Counting Down to 100 Years of “Scientific Study”

Artifacts from Machu Picchu on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum (AP photo, 2006)

From NY Times Arts Beat Blog November 3, 2010

Peru Seeks Obama’s Help in Dispute With Yale

By Randy Kennedy

Escalating a war of words between his government and Yale University, President Alan García of Peru has made a formal request for President Obama’s intervention in a long-running dispute over the ownership of a large group of artifacts excavated in 1912 at Machu Picchu by a Yale explorer.

Peru has argued that the items were only lent to the university and should have been returned long ago. Yale has contended that it returned all borrowed objects in the 1920s, retaining only those to which it had full title. In 2007 the sides reached a tentative agreement that would have set up a long-term collaboration and granted title of the disputed antiquities to Peru while allowing a certain number, including the piece above, to remain at Yale for study and display. But that deal fell apart in 2008, and Peru filed a civil suit in federal court in Connecticut.

Last month Peru said it was also prepared to pursue criminal charges against Yale if the items were not returned. In his letter to the White House on Tuesday Mr. García said it was only “just and necessary” for President Obama to step in. In a statement after the threat of criminal sanctions, Yale said that while it respected “Peru’s interests in archaeological material from Machu Picchu,” it also owed “a duty to academic and cultural institutions everywhere to recognize their important contributions to the study and understanding of all the world’s cultures.”

*   *   *

Do the following projects really justify the right of Yale University to keep physical possession of the Machu Picchu finds?

(From a Yale University Press Release)

“Currently underway at Yale are a number of important scholarly studies of the Machu Picchu materials that promise to reveal more about Inca life and culture. Many of these studies involve newly developed scientific techniques and equipment, including the following:

  • A study of the metals from Machu Picchu using a scanning electron microprobe.
  • A study of the production patterns of Machu Picchu pottery using instrumental neutron activations analysis, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
  • A definitive monograph on the ceramics from the Inca burials at Machu Picchu, which will appear in Yale University Publications in Anthropology
  • A study of the DNA of the human bones in the collection that will shed light on the origins of the population at Machu Picchu as well as the biological relationships among the individuals who were buried there.
  • A study of the thoracic skeletal morphology of Machu Picchu and high-altitude hypoxia in Andean prehistory.
  • A study of the servant class of Machu Picchu, with a focus on their life stories and population dynamics, through an isotope study of human teeth.

“Keeping a portion of the study collections at the Yale Peabody Museum will ensure the continuation of this and similar research, and the applications of new analytical techniques to the collection as these are developed.”

 Um… does that mean, like, forever???


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