MYTHS AND FACTS ABOUT THE MACHU PICCHU MATERIALS AT YALE UNIVERSITY
The following are fact answers that dispel the "myths" that have cropped up in certain publications concerning the collections of artifacts from Machu Picchu at Yale University’s Peabody Museum excavated by Hiram Bingham during his historic Peruvian expedition of 1912.
The Machu Picchu materials are valuable and unique "treasures."
Facts: The Machu Picchu materials sent to the Peabody consisted mainly of fragmented pottery, animal bone and other items discarded by the Incas. (See, discussion of the inventory under point 3, below).They also included a small number of used but largely intact personal possessions, such as bowls, left as grave goods in the cave burials of Inca retainers who were buried around the periphery of the site, but no treasures. These items strongly resembled materials found at other Inca sites such as Sacsahuaman and consequently were of little interest to the Peruvian government in 1912. All the materials are similar to those found in museums and private collections of Inca materials in Peru, and none are unique or one-of-a-kind. For example, objects similar to or identical to those found by the 1912 expedition have been recovered in the
excavations carried out at Machu Picchu since 1974, and are currently on exhibition at the Institute of National Culture’s Museo de Sitio Manuel Chavez Ballon at the foot of Machu Picchu.
Yale has conceded that Peru has legal title to the Machu Picchu materials at the Peabody Museum.
Facts: Yale has consistently maintained that it is legally in possession of the Machu Picchu materials pursuant to well-settled principles of international, United States and Peruvian law. For example, Peru's Civil Code of 1852, in effect at the time of Hiram Bingham’s 1912 expedition, permitted the finders of such artifacts to keep them. A presidential decree authorizing Bingham’s excavation (which could not supersede or derogate the provisions of the Civil Code) contained a provision allowing him to bring the material to Yale for scientific study, and gave Peru the right to request him to return certain “unique” or “duplicate” objects, which it did not exercise in the ensuing period.
Not included among the Machu Picchu materials that remain at the Peabody Museum are materials that Bingham excavated during a second Peru expedition in 1914-1915. By that time Peru’s policies regarding archaeological discoveries had changed. The materials Bingham excavated outside of Machu Picchu during the 1914-1915 expedition were loaned to Yale’s Peabody Museum for a specified period of time, and all those objects were returned to Peru in the 1920s (following a delay caused by World War I).
In 1981, Peru and the United States signed a bilateral agreement prohibiting the export of archaeological remains from Peru. This agreement was not retroactive, and it did not affect the Machu Picchu materials from the 1912 expedition that remained at Yale.
Despite Yale’s position that it has no legal obligation to return the Machu Picchu materials to Peru, Yale is committed to achieving an amicable agreement with the Government of Peru that will assure that this historically recognized cultural patrimony will continue to be conserved and made available to the public and international scholarly community in Peru and at Yale as a collaboration for viewing and study.
To that end, on September 14, 2007, Yale University and representatives of Peru’s government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would form the basis of a groundbreaking agreement to acknowledge Peru’s interests in the materials and would establish an international collaboration for education and research ensuring that the materials remain available for study to scholars from Yale, Peru and other parts of the world.
Pursuant to the non-binding MOU, Yale and the Government of Peru committed themselves to completing a definitive agreement that would provide that Peru would have legal title to all of the Machu Picchu materials with Yale retaining certain temporary rights; that Yale and Peru would create, at Yale's expense, an international traveling exhibit of the museum quality objects; and that after the tour, and once an appropriate museum space in Peru is created, all but a small number of the museum quality objects would return to Peru, along with a significant portion of the research materials. Other research materials -- bits and pieces of pots, bones, and other small fragments that are similar or identical to countless objects already in Peru -- would remain at Yale for a defined period of 99 years, and would be one focus of Yale-sponsored collaborative
research and scholarly exchanges in archaeology, biology, and park management, among other fields of study.
Thus, Yale has agreed to acknowledge title in the government of Peru only in the context of the execution of the definitive agreement contemplated by the MOU. The terms of that definitive agreement are still being negotiated by representatives of Yale and the Government of Peru.
Yale and Peru disagree over the number of objects that comprise the Machu Picchu materials at the Peabody Museum, with Yale stating that the number is approximately 5,500 objects and Peru insisting that more than 46,000 pieces are at issue.
Facts: Yale has completed an exhaustive inventory of the Machu Picchu materials, and has posted on its web site a complete inventory listing and describing all the objects. According to the inventory, the Machu Picchu materials at the Peabody Museum are comprised of 5,415 lots of objects and fragments, plus 329 museum-quality objects, in the following categories:
1. 3502 lots of ceramic pieces and ceramic fragments.
2. 1038 lots of animal bones and bone fragments.
3. 632 lots of stone objects and fragments, or lithics.
4. 115 lots of metal objects and metal fragments.
5. 128 lots of human bones and bone fragments.
6. 329 “museum quality” pieces, most of which were re-assembled and restored by Yale curators from ceramic fragments.
Consistent with standard practice among curators and other experts, the Yale inventory grouped individual fragments of a single object – e.g., shards of a single ceramic utensil or bone fragments from a single human body -- into a single lot. Thus, a “lot” could contain from two or three to as many as 200 or more individual fragments of a single “object.” The inventory includes color photos of 4,463 lots of objects, and can be accessed by going to http://opa.yale.edu/news/article.aspx?id=1997 and clicking on the desired inventory document.
Accordingly, the Yale inventory establishes that there are a total of 5744 objects in the collection, comprised of 5,415 lots of objects and fragments, plus 329 museum-quality objects.
From March 3 to 12, 2008, a delegation from Peru headed by Dr. Cecilia Bakula, the Director of Peru’s Institute of National Culture (INC), traveled to New Haven to examine the University’s inventory of Machu Picchu materials. At the conclusion of that visit, Dr. Bakula acknowledged in writing the inventory and documentation her team had examined and verified, and reported that her team had counted 5397 lots of objects, plus 370 museum-quality objects. (The minor difference with the Yale inventory count appears to be based on the Peruvian team’s count of some lots of objects as single museum-quality objects.) According to a document prepared by the Peruvian team. 5397 lots of objects, plus 370 museum-quality objects were comprised of 46,311 individual fragments or pieces.
When Dr. Bakula returned to Peru, she reported that the Yale collection contained more than 46,000 pieces, fueling a misunderstanding over the number of objects at issue and speculation that Yale and Peru had a major disagreement over the inventory count. In fact, this is not the case, since Dr. Bakula was simply referring to the number of fragments in the collection, rather than the number of “lots” of fragments that comprise a single object. As noted above, Yale’s inventory counts individual fragments of a single object – such as the shards of a single ceramic utensil and bone fragments from a single human body-- as a single lot. Peru has accepted that inventory, and there is no significant disagreement over the objects at issue or their number.
Yale has not properly conserved the objects.
Facts: For more than 90 years, Yale has acted as a responsible steward of the Machu Picchu materials, exercising the highest level of care and conservation methods available to museums and scholarly institutions during that period. As the photographs in the Yale inventory document, the objects are in very good condition, given their age and the several hundred year period they spent in relatively unprotected surroundings. As noted, expert curators at Yale have also restored a number of the broken ceramic utensils and other objects to museum quality condition.
When Dr. Bakula and her team visited Yale in March 2008 to view the collection, they were very complimentary about the condition of the objects and Yale’s care in conserving them. However, after Dr. Bakula returned to Peru, she was quoted in a number of publications as stating that the state of conservation of the materials was “poor.”
Dr. Bakula did not communicate any such concerns to Yale during her visit or following it. Indeed, in her testimony at a hearing before a committee of the Peruvian Congress in Lima on May 26, 2008, Dr. Bakula said that the state of conservation of the objects was “regular” by Peruvian standards, although she did assert that the state of conservation of some of the animal and human bones is “worse” because of handling during and following examination and study. Yale experts disagree with this assessment. They point out that a number of bone fragments have been subjected to DNA and other modern scientific testing, which necessarily involves some sampling of bone fragments to obtain materials needed for testing.
Yale made “millions of dollars” on the 2003 Machu Picchu exhibit that toured the United States.
Facts: In January 2003, select objects from Bingham’s 1912 expedition to Machu Picchu were used in an educational exhibition about Machu Picchu developed at the Yale Peabody Museum, which traveled throughout the United States. This exhibit brought the reality of everyday Inca life at Machu Picchu to over one million visitors, broadening their knowledge and appreciation of Inca life and culture.
The exhibit was purely educational, was not intended to generate any profits for Yale University or the Peabody Museum, and did not do so. It was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, private foundations and cultural institutions, including a $75,250 grant from the Connecticut Humanities Council and a $351,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
While the exhibit generated no profits for Yale or the Peabody Museum, it did educate and inform millions of North Americans about Inca life and culture, and thereby promoted tourism to Peru and particularly Machu Picchu.
Yale has failed to use the Machu Picchu materials for scientific studies.
Facts: As noted, the Machu Picchu materials sent to the Peabody in 1912 consisted mainly of fragments of pottery, animal bone and other items discarded by the Incas, plus a small number of used but largely intact personal possessions, such as bowls, left as grave goods in cave burials, but no treasures or rare or unique objects. Curatorial attention and scholarly study began as soon as the materials arrived in New Haven, and has continued for more than 90 years by scholars from Yale and throughout the world. Scholarly work on the Machu Picchu materials has increased in recent years as interest in Inca life and culture has grown, and as scientific advances in DNA testing and metallurgy have permitted new studies of the osteological materials and metal objects and fragments.
Early works on the Machu Picchu materials included Hiram Bingham’s accounts of his discoveries, published by the National Geographic Society, including his 1913 article, “In the wonderland of Peru: The work accomplished by the Peruvian expedition of 1912,” National Geographic, vol. 24, pages 387-573; the 1915 article, “The story of Machu Picchu: The Peruvian expeditions of the National Geographic Society and Yale University,” National Geographic, vol. 27, pages 172-186, 203-217; and the 1916 article, “Further explorations in the land of the Incas: The Peruvian Expedition of 1915 of the National Geographic Society and Yale University,” National Geographic, vol. 29, pages 431-473. In 1915, Bingham also published a monograph on Inca ceramics, “Types of Machu Picchu pottery,” which appeared in American Anthropologist, vol. 17, No. 2, pages 257-271.
In 1916, G.F. Eaton produced the first book-length osteological study of the materials, The collection of osteological material from Machu Picchu, Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company (New Haven, CT), 96 pages (1916).
Decades of metallurgical studies of the Machu Picchu materials at Yale have also produced important works, including,
• C.H. Mathewson’s 1915 monograph, “ A metallographic description of some ancient Peruvian bronzes from Machu Picchu,” American Journal of Science, vol. XI, pages 525-602.
• The 1984 monograph by R.B. Gordon. and J.W. Rutledge, “Bismuth Bronze from Machu-Picchu, Peru,” Science, vol. 223, No. 4636, pages. 585-586.
• R.B. Gordon’s 1985 article, “Laboratory Evidence of the Use of Metal Tools at Machu-Picchu (Peru) and Environs,” Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 12, No. 4, pages 311-327.
• A 1987 piece by J.W. Rutledge and R.B. Gordon , “The Work of Metallurgical Artificers at Machu-Picchu, Peru,” American Antiquity, vol. 52, No. 3, pages 578- 594.
In 2006, three additional studies were published on metal objects and fragments among the Machu Picchu materials, including:
• R. Gordon and R. Knopf, “Metallurgy of bronze used in tools from Machu Picchu, Peru,” Archaeometry, vol. 48, No. 1, pages 57-76 (2006).
• B.L. Turner, J.D. Kingston, R.L. Burger et al., “Isotopic reconstruction of paleodie: and immigration at Machu Picchu, Peru: early results,” American Journal of Physical Anthropology, supp. vol. 42, pages 178-179 (2006).
• R. Gordon and R. Knopf, “Late horizon silver, copper, and tin from Machu Picchu, Peru,” Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 34, No. 1, pages 38-47 (2006).
More general studies of the Machu Picchu materials include P. Ritual, “Death and Power at Machu Picchu,” M.A. Thesis (unpublished), Yale University (2001); K.B. Maxwell, “Lost cities and exotic cows : Constructing the space of nature and culture in the Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary, Peru,” Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 477 pages (2004); and J. Medina, “Machu Picchu: The mysteries uncovered,” video recording, Council on Latin American and Iberian Studies, Yale University (2005).
In 2003 and 2004, Yale scholars Richard L. Burger. and Lucy C. Salazar, edited two important books on the Machu Picchu collection, The 1912 Yale Peruvian scientific expedition collections from Machu Picchu : Human and animal remains, Dept. of Anthropology, Yale University Division of Anthropology, Peabody Museum of Natural History, 181pages (2003); and Machu Picchu: Unveiling the mystery of the Incas, Yale University Press, 230 pages (2004).
Susan Evans and Joanne Pillsbury, eds., Palaces and Power in the Americas from Peru to the Northwest Coast, Dumbarton Oaks (2004), includes an essay by Richard Burger and Lucy Salazar on daily life at Machu Picchu.
Richard L. Burger, Craig Morris, and Ramiro Matos Mendieta, eds., Variations in the Expressions of Inka Power, Dumbarton Oaks (2008), includes an essay by Lucy Salazar providing general interpretations of daily life at Machu Picchu.
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 by researchers Bruce Owen and Robert Gordon scheduled to be published by Yale in 2008 includes extensive technical analysis of the collection using a scanning electron microprobe.
• Richard Burger and Leon Doyon of the Human Relations Area Files are studying the production patterns of Machu Picchu pottery using instrumental neutron activations analysis. The pilot study for this work was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
• Yale’s Lucy Salazar is working on a definitive monograph on the ceramics from the Inca burials at Machu Picchu based on her anthropological thesis and subsequent research. This monograph, which will appear in Yale University Publications in Anthropology, includes analysis of both whole vessels and shards from Yale’s collection.
• A study of the DNA of the human bones in the collection is being conducted by Federika Kaestle of the University of Indiana. The study 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.
• Karen Weinstein of Dickinson College has used Yale’s collection to study thoracic skeletal morphology and high-altitude hypoxia in Andean prehistory.
• Bethany Turner of Emory University, a Ph.D. candidate working under the supervision of Professors George Armelagos and John Kingston, is studying the servant class of Machu Picchu, with a focus on their life stories and population dynamics. An isotope study of human teeth by Ms. Turner is underway to examine the diet and immigration patterns at Machu Picchu. Her analysis will shed light on the variation in early life diet and the geographical provenience of this specific population that served the Inca Royal Elite in the 15th century.
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.