Senator: Incan artifacts held by Yale belong to Peru
Peru has had a lawsuit pending in federal court in Connecticut since 2008 demanding Yale return artifacts taken by scholar Hiram Bingham III between 1911 and 1915. Yale says it returned dozens of boxes of artifacts in 1921 and that Peru knew it would retain some.
Dodd, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chairman of its subcommittee on Latin America, traveled to the region last week and met with Peruvian President Alan Garcia and other government officials to discuss the dispute. The Connecticut Democrat, who is retiring, said he has worked for years with Yale and Peru to seek a resolution.
“The Machu Picchu artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution, or to any university,” Dodd said in a statement. “They belong to the people of Peru. I plan to work with both parties to resolve this dispute quickly, amicably, and return the artifacts to their rightful owners.”
Yale officials said the university has been discussing the issue with Dodd’s office and is glad to continue the discussions.
“Machu Picchu has special significance for Peru and the entire world,” Yale said in a statement. “We look forward to a plan that preserves the artifacts and ensures their availability to the public and scholars to promote further appreciation and study of the rich cultural legacy of Machu Picchu.”
The Machu Picchu ruins, perched in the clouds at 8,000 feet above sea level on an Andean mountaintop, are Peru’s main tourist attraction. The complex of stone buildings was built in the 1400s by the Inca empire that ruled Peru before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century.
The lawsuit alleges Yale violated Peruvian law by exporting the artifacts without the special permission of the Peruvian government and by refusing to return them. The lawsuit, which also seeks the return of the artifacts under Connecticut law, accuses Yale of refusing to account for which artifacts it holds and which were returned.
Yale has argued that the lawsuit should be dismissed because a three-year statute of limitations expired. Peru rejects the argument, saying that Yale never owned the artifacts and that its claim is not subject to a statute of limitations under Peruvian law.
Yale describes the artifacts, which are housed at the university’s Peabody Library, as “primarily fragments of ceramic, metal and bone” and says it recreated some objects from fragments.
Peru says the artifacts are composed of centuries-old Incan materials including bronze, gold and other metal objects; mummies, skulls, bones and other human remains; pottery; utensils; ceramics; and objects of art. Peru says the most important artifacts were never returned.
In 2007, the two sides agreed to give Peru legal title to the pieces, which were to travel in a joint exhibit and then return to a museum and research center in the ancient Incan capital of Cuzco. Yale would have funded the traveling exhibit and partially funded the museum.
But Peru backed out of the deal because of a dispute over how many artifacts were to be returned.
Yale has said it was disappointed that Peru decided not to honor the 2007 agreement, which it said would return all “museum quality objects” along with a “significant portion of the research materials.”
The lawsuit seeks damages on each count that that it says far exceed $75,000.
Bingham, the researcher, is commonly credited with rediscovering Machu Picchu centuries after the Incas abandoned the site during the Spanish conquest. But in recent years, versions suggesting that other foreign and local explorers beat him to the site have gained currency among Peruvian historians.
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