Skip to comments.Disputed collection holds keys to Machu Picchu's secrets
Posted on 06/16/2006 11:00:55 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Even after decades of study, Yale University's collection of relics from Machu Picchu continues to reveal new details about life in the Incan city in the clouds.
The bones tell stories about the health of the Incan people. The metal tools hint at the society's technological advancement. The artifacts help scientists reconstruct ancient trade routes.
Archaeologists say they've even learned that the Incan diet revolved not around the Peruvian staple of potatoes, but was based largely on maize. All this from restudying a collection that's nearly a century old.
The government of Peru wants it back, saying it never relinquished ownership when Yale scholar Hiram Bingham III rediscovered the city in 1911 and began exporting artifacts from what has become one of the world's most famous archaeological sites.
Peru demanded that Yale return the relics this fall. Then, after a compromise broke down that would have divided the them among museums in both countries, Peru said it intended to sue. No lawsuit has been filed and Yale administrators say they remain confident a deal can be worked out that will resolve the dispute amicably.
Many of the relics are on display at Yale's Peabody Museum. But the collection, which include mummies, ceramics, tools and human bones, has more scientific than aesthetic value, Yale anthropology professor Richard L. Burger said.
"It's not a collection of art objects," Burger said. "If you want to see the most beautiful Incan art objects, you go to the Inca Museum in Cusco."
The Incas ruled Peru from the 1430s until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532, constructing incredible stone-block cities and roads and developing a highly organized society that extended from modern-day Colombia to Chile.
The ruins at Machu Picchu, located on a mountaintop above a lush valley 310 miles southeast of Lima, are Peru's top tourist attraction.
Bingham, a Yale archaeologist, became the first foreigner to reach Machu Picchu in 1911 and returned to the site in 1912 and 1914. Yale said artifacts from the 1914 expedition were returned long ago and said the current dispute focuses on relics from the 1912 trip.
The Peruvian government maintains that, while Bingham had approval to remove the artifacts, they were essentially on loan to Yale and the country never relinquished legal ownership.
Peru's first lady, Elaine Karp, has pushed hard to have the relics returned, Burger said. Her husband, President Alejandro Toledo is not eligible for another term, however, and a new government took over after a June 4 runoff election.
Burger said he hopes the new government will resume negotiations.
"We feel strongly that there's enormous scientific importance to the collections," he said. "That has to be a consideration."
Alot of these 4-star collections in the real world....are basically stolen or simply taken. You could totally downgrade the top ten collections throughout the world if you forced them to admit real ownership. I can see the point where the original country ought to own the item...but if a hundred years has passed...it makes it difficult to say who owns what.
It's seems incredible to me that the Incas and the Aztecs and their forerunners never knew each other existed.
Their respective Southern and Northern borders were'nt THAT far apart.
It seems like the artifacts should be sent back to Peru. If it were Venezuela, however, I'd tell Hugo Chavez to shove it.
Not sure where it is written that any knows that they didn't know each other existed. Where are you getting this? It makes sense that they were aware of each other and probably traded ... it would be hard to prove they didn't and evidence that they did may simply be 'yet to be found'.
Artifacts on display at the Yale Peabody Museum's "Machu Picchu: The Mystery of the Incas" include a bronze knife pendant and dragon-shaped bottle. (Courtesy Yale University)
I have read this in several History books long ago so I don't have their names offhand. Sorry 'bout that.
I'm reading this book right now:
I picked it up at the bookstore at Mesa Verde. Great book---I can hardly put it down---among other things, the author makes a very good argument that Machu Picchu was the Inca equivalent of an agricultural experiment station!
Dragon? It's a Loch Ness monster -- sea serpent thingy.
Seriously, though, cool pic.
The reconstructed lizard bottle shows the Moche artists amazing ability to render familiar animals in clay. Other favorite subjects include sea lions, condors, parrots, birds of prey, and native wild cats
I've thought about this a bit and believe that if the artifacts were not taken out of the country in some clanedestine manner, then they belong to the finders.
Just because nowadays they look back with regret at the lost tourism opportunities, does not mean all the artifacts others funded the search for should be returned.
I would possibly make an exception for mummies. Those are people with possible descendants alive now, and I could understand not wanting my great great granddad on display in a museum, or even my collateral great great grand uncle. I'd expect compensation for the expedition costs, though.
<Why is it that somehow we give so much credibility to governments, when the same claims would be laughed out of court if advanced by individuals. Many of these governments didn't exist in their present form when the various articles were taken, and so what does "ownership" even mean? Is the world better served by these kinds of things being examined in a center of scholarly research or squirrled away in some corner of a piss ant country somewhere?
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