Yale Returns Peruvian Antiquities Yale University agrees to return to Peru hundreds of artifacts from the Incan site of Machu Picchu. The objects have been at the center of a debate that has lasted almost a century, and culminated last year when the government of Peru threatened to sue Yale to get the artifacts back.
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Yale Returns Peruvian Antiquities

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Yale Returns Peruvian Antiquities

Yale Returns Peruvian Antiquities

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Here's the latest in a debate that's lasted almost a century over artifacts that have lasted for centuries. Yale University has agreed to return hundreds of artifacts that were taken from the Incan site of Machu Picchu. Those ancient ruins are in Peru, and the artifacts are returning to Peru after its government threatened to sue Yale to get the artifacts back.

From member station WNPR, Diane Orson reports.

DIANE ORSON: It was 1911 when an associate professor from Yale named Hiram Bingham III stumbled upon the stone ruins of Machu Picchu in the Andean Highlands of Peru. Until then, they were known only to local farmers, and their rediscovery was big news. He went back twice over the next four years and excavated silver statues, jewelry, musical instruments, and human bones, which were shipped back to the Peabody Museum in New Haven.

Yale contends that the Peruvian government gave it permission to take the items. Officials from Peru say the objects were on loan. Some objects were returned, but others stayed at Yale. Last week, a Peruvian delegation traveled to New Haven to negotiate a resolution.

Now, under a new agreement, University President Richard Levin says the school will return most of the artifacts.

Professor RICHARD LEVIN (President, Yale University): I believe it sets a model for the handling of cultural artifacts that are important for scholarship on the one hand, and important sources of national pride for the home country.

ORSON: The agreement calls for a museum to be built in Cuzco, the major city closest to Machu Picchu, to house the antiquities. A scholarly exchange program between Yale and Peru will be established. Some of the objects will stay at the university for study.

Prof. LEVIN: The key breakthrough, of course, is that we can at once recognize that the Peruvians are the owners of this material.

ORSON: That was a central issue in the bitter dispute. For years, Yale said it had returned the materials it was obliged to but claimed legal title to the remaining antiquities. The Peruvian government threatened to sue unless Yale relinquished title to all of the objects. But last summer, that government was succeeded by a new one that Yale President Richard Levin says was more amenable to negotiations.

Jose Koechlin, a representative for the local government of Machu Picchu, advised Peru's negotiators. He says repatriation of the antiquities goes beyond the technicalities of who possesses property. Speaking from Cuzco, Koechlin says it boils down to the ethical rights of the country of origin.

Mr. JOSE KOECHLIN (Representative, Machu Picchu): We are happy that Yale has recognized that the property of the Peruvian (unintelligible). The issue is, who's entitled to property? The original countries, the original people, or whoever possesses the cultural artifacts.

ORSON: Two of the original archeological expeditions to Peru were co-funded by Yale and the National Geographic Society. Last year, the society uncovered correspondence between explorer Hiram Bingham, officials at the society and Yale acknowledging their understanding that Peru held title to the objects. As a result, National Geographic came out in support of Peru's claims.

Society Executive Vice President Terry Garcia says each dispute over cultural patrimony is unique. But he believes the Yale-Peru agreement could serve as a model for others.

Mr. TERRY GARCIA (Executive Vice President, National Geographic Society): It's a big development. It indicates that we have found a way to address one of the more contentious issues these days in archeology, which is repatriation of objects, and I think it's been done so in a thoughtful manner.

ORSON: Yale and Peru will co-sponsor a traveling exhibition featuring some of the Machu Picchu artifacts. Proceeds will be used to help fund construction of the museum and research center in Cuzco, which officials hope will be ready by 2011 - 100 years after Hiram Bingham's first trip to Machu Picchu.

For NPR News, I'm Diane Orson in New Haven.

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