Lima – A first batch of 350 artifacts removed from Machu Picchu and held by Yale University for almost 100 years have been returned to the highland Peruvian city of Cuzco, ancient capital of the Inca empire.
The arrival of the pieces on Wednesday ended a long custody battle over the antiquities, which left Peru on loan in the early 20th century. It also marked the start of festivities in Cuzco to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the "discovery" of the famed Inca citadel by U.S. academic and explorer Hiram Bingham.
Cuzco, located in southeastern Peru, is a tourist attraction in its own right and a jumping-off point for visitors to Machu Picchu.
Although these 350 objects of "Yale's collection" arrived in Lima on March 30 and were received with pomp and ceremony by President Alan Garcia, they had been kept in the capital pending restoration of a manor house in Cuzco where they are to be housed and exhibited to the public.
"It's a source of great pride for Cuzco residents and all Peruvians. These are objects that were loaned out for research purposes, but we never imagined they would stay away such a long time," Culture Minister Juan Ossio, who traveled on the air force plane that carried the pieces from Lima to Cuzco inside 17 boxes, said.
The high expectations surrounding the return of the artifacts, which include ceramics, tools and human bones, were evident by the crowd of hundreds of people who greeted their arrival at the Cuzco airport.
The objects were then taken by caravan from the airport to the Koricancha temple, where in a symbolic ceremony the Inca (emperor), played by a local actor, and his retinue welcomed the artifacts home.
"The people of Cuzco and the entire world celebrate the return of the Machu Picchu objects, which had left at one time. All the people of Cuzco must feel joyous," the actor said in the Quechua language.
Cuzco Mayor Luis Florez also celebrated the return of the artifacts in a ceremony at the city's Plaza de Armas.
"Brothers and sisters, we're very happy today; each of us is going to sing and applaud because the objects are now here. They've returned. It's not gold or silver. It's the work of our older brothers and sisters that was taken away and never should have left," Florez said in Quechua.
The agreement with Yale was reached following a heated dispute in which Peru sued the Ivy League institution in U.S. federal court in 2008 and launched an international campaign to secure the return of the entire collection of 46,332 objects and fragments, which Bingham, an explorer and Yale lecturer, discovered at Machu Picchu.
Bingham first arrived at the Inca citadel on July 24, 1911, and later carried out two subsequent expeditions in 1912 and 1915 that resulted in the artifacts being taken to the United States.
During the dispute, Peru contended that the objects had been loaned to Yale for just a few months.