In May 1916, Hiram Bingham III ? one of Yale?s first Latin American studies professors and the discoverer of Machu Picchu ? pushed through a crowd of Republicans in upstate New York to tell Teddy Roosevelt about his recent change of heart concerning the country he once adored.
?When I was in Peru ? I found much that didn?t please me,? Bingham said to the ex-president. ?I found that the claim to American citizenship won no respect … So I decided that there were pleasanter occupations for an American citizen than exploring in Peru, and I came home.?
This story and many other revelations about Bingham?s transformation from a leading advocate against imperialism in Latin America to an indifferent possessor of precious Peruvian artifacts will be set forth by Chris Heaney ?03 in an article in the October 23 edition of The New Republic, which was obtained in advance by the News.
If accurate, his research would for the first time implicate Yale in the holding of Peruvian artifacts taken illegally from the country. But Yale-Peabody Museum curator Richard Burger said he thinks Heaney?s arguments are irrelevant to the debate over artifacts, contextually naive and an attempt at ?self-promotion? by Heaney.
Still, Heaney?s findings may reinvigorate the Peruvian government?s threatened lawsuit against Yale for the return of artifacts Bingham excavated throughout the early 1900s, which the Peruvian government claims were taken out of the country illegally.
In the New Republic article, Heaney argues that Peru clearly has a right to request the return of the relics. Yet last year, when Peru finally asked for the Machu Picchu artifacts to be returned to the country, Yale refused, arguing that too much time had passed since their original excavation and that the artifacts were safer at the Peabody than they would be in Peru.
But in 1914, Bingham had actually promised to swiftly return the artifacts, though he did not follow through on his pledge, Heaney wrote in the article. Instead, Bingham sent a letter to the Peruvian government complaining that the natives appeared to distrust him and his team.
The reason for this sudden onset of resistance, Heaney wrote, was easy to explain.
?During the excitement of the first Yale expedition, Peru?s intellectuals, including a passionate and nationalist young Peruvian scholar named Luis E. Valcarcel, began to hound the government to protect the treasures of pre-Columbia ruins from foreign exportation,? he wrote. ?Bingham wrongly derided these protections as local jealousy and intellectual posturing.?
The Society to Protect Historical Monuments, which rose to prominence after Bingham?s arrival in Peru, pressured the Peruvian president into decreeing that antiquities uncovered through scientific excavation became the property of the government and their exportation was forbidden.
According to Heaney?s article, Bingham continued to purchase and export artifacts from Peru after the decree, despite knowing that customs officials would have to be bribed in order to transport the relics safely to New Haven. Furthermore, some of the artifacts supposedly returned by Yale appeared in the Peabody Museum?s online catalog, Heaney wrote.
In reaction to excerpts from Heaney?s article, Burger said he did not find any of the claims ?particularly interesting? or relevant to future Yale-Peru discussions.
?There?s really no way of knowing what happened,? Burger said. ?We can?t call the shipping guy up. We can?t call up Bingham ? You can make all sorts of allegations, all sorts of speculation.?
Burger said he thinks Heaney is going after the figure of Bingham in part to make a name for himself.
But Heaney said he thinks Burger?s criticisms ?trivialize the seriousness? of his story.
?A story like this doesn?t get written for reasons of self-promotion,? Heaney said. ?This doesn?t have to do with me. It has to do with the facts of the article, and I have some serious questions in there that [Yale] has to respond to.?
Lucy Salazar, another Peabody curator, said Bingham was well-liked and respected by the Peruvian people, noting that the country still has streets named in his honor. And University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the Yale administration believes that Bingham?s intentions with regard to the antiquities were honorable.
?We believe that Bingham intended to return all the materials he committed to return,? she said, according to The New Republic article.
But Terry Garcia, executive vice president of the National Geographic Society, said Heaney?s findings support the Society?s position that there is no ambiguity in this case.
?Yale not only has a moral but a legal obligation to [return the artifacts],? Garcia said. ?We all knew that these objects were being lent for scholarly review and study and that they were going to be returned to Peru, and that?s really the sum and substance of this issue.?
In recent months, some have speculated that the new government of Peru ? which came to power in July ? will not be as stubborn as the previous administration in demanding resolution through a lawsuit. But Yale political science professor Susan Stokes said she thinks the nationalistic spirit of the region will keep the Peruvian government from dropping the suit.
University President Richard Levin said Yale has consistently expressed a willingness to negotiate with the Peruvian government. He said the country?s former leaders seemed more concerned with ?symbolic politics? than practical solutions, and he hopes a resolution can be reached with the new government.
?Yale is seeking to demonstrate leadership in this area, in a way that balances the legitimate interests of Peru against the worldwide interest in the reservation and conservation of these important historical artifacts,? Levin said.
Burger also said after speaking with Peruvians in recent weeks, he is hopeful that the two parties will return to table soon in order to bring an amicable end to the almost century-long saga.