Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences
Minutes of the CAAS 1426th Meeting
Tuesday, February 19, 2013, New Haven Lawn Club
Lecture by Tim White, Director of Collections and Operations, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University. ”From New Haven to Cusco: 100 Years and the Return of the Machu Picchu Collections.”
President Ernest Kohorn opened the meeting at 5:35 pm. There was an audience of some 50 members and guests, of which 38 stayed for dinner and discussion after the presentation. Council secretary Robert Wheeler introduced the speaker, Tim White, Director of Collections and Operations, Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University. The title of his presentation was “From New Haven to Cusco: 100 Years and the Return of the Machu Picchu Collections.”
With a slide presentation, Mr. White took the audience on a journey from the time of the original acquisition of the Machu Picchu collection through a gift from Hiram Bingham III to the dramatic return to the City of Cusco in Peru where it now resides at UNSAAC (Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco). Bingham collected the pieces in 1912-14. In the 1950’s a dispute developed as to whether the collection was given to Bingham or loaned to him and Peru demanded its return. The dispute was resolved during President Levin’s administration. The return of the collection was treated as a gift to the People of Peru. There is now a link between Yale University and UNSAAC for continued studies of the Inca culture, and the intent is to have a student exchange between the two universities. Prior to the return of the collection, it had a successful tour of several locations in the U.S, before returning to Yale and Peabody in 2011 for a final exhibit and the preparation for shipment to Peru.
It took two years to put together the inventory of metals, ceramics, stone tools and human remains. Packing techniques were developed by Peabody staff. Three shipments of 175 crates were made over an 18 month period. The logistics were an overwhelming task. TSA had to be involved under current air security regulations, diplomatic status was obtained for the shipment. Mr. White took the audience through the laborious process of packing the collection for shipment, which involved specialized crates, and complicated logistics of transportation from JFK to Lima. The first shipment was greeted by TV cameras, a motorcade through Lima, a 21-gun salute, representatives of four branches of Peru’s military, and a welcome speech by the President of Peru. A hastily put together display in the presidential palace was attended by about 350,000 enthusiastic Peruvians over a three-week period. Then shipment continued on to Cusco and UNSAAC. This first shipment took place in March of 2011 and the second one in December of 2011. This shipment went directly to Cusco. The third shipment contained 45,000 potsherds, the bulk of the collection. It consisted of 127 crates and proved to be the most challenging of the three. This time FedEx became a partner and two of their cargo planes were used, which had limited levels of comfort for the staff that accompanied the shipment. That delivery was made in November of 2012.
Mr. White explained that some of the collection is displayed in the Cas Concha, a Spanish colonial building in Cusco, crammed for space. Anyone headed for Machu Pichu should stop there first. Questions from the audience centered on US government involvement in the return (yes, the State Department was involved as well as TSA) and the questions of ownership of the collection. Yale feels that it owned the material as it had been received as a gift from Bingham, who had documentation that clearly allowed him to remove it from Peru at the time. Mr. White acknowledged the superior planning and execution by Yale staff, officials in Peru, FedEx management, shipment coordinators and others.
Respectfully submitted, Birgitta Johnson.Recording Secretary