Top Yale officers and Peruvian government representatives are continuing negotiations regarding artifacts recovered at Machu Picchu and brought to Yale more than 90 years ago, officials said Monday.
Peruvian officials have said that if the negotiations break down, they plan to sue the University for possession of the artifacts, which were excavated in 1911 from the ruins of the ancient Incan city by Hiram Bingham, Class of 1898. As the centennial anniversary of the rediscovery of Machu Picchu approaches, the Peruvians have begun seeking the return of the artifacts in earnest. The confidential talks between the University and Peru have remained ongoing for more than two years, said Barbara Shailor, deputy provost for the arts.
Yale President Richard Levin said the University is prepared to share the artifacts with Peru.
“We’re quite willing to work with the Peruvians to help them establish a museum with a substantial number of the artifacts of Machu Picchu,” Levin said. “We would very much like to play a role in making sure that great permanent collections can exist both at Yale and in Peru.”
Shailor also said the University is currently seeking a joint agreement with Peruto display some artifacts in both locations.
“We are very interested in doing some kind of collaborative venture,” she said. “We don’t want any type of litigation. We are really willing to have a collegial relationship.”
Officials at the Peruvian Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment Monday.
Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, director of the National Institute of Culture in Peru, told the Associated Press last month that Yale borrowed the artifacts in 1911 and that the University’s lease is long expired.
“Yale considers the collection University property, given the amount of time it has been there,” Lumbreras said. “This is something we do not recognize because the pieces were legally granted in a temporary loan.”
Brian Bauer, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in South American archaeology, said that while the artifacts do not appear particularly notable on the surface, they have contributed significantly to scholarship on Machu Picchu.
“The artifacts … have shed light into what is now known as one of the best archaeological sites in the world,” he said. “They are not visually impressive, but they have been able to correct various errors in interpretation.”
A selection of the artifacts was included in an exhibit that traveled throughout the United States. The curator of the exhibit, Richard Burger, said he was unable to comment given the possibility of litigation.
Bauer said both Yale and Peru now have the resources to care for the artifacts, but he is unsure which party has the greater claim to them.
“Right now the Peruvians have modern facilities to care for artifacts,” Bauer said. “I don’t know if they were exported with the intent that this was a temporary loan or if they were strictly given.”