September 17, 2007
Yale Officials Agree to Return Peruvian Artifacts
By RANDY KENNEDY
After a long standoff with the government of Peru, Yale University has agreed to return a large group of artifacts that were excavated at Machu Picchu in a historic dig by a Yale explorer in 1912 and that Peru contends were merely on loan and should have been returned long ago.
For several years Yale had argued that it had returned all borrowed objects in the 1920s, retaining only those to which it had full title. Yale proposed dividing possession of the artifacts. But negotiations between the university and the administration of President Alejandro Toledo, who was in power from 2001 until July 2006, broke down, and Peru threatened last year to go to court.
On Friday night Yale officials and a Peruvian delegation that traveled to New Haven signed a preliminary agreement that would return title to Peru of more than 350 artifacts — ceramics and metal and stone objects — that are considered to be of museum quality and several thousand fragments, bones and other objects considered to be primarily of interest to researchers.
The agreement, which establishes an extensive collaborative relationship between Yale and Peru, provides for an international traveling exhibition. Admission fees will be used to help build a new museum and research center in Cuzco, the city closest to Machu Picchu. The museum, for which Yale will serve as adviser, is expected to be completed in 2010.
Some of the research-quality artifacts will remain at Yale, while others will be returned, though legal title to all the items will be held by Peru. Yale will also contribute what one university official called a “significant” amount of money to establish a program of scholarly exchanges that will continue for at least three years.
“We aim to create a new model for resolving competing interests in cultural property,” Yale’s president, Richard C. Levin, said yesterday about the agreement. “This can best be achieved by building a collaborative relationship — one which involves scholars and researchers from Yale and Peru — that serves science and human understanding.”
Peruvian officials have acknowledged that many of the objects themselves do not have great aesthetic or museum value. But their claim to them came at a time when Italy, Greece and several other countries had begun to wage impassioned public campaigns for repatriation of objects viewed as cultural patrimony that led to the return of pieces by the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the J. Paul Getty Museum.
In a joint statement Yale and the Peruvian government called the deal “a new model of international cooperation providing for the collaborative stewardship of cultural and natural treasures.”
In comments broadcast on Peruvian radio, Hernán Garrido-Lecca, who led negotiations for Peru as housing and construction minister, said, “After 14 hours of negotiations we arrived at a happy agreement in which Peru was established as the owner of every one of the pieces.”
The agreement came after several months of negotiations. Talks that had broken down resumed after Mr. Toledo’s term ended and Peru elected a new president, Alan García.
The objects were excavated almost a century ago by Hiram Bingham III, a charismatic professor, aviator and later senator who is credited with the modern discovery of Machu Picchu, which he stumbled upon while looking for another archaeological site. Before his arrival the Inca complex had been known to only a few local farmers around Cuzco. Bingham struck deals with the government at the time to allow him to send objects back to Yale that he had excavated from about 170 tombs at the site.
Though the Machu Picchu objects were not looted, the dispute between Yale and Peru seemed fueled at least in part by the Toledo government decision to make the country’s Inca heritage a central theme of its administration.