Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Peru wants its treasures back

September 28, 2010
Lima -Peru's President Alan Garcia vowed Monday to use every corner of the world he visits to publicly press US-based Yale University to return thousands of treasures from Machu Picchu it took 99 years ago.

"I won't stop talking each and every day until July 7 2011, wherever I might happen to be... to demand what belongs to Peru," Garcia said during a cultural event.

Garcia called on the Ivy League university to return before that date more than 46 000 artifacts American explorer Hiram Bingham took from the World Heritage Site high in the Andes mountains.

"We won't let July 7 slip by because it's a dividing line: either we come together in understanding the integrity of Machu Picchu or we simply have to characterise (the university) as a treasure pillager," said the president.

Machu Picchu

A previous effort at an amicable settlement ended in failure in 2007, and legal measures reportedly have been filed since in a bid to have the artifacts returned.

Bingham was a professor at Yale when he re-discovered in 1911 Machu Picchu, a 15th century Inca citadel perched 2 500 meters up in the mountains near Cuzco that has become Peru's crown tourist jewel.

Peru argues that Bingham helped bring 46 332 artifacts from the site back to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut between 1911 and 1916. Many of the items are stored at the school's Peabody Museum of Natural History.

Peru had authorised the transport of the items to Yale for examination and scientific study for a period of 18 months, but the agreement was not respected by the university.

"One hundred years is more than enough to study those archaeological pieces," said Garcia.

Bingham is widely credited with bringing Machu Picchu to world attention, but many historians agree that Peruvian Agustin Lizarraga had discovered the complex in 1902, nine years before Bingham.

With 2 200 visitors a day, Machu Picchu is one of the most visited sites in Latin America.

Yale says on its website it has "legal title" to the Peru artifacts but that it is open to an "amicable settlement". The university also contends that of the objects, "none are unique or one-of-a-kind".- AFP

Comment: "Legal title" to artifacts that predate the US?

Beneath the tussle about who owns these artifacts is another compelling story of how knowledge is constructed and for what purposes.

The claim to 'discovery' must be balanced against the discourse of whiteness and its need to control how knowledge is constructed and for what purposes.

In the words of Midnight Oil in 1987 we should all be saying:

"It belongs to them .... (so) give it back ..."


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