Univ. to return artifacts to Peru

After almost a century in New Haven, a collection of artifacts excavated from Machu Picchu will be returning to Peru, Yale University and the Peruvian government announced in a joint statement Friday night.

Approximately 380 whole, museum-quality objects in the collection, along with a portion of the research collection, will return to Peru, said Yale Vice President and General Counsel Dorothy Robinson. An as-yet-undetermined number of objects from the research collection and some of the museum-quality objects will remain at Yale for ongoing research, University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.

A Peruvian official speaks to students on Friday. Following negotiations, Yale agreed to return artifacts from Macchu Picchu to Peru.
Nick Robbins
A Peruvian official speaks to students on Friday. Following negotiations, Yale agreed to return artifacts from Macchu Picchu to Peru.

“Yale will acknowledge Peru’s title to all the excavated objects,” Yale and Peru said in a joint statement released Friday night.

The agreement is a monumental step in Yale and Peru’s dispute over the objects, which were excavated by Yale scholar Hiram Bingham III between 1911 and 1915 and sent back to Yale. The objects are currently housed in the Peabody Museum.

Peru and Yale will also co-sponsor an international traveling exhibition consisting of the artifacts currently at Yale and other materials now in Peru. Yale professor and artifact curator Richard Burger has been named by Peru and Yale as curator of this exhibition, Robinson said. The objects will return to Peru after the traveling exhibition and will be housed in a $5 million museum and research center set to open by 2010, Peru’s Housing Minister Hernan Garrido-Lecca said. Yale will serve as an adviser to Peru as it develops plans for the museum, Robinson said.

The museum will be built in Cuzco, Peru — a city located about 70 miles from the 15th-century Incan citadel of Machu Picchu.

The agreement was reached after a full day of discussions at Yale on Friday. A delegation of eight Peruvian officials was led by Garrido-Lecca and included the director of Peru’s National Institute of Culture, Cecilia Bakula, and Felipe Ortiz de Zevallos, Peru’s ambassador to the U.S. Yale officials involved in the negotiations included Robinson, Burger, Yale President Richard Levin, Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor and Peabody Museum Director Michael Donoghue.

The agreement represents a major change in the relationship between the University and Peru. In December 2005, Peru — under the administration of former President Alejandro Toledo — threatened to sue the University for the return of the artifacts. The lawsuit was dropped by current Peruvian President Alan Garcia, who this summer appointed Garrido-Lecca as liaison to the University. Over the summer, University administrators including Robinson and Donoghue traveled to Peru to begin the negotiations that concluded at Yale on Friday.

Levin said Yale’s offer to grant Peru title was not new.

“In many ways, the agreement is very close to what we’ve been talking about for the last two years,” Levin said. “We had always acknowledged that as part of a settlement we would give them the title as long as we solved certain problems.”

Yale officials over the weekend were ambiguous as to whether Yale is granting or acknowledging Peru’s title to the Bingham objects. The joint statement said Yale “will acknowledge” the title. Shailor, in an interview, said, “We’ve agreed that Peru now, as a result of this agreement, has title.”

Levin said Yale was able to reach an agreement now because Garcia’s administration was “willing to negotiate and not make this a political issue.”

“We were able to talk through problems,” Levin said. “I’m sorry to say that hadn’t occurred under the previous administration.”

Garrido-Lecca said Yale’s recognition of Peru’s ownership of all the artifacts was a key step to developing a mutual understanding.

“Yale is at last recognizing title to every piece that was excavated from Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham,” Garrido-Lecca said.

Yale administrators, for their part, said they were relieved to finally reach a resolution.

“I think the agreement is groundbreaking and that it sets a wonderful collaborative example for similar discussions across the U.S. with other countries,” Shailor said. “From that perspective, it’s really exciting.”

But Shailor said that although Yale has agreed that Peru holds the title to the artifacts, the most important part of the agreement was the focus on future collaboration, not the issue of ownership.

“We were looking at this from the perspective that title was not the primary issue,” Shailor said.

She and other officials emphasized that Peru and Yale hope to set up a long-term scholarly relationship focusing on Machu Picchu. Yale will provide a still-undetermined amount of funding for scholarly exchanges, which will allow Peruvian researchers to travel to the University and Yale researchers to travel to Peru, Klasky said. Exchanges will be funded for an initial period of three years once the formal agreement between Yale and Peru is signed.

Robinson said the two parties will sign a formal agreement within 60 days. As part of that agreement, Peru will grant Yale the right to possess and use the research materials that will stay at Yale, Robinson said. These so-called “usufructuary rights”” will last for 99 years, Robinson said.

In a talk with Yale students Saturday morning, Garrido-Lecca said he was thrilled to have established a framework for a long-term relationship with Yale. The talk was sponsored by the International Students Organization, the Latin American Students Organization and Saybrook College.

“It’s in our own interest to have such fine institutions as Yale University and the Peabody Museum and many others, hopefully, interested in carrying out research on our objects,” Garrido-Lecca said. “It would be foolish on our part not to take advantage of this interest.”

He said that according to the terms of the new agreement, research on the artifacts can happen either in Peru or at Yale, depending on which site would provide the best context for any particular project.

Garrido-Lecca said that during talks Friday he showed Burger a catalog of 10,000 Incan artifacts currently held in Peru. Garrido-Lecca offered to send these artifacts — including bones, ceramics, metal pieces and textiles — to Yale for study at the University.

“You should have seen Richard Burger’s face when I gave him 10,000 pieces,” Garrido-Lecca said. “It was like a kid looking at a toy.”

Donoghue said the agreement recognizes that the Machu Picchu artifacts not only are a part of Peru’s heritage but also have become part of Yale’s history. He said he hopes that some of the objects will remain on view at the Peabody forever, not just for the 99 years provided by the agreement.

“We all recognize that after 100 years of stewardship at the Peabody, this is part of our history,” he said.

Parties involved in the negotiations ssaid they have not yet decided exactly which materials will remain at the Peabody. The University is still in the process of completing a detailed inventory of every object in the Machu Picchu collection, Robinson said. This catalog will be delivered to Peru in December, she said.

Many in the world of art and cultural property law said they were pleased to hear of the agreement.

In an interview Friday just hours before the agreement was announced, Terry Garcia, the executive vice president of the National Geographic Society, said Yale had an ethical obligation to acknowledge Peru’s title to the artifacts.

“All these objects were removed from Peru with the consent of Peru pursuant to agreements and other correspondence that made clear that Peru was loaning these objects,” Garcia said. “Yale has an obligation to return all of the objects excavated from Machu Picchu that are in the possession of Yale officials.”

The National Geographic Society is “inextricably linked” to Bingham’s trips to Machu Picchu, Garcia said, because it supported the explorer’s last two digs in Peru, in 1912 and 1914-1915. This was the first archaeological grant that National Geographic ever made, and it has supported more than 8,000 archaeological projects since 1912, Garcia said.

A letter from Bingham to then-president of the National Geographic Society Gilbert Grosvenor seems to support Garcia’s claim that the artifacts were meant to be loaned to the University.

In the letter, dated Nov. 28, 1916, Bingham mentions skeletal remains excavated from Peru on his last expedition.

“They do not belong to us, but to the Peruvian government, who allowed us to take them out of the country on the condition that they be returned in 18 months,” Bingham said of the remains.

In a statement released Sunday, National Geographic said it supported the agreement reached Friday.

“We at the National Geographic Society commend the government of Peru and Yale University for forging an innovative solution to a long-standing, complex problem,” the statement said.

Patty Gerstenblith, the director of DePaul University’s Program in Cultural Heritage Law and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, said she too was pleased to hear of the agreement.

In recent years, she said, nations such as Italy and Greece have become more proactive about asking for their artifacts back, and many agreements for continuing loans have been worked out by U.S. museums and foreign nations already.

“The Peru agreement is following precedent that had already been set,” Gerstenblith said.

But Levin said he thought the agreement was a breakthrough in the issue of cultural property disputes.

“It’s probably the first major issue of this type that has been solved in such an amicable and mutually beneficial way,” Levin said.

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