Nov. 23 memorandum walks the fine line between the two positions. Everyone acknowledges that the objects will belong to Peru once they are returned, but the accord conveniently leaves ambiguous the issue of current patrimony. “We’re not in anyway acknowledging that Hiram Bingham or Yale violated any agreement,” Burger said.


There is a third reality though. To an archeologist, tiny, rather unceremonious shards are important regardless of to whom they belong. “By measuring this,” Salazar explained gesturing to the curvature of a piece of ceramic smaller than her thumb, “we can tell that it came from a pot that size,” pointing to a fully restored jar nearly two feet tall on the other side of her West Campus laboratory. Examining residue on the pieces and the composition of the clay used offers insights into what people ate; analysis of bone fragments can show how old a person or animal was when he died or how different people were related.

As Peruvian archeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters explained, “These are the only witnesses that we have of what really happened at Machu Picchu. Everything else is bologna.” At his home in Lima, he lamented the fact that the objects were infused with ideological issues like nationalism and identity because such a conception can hinder scientific inquiry.

In this case, he says the Peruvian fight to get the pieces back has overshadowed the issue of what will happen to them, especially the non-museum quality pieces, when they return. Much like DNA in criminal records, archeological evidence can, many years later, become meaningful. But much like DNA, if not stored properly, it can be rendered useless. Pieces in good condition are required to answer the core questions of archeology: Who was here and what were they doing? If you cannot answer those, Castillo explained, you cannot answer anything.

So archeological evidence had better be protected.

That was tone of the 2007 memorandum of understanding, which revealed Yale’s reluctance to return pieces in the research collection. The University requested to hold “usufructuary rights” to the non-museum-quality objects for up to 99 years, a provision heavily criticized in Peru. Yale also set forth that the center that would house the museum-quality objects, “shall meet standards of security, and other technical specifications agreed upon by the parties.” No objects would go back until the center was built.

Peruvians heard only another imposition. But many pointed out that Peru does not have a stellar record of preserving its artifacts. “So much stuff has been lost, destroyed, stolen … vanquished in the national depositories of archeological collections,” Castillo said. He believes that Yale wrongly held the objects, but still remains concerned about their safety when they return to Peru.

Peruvian officials are aware of this perception. “[There has been a lot of talk] that we were not able to keep the pieces,” Cino said, adding, however, that such a concern should never compromise Peru’s right to its artifacts. “It’s like a mother with a child. She’s poor and does not have enough to give it as much food as we might give. Do we have the right to keep the child?”

Asked about Castillo’s serious concerns, Ossio, an anthropologist by training, said, sighing, “Some people think that nothing can change,” conceding that Peru has a rocky history of preservation. “Now Peru is much better at protection. … [T]hings are improving — it’s not as in the past.”

Ossio pointed to the new Royal Tombs of Sipan Museum in Chiclayo and the Museo Larco, which reopened in September after an extensive renovation and has opened its storehouse to the public. Both have been widely praised for their conservation and museography. Both museums are also privately run.

Yale has wanted to keep the collection out of the national depositories. “We were afraid if it simply was returned, say, to the government, and it went into the storehouses … as just one more collection, that those kinds of worries that Luis Jaime [Castillo] had might become really prophetic,” Burger said.


The agreement signed on Friday between Yale and UNSAAC is designed to do that. It creates a jointly run research center in Casa Concha, a 16th-century mansion just off of Cusco’s Plaza de Armas — an especially meaningful location as one of Yale’s chief concerns has been the objects’ placement near the capital of the Inca empire. The terms set out a framework for making the pieces accessible to academics across all disciplines. “That, in a sense, keeps them of interest because they are objects of study. They’re not objects to be counted and then warehoused,” Burger said.

He knows this firsthand. Though he is primarily an expert on Chavin culture and the formative era, he came to Yale as an undergraduate in part because of the Bingham collection, having been to Machu Picchu in high school. He finally got to start working with it nine years later, when he returned as a professor with Salazar in 1981.

They found a collection that had been largely untouched for more than 30 years. Administrative records show that students and pottery specialists began restoring the pieces as early as 1913, but in 1980 most were sitting in storage. Some pieces were in their original boxes.

“It was time that someone really focused on it,” Burger said.” That’s why the collections are here — to be worked [on].”

The first task to be done was organization. Over the course of two years, Salazar, with the help of students, painstakingly counted and recatalogued the pieces. She and Burger then began a 15-year research process that culminated in “Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas,” the largest American exhibit about the civilization ever assembled. “There had been so many advances in archeology,” Burger said. “It was prime to re-examine using new techniques.”

Their work paid off.

With the help of physical anthropologist John Verano and zooarchaeologist George Miller, the studies disproved many of Bingham’s theories, as well as those of his contemporaries. The ratio of females to males, for instance, was not 4-to-1 as George Eaton had asserted in 1916, but closer to parity; Bingham’s 1948 hypothesis that Machu Picchu was inhabited by “Virgins of the Sun” was no longer plausible.

Ultimately, the studies carried out in the 1980s and 1990s in New Haven allowed Salazar and Burger to posit that the people buried at Machu Picchu were the yanacona, or servants who cared for the royal families. Their findings inspired Burger to reach out, first to prominent Peruvian academics, to incorporate their research into his narrative of the mountain, and then to Eliane Karp-Toledo, who was then the first lady of Peru, to propose a museum at Machu Picchu.

The government’s response, to try to win the objects back from Yale, and the subsequent antagonism generated toward the University made Burger’s goals much harder to achieve. Credibly presenting findings is difficult when you’re seen as the gatekeeper of an embattled collection. “You can’t do any displays,” Burger said.

The dispute’s progression to the courtroom, he felt, made it worse. “Courts are inherently adversarial,” he said. The lawsuit between Yale and Peru stalled work on the collection. “It’s totally disruptive,” Salazar explained. She added in January that even the negotiations process had taken her away from her work, a DNA study on the pieces, for nearly six weeks. Burger concurred: “You’re just tied up in this.”

Worse yet, even a final decision in a prolonged lawsuit would not provide closure, as “the two sides [would be] even further apart and less satisfied,” Burger said. As Salazar put it, “It was a no-win situation. We could win the lawsuit but what would it have left us.”

This, the University maintains, was always its position — that the case had to be decided around a negotiating table rather than at a judge’s bench. “They always wanted to have some partner,” Salazar said of Yale officials. With the encouragement and support of University Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson, Salazar and Burger tried to find one.

At the end of the summer, Castillo, a good friend of Burger and Salazar, recommended Aguilar and UNSAAC, explaining that the rector had expressed interest in working with Yale archeologists to resolve the issue.

Castillo arranged for the two to meet over coffee in Lima. The discussion turned into an excited phone call to the jungle, where Burger was conducting research with a student. Days later, Burger, Castillo, Salazar and Aguilar took an impromptu trip to Cusco where they spoke in more detail and explored Casa Concha among other potential homes for the artifacts. For the next three months, the informal conversations about the possibility of working together continued by phone and e-mail. Burger and Salazar brought the idea to Yale’s officers.

On Friday, their collaboration became official.


The atmosphere around the coffee table was calm. But just outside the café’s walls, where the decisive conversation taking place was privy to few, a fight was brewing.

On Sept. 27, García gave an ultimatum to Yale: Return the pieces by July 7 or be considered “treasure hunters.” A month later, Prime Minister José Antonio Chang announced a legal, academic and media campaign to recover the pieces. And in November, the president launched his national and international campaign, which Aguilar said came as a surprise.

“But happily,” he said, “we already had the guarantee from Yale University so that it would be the two universities working together.”

And at the end of the first week of November, days after García asked for Obama’s intervention and thousands had protested in Lima and Cusco, Levin sent an e-mail to Zedillo, who has run the University’s center for globalization since 2002 and was in China at the time. Levin asked if he knew anyone in the sitting Peruvian government. There had been “many conversations behind the scenes,” Levin said Monday, but Yale was having trouble getting in touch with the highest levels of the Peruvian administration. Zedillo recalled a sense of urgency in the message — Yale needed to reopen a dialogue about the artifacts.

There would be no convention at the White House and Levin said, “no direct intervention [from the U.S. government].” White House spokesperson Shin Inouye confirmed that the Obama administration “was not involved with the transfer.”

Beneath the surface of Peru’s rhetoric were, according to Levin, “signals that they’d be interested in getting back into discussions.” And Levin realized Zedillo could help the two parties move around the impasse.

“Professor Zedillo is very well-respected throughout Latin America,” Levin said. “I thought his involvement would make clear to the Peruvians that we were serious about trying to reach an agreement.”

Having received Levin’s e-mail, Zedillo helped put Yale in contact with García Belaúnde, Peru’s foreign minister, which was the first official step in brokering the November agreement.

“Whatever crisis there was at that moment, this helped to mitigate it,” Zedillo said.

Judging from the response to Zedillo’s presence at the negotiations in Lima, it did. Less than two weeks separated Levin’s initial contact with the former Mexican president and the Yale delegation’s arrival in Peru.

The November agreement Levin and García Belaúnde would come to sign marked the only agreement not subject to further ratification the two parties penned in the decade they battled for the artifacts. It would cause celebrations throughout Peru and changed the reputation of a university stressing its role in the global community.

Knocking on wood has been a common gesture among those anticipating the benefits of the joint venture whenever a potential new project has been mentioned. Even now that the ink has dried on Friday’s agreement, a further guarantee of the good faith so many on both ends are quick to emphasize, some remain concerned about whether the future will, in fact, bring all the artifacts back to Peru — they have not stopped knocking.

Yale Daily News

Unpacking artifacts’ future in Peru
Yale and Peru | Part 3 of 3
By Sarah Nutman
Senior Reporter
Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This is a three-part series exploring Yale’s decision to return artifacts from Machu Picchu to Peru: the history behind it, the negotiations leading up to it, and its ramifications. Part 3 investigates the viability of the agreement between Yale and Peru, and how the artifacts will be treated once in Peru. (Read part 1 and part 2.)

When University President Richard Levin signed Friday’s agreement establishing future plans for the Machu Picchu artifacts in the Yale Corporation Room of Woodbridge Hall, it finalized a shift in Yale’s tone from one of resistance to one of cooperation. The message is one he has tried to achieve over the past decade and one that has required many rounds of negotiations; ultimately it was only possible through a newfound willingness on Yale’s part to relinquish all the artifacts.

Nearly one year prior, a different document made its way to Woodbridge. It was a letter from Fred Truslow ’61, a classmate and fraternity brother of John H.L. Bingham ’61, Hiram Bingham’s III 1898 grandson, pushing Yale to end its tensions with Peru. As Truslow recalled, Levin responded that Yale was “very interested in an amicable resolution of this problem.”

But it has taken years to find one that allows, as Levin said in his speech at the signing on Friday, Yale to fulfill a dual need. With the new accord, “Yale recognizes the unique importance of Machu Picchu,” Levin said. “At the same time, Yale remains committed to its mission of ensuring the conservation and access for scientific study of the material excavated by Bingham at Machu Picchu a century ago.”

In an office nearly 4,000 miles away, changing perspective has also been a necessary task. Juan Ossio took the helm the newly-created Ministry of Culture in September, charged with the task of getting the objects home. While other politicians pushed hard rhetoric, Ossio worked to provide carrots to counter the sticks. Two weeks after taking office, he met with Yale alumni living in Peru to discuss the Machu Picchu artifacts. In press conferences, he conceived of possible solutions to the conflict such as offering to build a brand new museum to house them and creating a common fund to bring academics from around the world to conduct research on the objects with Peruvian students. When Peru threatened criminal charges, he expressed interest in visiting New Haven. His top priority was getting the objects back.

Four months later, his top priority is figuring out how best to show them off.

Shortly after the agreement was signed in November, Ossio announced that the first shipment of returned objects would temporarily go to Lima’s Museo de la Nación, a large history museum that doubles as the Ministry of Culture’s headquarters.

Then he reconsidered.

“The President told me, ‘Maybe it would be more emblematic if they are in the Government Palace.’” Ossio said in January. On Tuesday, he confirmed that President Alan García was planning to exhibit the objects in the Palace, which is often used for exhibitions of particular importance to the nation.

Emblematic, it could be said, has been the government’s mantra of late. Just before 2011 began, President García designated this year the “Year of the Centennial of Machu Picchu to the World.” This designation is usually reserved for the centennials of Peruvian authors, artists and other luminaries. According to Ossio, the objects will fly to Peru on the president’s plane. Sting, Paul McCartney or Bono, President of the National Chamber for Tourism Carlos Canales has said, will come to the mountain this July joining Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, an author who is, if possible, even more celebrated in Peru. (Ossio also announced that famed Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez would sing at the site in April; Florez’s manager denied it, saying he had a prior engagement in New York.)

There will also be members of the Bingham family present at Machu Picchu this year. Abigail Bingham Endicott added that she was in contact with the committee in charge of planning the centennial celebrations.

Already, the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, a five-star luxury hotel on the mountain, has sold out for both July 7, the date of the planned centennial celebration and the anniversary of Machu Picchu becoming a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site and July 24, the actual 100th anniversary of Bingham’s arrival. (A spokesperson for the Orient-Express Hotels Ltd., which owns the lodge, noted, however, that the high demand of accommodations is not atypical during the high season.)

It is particularly significant to the Peruvian government that citizens visit the site during the centennial year and celebrate the artifacts’ return. To encourage Peruvians to travel to Machu Picchu, the chamber of tourism has launched Mapi Pone, a campaign to attract nationals to the site.

Ossio has also worked to leverage the return of the objects and the coming anniversary into support for a brand new museum, the Gran Museo del Tahuantinsuyo, outside of Cusco. “[We] have already the piece of land, … part of the money [and] we are in the process of preparing the documentation,” he said in January at his office. He now hopes to break ground in May, such that the first stones will be down before the pieces go to Cusco.

Like all of Peru, it will be waiting.


But for some, the excitement and anticipation is coupled with anxiety.. As has been the case for the entirety of the 20th century, there are still fears that the pieces will not come back — or not all of them, at least.

Eliane Karp-Toledo, the former Peruvian first lady whose husband is running for reelection this April and, by many accounts, the instigator of the dispute nine years ago, is among the wary. “For me, it’s too vague,” she said of the agreement.

Chief among her concerns is the inventory. “We don’t really know how many pieces are coming back or which pieces are coming back when,” she said. Karp-Toledo is skeptical of anything that could be used to derail this agreement and prevent Peru from getting its objects. She’s worried about timing and the fact that a new administration will oversee the return of most of the pieces, as García’s term expires in July and he is ineligible for reelection. She’s worried about the possibility of Yale stalling, of not holding up their end of the agreement or acting in good faith — “Which very frankly, I had to go through over 10 years,” she said.

Peru’s current officials, however, do not share her concern. “I am confident that all the Machu Picchu collection will be returned to Peru as agreed,” Undersecretary for Cultural Foreign Policy, Liliana Cino de Silva said. In the past, there have been concerns about unreconciled inventories, largely due to whether pieces are counted by lot, shard or fragment. But now, Cino said, there is a consensus. The inventory being used, per the memorandum of understanding, is one that Yale provided and Peruvian experts verified, she explained.

“Right now we’re in agreement,” Richard Burger ’72, anthropology professor and the curator of the Machu Picchu collection at Yale, said when asked about the differing inventories Monday. “It’s moot at this point.”

Still, there will be objects in Yale’s West Campus laboratory that do not go back.

The November memorandum of understanding obliges Yale to return all pieces excavated from Machu Picchu in accordance with the 1912 and 1916 resolutions. Most clearly, this excludes the collection Bingham excavated in 1909 from Choquequirau, another Inca site, on an expedition that predates his arrival at Machu Picchu. In addition, under the November agreement, the University does not have to return a number of pieces Bingham bought from traders while in Peru. According to both Burger and Peabody Museum Curator Lucy Salazar, there are currently no plans to send them back, because, as she said, “[the collection] was bought and not excavated.” The curators added that Bingham, in fact, used his personal money to make the acquisitions nearly a century ago.

While both Burger and Salazar declined to comment on the expedition or expeditions during which the objects were bought, Historian Christopher Heaney ’03 notes in his book, “Cradle of Gold” that Bingham purchased a number of objects in Peru and smuggled them to New Haven in 1914, an activity banned by an 1893 law prohibiting the export of cultural goods. Bingham sent more under a pseudonym in 1916. The book also notes that when Peruvian archeologist Luis Eduardo Valcárcel came to New Haven in 1962, he saw one of the pieces Bingham had bought in Yale’s collection.


The November memorandum has been brokered carefully, so that Yale and Peru can each achieve their objectives. The agreement, Yale says, is not supposed to set a precedent for the repatriation of cultural artifacts both for the University and for the world; in fact, certain provisions guard against it.

Chief among them is the emphasis placed on the means by which the objects were originally taken from Peru.

“National Geographic, Yale and Bingham entered into an agreement with Peru during the excavations at Machu Picchu,” Terry Garcia, executive vice president of National Geographic Society, explained. “It reflected an intent that those objects were out on loan and that they would be returned to Peru at some definite point in the future.” Peruvians are of the same opinion. “It is understood that this is a special case for Yale; it is not a precedent,” Eduardo Ferrero, Peru’s lawyer, said.

What also sets the return of these objects apart is the unique importance the mountain they came from has come to hold in the hearts of Peruvians. “It was not always the case, but Machu Picchu has become now a very important element of Peru’s cultural and historical identity,” said Ernesto Zedillo GRD ’81, who negotiated the agreement on Yale’s behalf. In addition, Yale is not simply turning the artifacts over and washing its hands of them, but joining in an academic partnership with a university older than itself. Zedillo said that these considerations, in addition to the assurance of the artifacts’s safety, were a laid out to the Peruvian president from the outset of negotiations in Lima.


While Yale has emphasized the importance of the artifacts as part of Peruvian identity, it remains to be seen whether the Inca relics will sustain the same excitement once they return home.

When Peru released an inventory of the collection that extended the 5,000-piece collection into 46,332 objects in 2008, it energized Peruvians. So did the marches, speeches and letters of the past two years. But in romanticizing the story and establishing a sense of victimization, the nature of the objects may have gotten lost.

“The problem is that in Peru people think that there are 40,000 golden pieces … that were stolen … shotgun in hand,” Castillo said. For as long as the objects have been at Yale, there have been misperceptions about them. When David Bingham ’62, grandson of Hiram, visited Machu Picchu in the 1980s, he was asked at a press conference how the family had gotten rich selling artifacts and which of them were in his home. There were none. Hiram had given the entire collection to Yale’s Peabody Museum in 1923.

Fears about the country’s reaction to the pieces came up the last time Yale was set to return them, too. “There is nothing here that [Peruvians] will not be disappointed in,” Bingham wrote in a 1920 letter to Gilbert Grovesnor, head of the National Geographic Society at the time. “In fact, when they see the material they will probably accuse us of having sent them a lot of rubbish instead of the original material.”

When asked about this concern, Ossio admitted, “Perhaps there will be some disappointment.” But he is not too worried. “[It] depends on the way you present [the collection] … people are really enamored by the archeological context that is Machu Picchu.” Creating an environment where people can understand this context is a major goal he hopes to achieve with the Gran Museo that, he says, will take advantage of modern museography not only to conserve the objects but also to bring Inca society to life.

This strategy mirrors the one used by Burger and Salazar for their exhibit, “Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas,” which attracted over 1 million visitors during its two-year tour. It included a fiberglass replica of a typical Inca house, interactive displays and Bingham’s original equipment, photographs and diaries. “We used all sorts of gimmicks,” Burger said, laughing.


Mariana Mould de Pease, a historian who got involved in this issue long before the politicians, is also concerned about context. She’s not worried about the gimmicks or technical matters; she’s worried about the truth — about the way Bingham and his “communication, not discovery” are portrayed.

There are two Peruvian versions, she explained. The official version characterizes Bingham as the scientific discoverer of Machu Picchu. It is the version found in Cusco’s Museo Inka, in which Melchor Arteaga and Pablito Alvarez, who led Bingham to Machu Picchu are referred to only as “a farmer and a local boy.” It is the one that has three plaques on Machu Picchu commemorating Bingham’s arrival and none that make any mention of Augusto Berns, Thomas Payne or J.M. von Hassel, who may have arrived there long before him.

“The other version is the Cusqueños’ version,” she says, adding that the people of Cusco and many others living in the surrounding valley had known about Machu Picchu long before.

The city was never lost, says Jorge Flores Ochoa, a professor at University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco, whose family owned a tract of land that is now part of the town at the base of Machu Picchu. According to oral tradition passed through his aunts, they have always known about the archeological site. Bingham, himself, found the signature of Agustín Lizarraga on the famous Temple of Three Windows; according to Bingham’s journal, the day after he arrived at Machu Picchu, he interviewed Lizarraga at his nearby home.

“How could one call it a discovery, if we knew all of this?” Flores asked. He added that when Bingham arrived, Albert Guisecke, who was then the rector of UNSAAC, had told Bingham to connect with locals, including two of Flores’ uncles. Guisecke’s role is one Mould thinks continues to be understated even as new information has emerged about foreigners like Berns, Payne and von Hassel.

More important to Mould, however, is that 98 years ago, when Bingham began excavating and exporting objects, “the Cusqueños raised their voice about what was happening in Machu Picchu.” El Sol, Cusco’s newspaper, regularly denounced the excavations. Some even tried to block the train carrying the artifacts as it headed back to Cusco, Mould said. They were protecting their patrimony at a time when their government had seemingly given it away.

Heaney, the Bingham historian, would argue that both sides have been subject to oversimplification. “The perception that has been carved in the U.S. and at Yale about Hiram Bingham III really ignores how complex of a person he really was,” he said. Bingham did pay for artifacts and smuggle them out. But for the most part, he obtained permissions to take objects out of the country.

While he may not have been the first to arrive atop the great citadel, he was the first to see through the overgrowth, to have the vision and the ability to communicate the importance of the site to a world primed to accept it. It was the age of exploration. When Bingham left for Peru in 1912, the North Pole had just been found and the Yale explorers were even outfitted with a variation on the watch Ernest Shackleton used in his 1910 attempt to cross Antarctica. His photographs, his collections and perhaps especially his somewhat misguided “Lost City” statement on the pages of the New York Times and National Geographic thrust Machu Picchu onto the world stage.

“He was the master in intercultural communication, he was a workaholic, he did his homework, he wanted to advance in life, his ethics…” Mould said

“The truth lies somewhere in the middle,” Heaney said. He added that he thinks the return of the objects is the first step towards acknowledging and reconciling dual truths.

This is likely true for more than just the historical facts of Bingham’s discovery. For the first time in nearly a century, on the issue of Machu Picchu, Yale and Peru have reached an understanding.

And the two parties mostly agree, though there continue to be different reasons for why Yale ceded the collection, different accounts of how the agreement was reached and different stories of what the future must bring. But, on Friday, they again committed to work with one another. To try, perhaps, to find a common story.

Most of the nearly 70 rooms in the Casa Concha are empty. Over the next weeks and months, from now until the end of 2012, thousands of objects found at Machu Picchu will return in crates, some by presidential plane and many by ship, just as they had left. There, Peruvian researchers will carefully unpack the fragile pieces. They will restore the blemishes where Bingham’s glue has worn thin. Over the next century, they will fill gaps in the current understanding of the civilization that built a citadel by stacking stones of different shapes and structures.

The artifacts will sit in vaults not so different from the ones in New Haven, in a house that is older than Yale and much closer to home.

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