In 1912 Hiram Bingham, an American explorer, took thousands of artifacts from the Incan city of Machu Picchu during his first of several expeditions he led to Peru, and brought them to Yale University, his Alma Mater. After 100 years of being at Yale, the artifacts will be returned to their home nation. Professor Briggs, director of Yale’s Peabody Museum, expressed excitement about the artifacts’ return. There has been a long dispute over ownership of the artifacts as Peru alleges that the artifacts were on loan to Yale University for eighteen months and never returned back.
In 2007, Peru and Yale reached an agreement granting the Peruvian government legal title to all the artifacts and returning all “museum-quality” artifacts to Peru. Peru backed out of this agreement after realizing it was not receiving the entire collection and filed a civil lawsuit against Yale University in December 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking immediate return of all the artifacts. In early November 2010, Peruvian government officials started to increase pressure on Yale University by protesting through the streets of Lima in an effort to ensure that the artifacts would be returned before Machu Picchu’s centenary celebrations. On November 2, 2010, Peru’s President Alan Garcia wrote a letter to President Obama formally requesting his help in recovering Peru’s cultural relics. Shortly thereafter, on November 19, 2010, Peru and Yale University reached an agreement that will return all of the Peruvian artifacts to its home nation.
The return of the artifacts will be a legacy in Mr. Garcia’s presidency. His speech praised Yale University for agreeing to return all the artifacts and for keeping them safe. The agreement states that the artifacts will be returned to Cusco’s University of San Antonio Abad. This joint centre for the study of Machu Picchu and Inca culture will be open to academics from Peruvian and American universities. The full collection is set to be returned by 2012.
Professor Briggs does not think that this agreement will serve as precedent and that each case will have to be decided on their facts. Do you think this agreement will provide guidance as to how similar cases will reach a decision? Will this lead to an increase in nations requesting their goods from museums? How will Greece who is trying to reclaim Elgin Marbles from the British Museum use the Yale-Peruvian agreement to strengthen its case?