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Peru wants Yale to return relics of Machu Picchu

LIMA, Peru — Nearly a century after a Yale professor became the first foreigner to reach the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru is asking Yale to give back artifacts he took.

Hundreds of the ceramics and human bones dug up by expeditions led by Hiram Bingham between 1911 and 1915 went on display at the university's Peabody Museum in late January.

"The government appreciates the exhibit as a way of projecting Peruvian culture, and we are seeking an accord that will permit the return of these cultural assets to Peru," Deputy Foreign Minister Manuel Rodriguez said Wednesday.

The Peabody Museum's Web site says the artifacts became part of its collection "by agreement with the Peruvian government."

The government permitted Bingham to take the relics with him, "but the temporary character of the loan was never discussed," Rodriguez said.

He said Peru has been discussing the issue with the school and described initial talks as "very positive and constructive."

The Incas ruled Peru from the 1430s until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1532, constructing incredible stone-block cities and roads and developing a highly organized society that extended from modern-day Colombia to Chile.

The Incas abandoned Machu Picchu around 1545, as Spanish soldiers began to conquer their empire. Residents fled to the Inca capital of Cusco or to the surrounding jungles to survive.

Bingham led three trips that uncovered the majority of the artifacts discovered at Machu Picchu. The objects, found in burial chambers, shed light on the sophisticated and diverse life the Incas enjoyed before the Spanish conquest.

The partially reconstructed ruins, 310 miles southeast of Lima, are South America's top archaeological site, drawing 300,000 foreign visitors each year.

The Machu Picchu exhibit runs through May 4 at the Peabody Museum and then travels to Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Denver, Houston and Chicago over the next two years. Rodriguez said the Peruvian government does not plan to try to stop the exhibition.

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