Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yale to Return Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru

It was just announced that Yale is returning items from Hiram Bingham's 1911/1912 expedition to Machu Picchu to Peru. Ultimately, we think that this is a good thing. It was strange to visit Machu Picchu in 2001 but to see no artifacts from the site there except for the buildings themselves. Plus, the number of Peruvians who actually get a chance to see these artifacts in foreign museums is small compared to the number who will be able to see them once they are on display in Peru.

The artifacts are being returned in time for Peru's centernary celebration of Machu Picchu's rediscovery. Yale has certainly done a wonderful job documenting and preserving these items, and hopefully they will be equally well looked-after when they arrive at San Antonio Abad University in Cusco. Housing the artifacts in Peru means that Peruvians will be able to view them and learn about their heritage.

Having been unable to see these artifacts in Peru in 2001, we
took the opportunity to view them at an exhibit at the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale in 2003. Here is what I posted on  Michael Palin's travel website  at the time:

Machu Picchu in Connecticut by stephlynne on 2 March 2003 6:31pm
The Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale University is running a Machu Picchu exhibit through May 4. After that, the exhibit will travel to LA, Pittsburgh, Denver, Houston, and Chicago.

My husband and I went to see it yesterday, and I have to recommend it to anyone in the area who is interested in Inca culture. It showcases artifacts brought back by Hiram Bingham in 1912, as well as other artifacts borrowed from other museums.

Although I think it's a shame that I was able to see these Incan artifacts in Connecticut rather than when I was actually in Peru, it was still amazing to see. There were items of gold and silver, textiles, and pottery, all of which are wonderfully preserved. The way the exhibit was displayed was very cool as well. They actually took casts of Incan walls in Peru and then used them as molds. So the exhibit is lined with a fiberglass recreation of Inca stonework that is incredibly authentic-looking. The exhibit also includes computers which are loaded with virtual reality software so that you can "explore" Machu Picchu from various vantagepoints and you always get a 360 degree view.

It took us about 1.5 hours to get a very thorough look at the exhibit. Then we viewed the rest of the museum, which was also very interesting (lots of dinosaur skeletons, Native American exhibits, animal and bird specimens, and an Egyptian exhibit.)

If you're interested, you can get the exhibit details at

The artifacts run the gamut from pottery to carved stone to metalwork to textiles. One particularly interesting item was a life-sized hollow gold effigy of an ear of corn. The detail put into this piece underscores the importance of maize to the Incan culture. There were small gold and silver figurines of humans and llamas. Another interesting object was a quipu - a knotted string record-keeping device (used mostly to record numeric information, it is thought). It is over 5 feet long and consists of 528 strands knotted onto the main string.

We look forward to seeing these artifacts again some day, in their rightful context, when we return to Peru.

The artifacts which we saw on display at Yale are documented in the below book, "Machu Picchu: Unveiling the Mystery of the Incas" by Burger and Salazar: