The Inca artifacts that Yale has held for nearly 100 years are now one step closer to returning to Peru.

At approximately 12:00 p.m. Friday, University President Richard Levin and Victor Aguilar, rector of the University of San Antonio Abad del Cusco, signed an agreement establishing a jointly administered center in Cusco, Peru charged with caring for, exhibiting and researching the pieces. The creation of the UNSAAC-Yale University International Center for the Study of Inca Culture is central to the execution of a Nov. 23 memorandum of understanding between Yale and the Peruvian government under which the University agreed to return the objects by the end of 2012.

“It is a historic event for Peru and especially for Cusco and our University,” Aguilar said in his remarks via translator just before the signing.

The agreement outlines the essential functions of the center, which include the preservation of the artifacts, making the objects available for study and to the public and promoting research through conferences. In addition, the accord creates a framework for academic exchange between Yale and UNSAAC including fellowships and support for visiting scholars.

Levin said that Yale hopes that the agreement will allow work that is currently underway to continue. The University hopes the agreement will enable the two schools to expand to new areas of research, he added.

“There is no better place for the collections to be displayed and stored,” he said.

The collections come from expeditions to Peru led by Yale archeologist Hiram Bingham III 1898. Over the course of three trips, Bingham’s team excavated thousands of objects from Machu Picchu and brought them to Yale. Over the past century and especially in the last decade, Peru has fought for the return of these pieces through negotiations and even a lawsuit.

But both Levin and Aguilar and Levin highlighted the informal relationship between the two universities that is more than a century old. In order to reach Machu Picchu, Bingham relied on Albert Giesecke, then-rector of UNSAAC for information. Students from the Peruvian University also visited Bingham while he was excavating at Machu Picchu.

“We’re thrilled to revive this historic great link between the two universities,” Levin said.

A number of officials from both Peru and Yale attended the signing, including the members of the Yale delegation that November as part of the Yale and Ambassador Liliana Cino da Silva, Peru’s Undersecretary for Cultural Foreign Policy, as well as David Bingham ’62 and his daughter Anne S. Bingham ’86, the grandson and great-granddaughter of Hiram, respectively.

The University and Peru announced that the artifacts would be returned Nov. 21