New Peruvian minister prioritizes artifacts’ return

Peru swore in its first-ever minister of culture at the Government Palace in Lima on Saturday — and he says his top priority will be the return of the Machu Picchu artifacts currently housed at Yale.

Anthropologist and scholar Juan Ossio will be the first to lead the new Ministry of Culture, which was first proposed in 2008, and said he hopes to conclude the dispute over the artifacts in a way that preserves his country’s relationship with the University.

“These relics must return to Peru, and in order that they do come back, we must use appropriate strategies and not strategies that would jeopardize our relationship with Yale University,” he said Monday.

Ossio said he plans to ask Yale alumni for help petitioning the University, and that he will pressure his own government to build a museum to house the artifacts so they are accessible to scholars and tourists, the Latin American news source Toda Noticia reported. Still, Ossio must consult Peru’s Ministry of Finance to work within the country’s budget.

Ossio has taught at universities around the world, including the University of Chicago, the University of Virginia and the the École pratique des hautes etudes in Paris, according to the Peruvian news source Andina.

Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said Ossio has not yet been in contact with the University, but that she hopes his statement to the Peruvian press reflects a desire to resolve the issue through negotiation rather than litigation.

“We noted with interest that in his first remarks, as reported in the Peruvian press, the Minister suggested that negotiation with Yale would be necessary and that he had ideas to pursue that could be of interest to Yale,” Robinson said in an e-mail.

But, in the meantime, Yale goes to court in Connecticut today to move to dismiss Peru’s lawsuit against Yale.

The dispute has its origins in Yale explorer Hiram Bingham III’s 1911 expedition to Machu Picchu in Cuzco, Peru, which brought the ancient Inca city to the attention of the western world. Bingham brought a variety of artifacts — according to a motion filed by Peru, “primarily fragments of ceramic, metal and bone”— back to New Haven from his travels, some of which were returned to Peru in a 1921 shipment, while others remained in the Peabody. In December 2008, Peru sued for the return of the items.

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