Despite news reports this week that the Peruvian government has initiated talks to recover Machu Picchu artifacts from Yale’s Peabody Museum, curator Richard Burger said Wednesday the talks are actually a continuation of negotiations that have been going on for several years.
“The talks have to do with a long-term discussion between Peru and the museum,” Burger said.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press and Reuters news service reported that the Peruvian government was actively seeking the return of the artifacts. Reuters reported that the talks began this week.
“The government appreciates the exhibit as a way of projecting Peruvian culture and we are seeking an accord that will permit the return of those cultural assets to Peru,” Deputy Foreign Minister of Peru Manuel Rodriguez said.
He also said the talks so far with Yale have been “very positive and constructive.”
Burger said he does not expect the museum to return the artifacts in the foreseeable future. The artifacts, which are on display at the museum until May 4, will soon go on a national tour for two years, making visits to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Houston, Denver and Chicago. Rodriguez said his government will not ask for the artifacts to be returned before the end of the tour.
Former Yale professor Hiram Bingham discovered the artifacts on three Yale-sponsored expeditions from 1911 to 1915. Burger said they include an assortment of objects, ranging from ritual boxes to knives, that provide insight into the daily lives of the inhabitants of the ancient Incan mountain city. The Peabody collection also includes more than 11,000 photographs taken by Bingham and scientific reports, writings, and correspondence from the three expeditions.
Machu Picchu was part of the Incan empire that ruled parts of modern-day Peru, Columbia, and Chile from the 1430s until their conquest by the Spanish in the 1500s. Machu Picchu was abandoned in 1545 and was left in near pristine condition until Bingham’s re-discovery of the site in 1911. The city was never discovered by the Spanish conquerors because of its remote location.
The ruins of Machu Picchu are Peru’s most popular archeological destination. Over 300,000 visitors travel to the site each year.
“We are trying to make Machu Picchu available to the world,” Burger said. “And we are trying to gain a serious understanding of the past.”