The Republic of Peru has withdrawn six of the 17 charges filed against Yale in its 2008 lawsuit demanding the return of ancient Inca artifacts removed from Machu Picchu by Yale professor Hiram Bingham III between 1911 and 1915 and now housed at Yale’s Peabody Museum.
The six charges, which were dropped Feb. 26, accused Yale of committing fraud and conspiracy by intentionally working with Bingham to keep the artifacts in Yale’s possession, contrary to the 1912 Memorandum of Working Agreement between Yale and Peru. Under the agreement, Yale could study Bingham’s artifacts in New Haven while Peru would retain the legal ownership of the items; at the same time, Yale was to display the artifacts in joint exhibitions with the government of Peru, the details of which would be ultimately left up to Peruvian officials. Dropping the charges “allowed Peru to streamline its case” and focus on addressing the issues Yale presented in January to dismiss the case, said New York-based attorney Owen Pell, who is representing Peru.
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Jonathan Freiman LAW ’98, the attorney representing Yale, told the Associated Press that while he is glad the six charges have been dropped, he thinks the remaining charges are “equally misguided and should be withdrawn as well.”
University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson added in an e-mail Sunday night that the withdrawn claims were “unfounded and inappropriate attacks.”
“Yale had previously warned Peru that several of its claims lacked conceivable basis,” Robinson said. “We believe there are strong grounds for dismissal of all of the remaining claims as stale.”
Peru first filed suit against the University in April 2009, arguing that the artifacts — including “bronze, gold, and other metal objects, mummies, skulls, bones and other human remains, pottery, utensils, ceramics, objects of art and other items” — belong to Peru and its people and are central to the history and heritage of the country. The suit claims Yale is “wrongfully and improperly detaining these Artifacts and has refused their return”, and that the University has yet to uphold its promise to study Bingham’s findings sufficiently; Peru claims Yale has stored a large portion of the artifacts in unopened boxes and has neither counted nor classified many of the artifacts.
The remaining 11 charges in the lawsuit argue that Yale unlawfully took the excavated items by failing to return all artifacts ever exported from Peru, either before or after the Peruvian government banned people from exploring historic sites and removing artifacts with the so-called Third Decree in October 1912. While lawyers for Peru acknowledged in the original filing that the Peruvian government created a one-time exception for Bingham’s scientific research in 1911, they argued that the Third Decree granted permission for only 18 months and that artifacts could only be exported from Peru until their return was requested.
In addition to the repatriation of the artifacts, Peru is also seeking compensation from Yale for the “wrongful retention” of the articles. In the lawsuit, Peru claims these damages are worth “far in excess of $75,000.”
Yale filed papers in federal court in January, arguing that the case should be dismissed under Connecticut law because too much time has passed since Yale acquired the artifacts. Peru has countered by claiming that the artifacts never belonged to Yale in the first place and that, under Peruvian law, the country’s claim would not be subject to Connecticut’s three-year statute of limitations. The date for oral argument before a judge on this matter has yet to be set, Robinson said.
In the same filing, Yale argued that it returned dozens of boxes of artifacts in 1921 and that Peru knew the University would keep the remainder. Yale then placed the remaining pieces on display at the Peabody Museum and published books on Bingham’s findings.
Yale and Peru had been trying to reach a settlement since 2005, and the two parties almost reached an agreement in 2007. Yale agreed to grant Peru legal rights to certain artifacts, which would have traveled in a joint exhibit funded by Yale, and then returned to a museum in Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital. But Peru pulled out of the deal because of a disagreement over how many artifacts would be returned.
When Peru’s suit came at the end of the next year, Yale filed to move the case from Washington, D.C., to Connecticut, arguing that Washington had no jurisdiction over the matter.