For Better or Worse: Yale and Peru Committ to the Return of Thousands of Incan Artifacts

On Feb. 11, 2011, Yale University signed an agreement to send back to Peru thousands of Incan artifacts, ceramic pieces, animal and human bones, and metal and stone objects, removed from the Machu Picchu citadel between 1911 and 1913.

The long running dispute as to “whether they would or they would not” was resolved in favor of Peru, when in November 2010, Yale issued a statement that the school was” pleased and proud to have reached an accord with the Government of Peru which is now in the stage of being formalized. Under it, as an expression of good will and in recognition of the unique importance that Machu Picchu has come to play in the identity of the modern Peruvian nation, Yale will return, over the next two years, the archaeological materials excavated by Hiram Bingham III at Machu Picchu . . . by the Yale-Peruvian Scientific Expedition of 1911.”

According to Art Daily, “San Antonio Abad University in Cuzco will create a center to house the more than 5,000 objects and fragments. The center, to be located in an Incan palace and operated under joint direction by both universities, will include a museum exhibit for the public and a research area for collaborative investigations by the two institutions and visiting scholars.”

The story began in 2008, when Peru authorities filed a federal lawsuit demanding Yale University return the artifacts taken by the Yale scholar Hiram Bingham. Republic of Peru v. Yale University, No. 3:09-CV-01332 (D. Conn. Oct. 9, 2009); transferring No. 1:08-CV-02109 (D. D.C. July 30, 2009. The claim accused Yale of fraudulently holding the relics for decades.

The end of the dispute is a beginning of a new relationship between the Ivy League school faculty and students who plan to visit the center for training, research and field work, and Peruvian faculty and students who would come to Yale on exchanges. The Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History stands to receive a small number of artifacts for display. And they lived happily ever after.

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