Inca Show Pits Yale Against Peru
By any conventional measure, Yale's exhibition about Machu Picchu would seem a windfall for Peru. As one of the most ambitious shows about the Inca ever presented in the United States, drawing over a million visitors while traveling to half a dozen cities and back again, it has riveted eyes on Peru's leading tourist attraction. Yet instead of cementing an international partnership, the exhibition, which returned to the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale in September, has brought a low ebb in the university's relations with Peru.
At issue are a large group of artifacts that form the core of the show, excavated at Machu Picchu in a historic dig by a Yale explorer in 1912. The government of Peru wants all of those objects back.
Peru contends that it essentially lent the Machu Picchu objects to the university nearly a century ago and that the university has failed to return them. Yale has staunchly rebuffed Peru's claim, stating that it returned all borrowed objects in the 1920's and has retained only those to which it has full title.
The dispute is inflamed by the swashbuckling exploits of Hiram Bingham III, a Yale professor, aviator and later senator, and the special dispensations he brokered with the Peruvian government to take Inca bones and ritual tomb objects out of Peru. Add a Peruvian president who has made the country's indigenous heritage a central theme of his administration and an Ivy League archaeology department with a towering reputation in the Inca field, and the dispute has all the ingredients of an Indiana Jones movie.
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