Sunday, June 24, 2007
To Caesar or to God?
Their current owners have alleged that more people could admire the ingenuity of ancient peoples and learn about their culture in the great urban centers of the world like London, Paris, Rome and New York, but the truth is that descendants of those who made those relics cannot see and take pride of their ancestors´ works.
The Inca succumbed to Spanish conquest in the 16th century; and the explorer Hiram Bingham III stumbled into Machu Picchu during a travel in 1911 to Peru, while he was a professor of South American history in Yale. Like the stones of Machu Picchu, however, the voices of the Inca ruler and the American explorer continue to resonate., says Arthur Lubow in the New York Times on Sunday, June 24.
With the joint support of Yale and the National Geographic Society, Bingham returned twice to conduct archeological digs in Peru. In 1912, he and his team excavated Machu Picchu and shipped nearly 5,000 artifacts back to Yale. Two years later, he staged a final expedition to explore sites near Machu Picchu in the Sacred Valley.
Lubow says that the pottery of the Inca, which is mostly what Yale has on exhibit, lacks the drama and artistry of the ceramics of earlier civilizations of Peru like the Moche and Nazca.
That has not prevented, however, a bare-knuckled disagreement from developing over their rightful ownership. Peru says the Bingham objects were sent to Yale on loan and their return is long overdue. Yale demurs.
In many ways, the dispute between Yale and Peru is unlike the headline-making investigations that have impelled the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to repatriate ancient artifacts to their countries of origin.
Other countries besides Peru are demanding the recovery of cultural treasures removed by more powerful nations many years ago. The Greeks want the Parthenon marbles returned to Athens from the British Museum; the Egyptians want the same museum to surrender the Rosetta Stone and, on top of that, seek to spirit away the bust of Nefertiti from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin.
Where might it all end? One clue comes in a sweeping request from China. As a way of combating plunder of the present as well as the past, the Chinese government has asked the United States to ban the import of all Chinese art objects made before 1911. The State Department has been reviewing the Chinese request for more than two years.
In general, anything that is patrimony of the cultures of the world, whether in museums in Asia or Europe or the United States, came to be there during the times when the governments of origin were weak and there was no legal tools to defend their cultural patrimony.
It saddens Peruvians to go to museums abroad and see a Paracas textile. I am hopeful that in the future all the cultural patrimony of the world will return to its country of origin, said Hilda Vidal, a curator at the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History of Peru in Lima
A clause in the agreement authorizing the historic Bingham 1912 excavation, while not time-specific, states that Peru “reserves the right of requiring of Yale University and the National Geographic Society of the United States the restitution of single and duplicate artifacts that might be extracted and have been extracted,” as well as copies of all research papers and reports.
US current depositaries of Peruvian relics allege the ancient Peruvian history is best served by them keeping the archaeological find, but the agreement written with the government of Peru is very clear, while national sentiment is all for keeping their cultural heritage.