Yale Returns Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru

February 21, 2011
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When University President Richard Levin signed Friday’s agreement establishing future plans for the Machu Picchu artifacts in the Yale's Woodbridge Hall, it finalized a shift in Yale’s tone from one of resistance to one of cooperation. The message is one he has tried to achieve over the past decade and one that has required many rounds of negotiations; ultimately it was only possible through a newfound willingness on Yale’s part to relinquish all the artifacts.

Nearly one year prior, a different document made its way to Woodbridge. It was a letter from Fred Truslow, a classmate and fraternity brother of John H.L. Bingham, Hiram Bingham’s III 1898 grandson, pushing Yale to end its tensions with Peru.

In an office nearly 4,000 miles away, changing perspective has also been a necessary task. Juan Ossio took the helm the newly-created Ministry of Culture in September, charged with the task of getting the objects home. While other politicians pushed hard rhetoric, Ossio worked to provide carrots to counter the sticks. Two weeks after taking office, he met with Yale alumni living in Peru to discuss the Machu Picchu artifacts. In press conferences, he conceived of possible solutions to the conflict such as offering to build a brand new museum to house them and creating a common fund to bring academics from around the world to conduct research on the objects with Peruvian students. When Peru threatened criminal charges, he expressed interest in visiting New Haven. His top priority was getting the objects back.

Four months later, his top priority is figuring out how best to show them off.

Shortly after the agreement was signed in November, Ossio announced that the first shipment of returned objects would temporarily go to Lima’s Museo de la Nación, a large history museum that doubles as the Ministry of Culture’s headquarters.

Just before 2011 began, President García designated this year the “Year of the Centennial of Machu Picchu to the World.” This designation is usually reserved for the centennials of Peruvian authors, artists and other luminaries. According to Ossio, the objects will fly to Peru on the president’s plane. Sting, Paul McCartney or Bono, President of the National Chamber for Tourism Carlos Canales has said, will come to the mountain this July joining Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, an author who is, if possible, even more celebrated in Peru. (Ossio also announced that famed Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Flórez would sing at the site in April; Florez’s manager denied it, saying he had a prior engagement in New York.)

There will also be members of the Bingham family present at Machu Picchu this year. Abigail Bingham Endicott added that she was in contact with the committee in charge of planning the centennial celebrations.

Already, the Machu Picchu Sanctuary Lodge, a five-star luxury hotel on the mountain, has sold out for both July 7, the date of the planned centennial celebration and the anniversary of Machu Picchu becoming a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site and July 24, the actual 100th anniversary of Bingham’s arrival.

It is particularly significant to the Peruvian government that citizens visit the site during the centennial year and celebrate the artifacts’ return. To encourage Peruvians to travel to Machu Picchu, the chamber of tourism has launched Mapi Pone, a campaign to attract nationals to the site.

Ossio has also worked to leverage the return of the objects and the coming anniversary into support for a brand new museum, the Gran Museo del Tahuantinsuyo, outside of Cusco. “[We] have already the piece of land, … part of the money [and] we are in the process of preparing the documentation,” he said in January at his office. He now hopes to break ground in May, such that the first stones will be down before the pieces go to Cusco.

Like all of Peru, it will be waiting.

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