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Yale agrees to return Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru, ending dispute

November 22, 2010 |  3:50 pm

Machu picchu peru presidency

Yale University has agreed to return thousands of pre-Hispanic artifacts to Peru, tentatively ending a dispute that pitted the Ivy League school against a growing demand in the Andean nation to reclaim its "cultural patrimony."

The Machu Picchu objects -- including pottery, textiles and human bones -- have been in Yale's hands for nearly a century, since Hiram Bingham III, a Yale historian, first "rediscovered" the ancient Inca city in 1911.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia and his predecessor, Alejandro Toledo, had made it a priority to pressure the university to release the excavated pieces, saying they were merely moved out of the country on loan between 1912 and 1915. Yale had refused for years, saying many Machu Picchu pieces were returned in 1921 and that it had been established then that the rest would stay at the university's Peabody Museum in New Haven, Conn.

In a statement over the weekend, Yale said it was pleased with developments in recent talks and was still working out details on how to transfer the first batch of objects to San Antonio Abad University in the city of Cuzco as early as next year, after an inventory is completed and a new research center is established there.

"This collaboration will ensure that Yale's values in conserving the collection, studying the material and disseminating new knowledge will be extended in a new phase, and in a spirit of friendship with the people of Cuzco and the nation of Peru," the university's statement said.

Garcia, in a statement, said, "The Peruvian government welcomes this decision and recognizes that Yale University preserved these artifacts, which otherwise would have ended up scattered in private collections around the world or would have even disappeared."

Words shared between Yale and Peru weren't always this friendly, however.

Peruvian officials have repeatedly claimed in public forums that Yale was holding the Machu Picchu objects unlawfully, one of many ongoing disputes between countries over cultural artifacts taken by previous generations of Western historians and archaeologists. In 2008, Peru sued Yale in U.S. District Court. It was not clear how the new agreement would affect the lawsuit.

The recent round of successful talks between Yale and Peru were led in part by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, who currently heads a research institute at Yale.

In recent months, Peru has waged an aggressive diplomatic campaign to reclaim the objects, using protests in Lima, the capital; social networking sites; and Peruvian runners in the New York City Marathon who wore T-shirts that said, "Yale, return Machu Picchu artifacts to Peru." The government reached out to President Obama and Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, who said in a statement in June, "These artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution or to any university -- they belong to the people of Peru."

Peru has said that Yale is in possession of 40,000 objects from Machu Picchu, but the university has placed the number at 4,000.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: The Machu Picchu ruins in Peru. Credit: Peruvian government

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