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CULTURAL PILLAGING

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Once Bingham had found Machu Picchu, the Vitcos of his dreams, he sought financial support in the University of Yale and the National Geographical Society, which was promptly given him. He hired a group of archaeologists and anthropologists (notably G. Eaton) to excavate the site, and returned to Peru in mid-1912 to head the mission to Machu Picchu.

With the auspices of the then Government of Peru, showing clear indications of their total lack of interest in the country's Inca past, on October 31, 1912 Bingham obtained authority to carry out his exploration work in Machu Picchu.

The serious aspect of this though, is that he also got authority to take the objects he found in his digs back to the U.S. with him. According to Article 4 of the authorization, Bingham could "freely take out of the country all the items found during his digs, with the only condition of promising to return them at Peru's mere request. The authorization in the name of "international etiquette" infringed some legal norms and irreparably harmed Peru's cultural heritage.

Bingham's activities took place during the first term of President Leguia's government. Probably due to the complexity of the political, economic and social problems it faced, the government was unaware of the magnitude of the pillaging that was taking place in Peru at that time.

In those days, there were no highways, automobile transport or air travel, and the trip to Cusco lasted many days.

Hiram Bingham and his team worked intensively in the Machu Picchu archaeological site during 5 years, excavating practically every square meter of it. They found ancient tombs, mummies and the remains of 173 people together with their belongings, including clothes, food, ceramics and ornaments.

However, in his book "The Lost City of the Incas", Bingham claims not to have found anything in the Citadel except some shards of pottery, some figurines made with vegetable fibers and one or two copper objects.

After minute search and all the work he carried out, his report claimed he had not found a single object made of precious metal in Machu Picchu. Nevertheless, Bingham wrote that all the objects he had discovered in Machu Picchu were deposited at Yale University.

Today the objects he found at Machu Picchu are on display at the Peabody Museum in Yale. The exhibition consists of 10 items of Inca pottery, 10 metal objects, 10 stone constructions, 3 wooden cups, very few textiles and an Inca qhipu (knotted message rope).

Bingham communicated his discoveries to the government in a general way through his diplomatic position, while hiding the truth of what had really happened, up to a point. He made two expeditions, but Bingham's legions of foreign followers, assistants and "hangers-on" that shuttled to and from Cusco drew the attention of the Lima authorities. Unfortunately, the reaction of the government of the time to such events was so slow that, once they decided to take measures it was far too late.

Enrique Portugal, an Arequipa journalist who lived in Argentina denounced the heinous pillaging taking place on Bingham's repeated "exploration" trips to Machu Picchu in the local press.

According to that journalist, Bingham was "the most barefaced and harmful pirate to set foot on Machu Picchu, sacking the Citadel with help from some and negligence from others, taking back with him immensely rich loads of golden treasures and works of art that today may be found in a number of different public and private museums in the U.S."....., an accusation that up to this date has not been refuted.

So much was this the case, that by the end of 1911 there was an uprising in the southern port of Mollendo, protesting over the surreptitious removal from the country of archaeological treasures, and the sending of boxes labeled as "potsherds", that in fact contained whole mummies, complete with their funereal "trousseau" and other related items.

This was the fifth consignment of boxes, which were heavily guarded by American citizens specially commissioned by Bingham to guard his shipments abroad.

In 1912 the uprising took place again, now extending to the ports of Puno and Arequipa. The explorer was forced to cease his activity and, consequently, approached the Peruvian government with a demand to continue with his project.

Paradoxically, the current Site Museum, built on the left bank of the Urubamba river, suffers a total lack of archaeological material for the area, only displaying photos, drawings, one or two objects and scenes of the local flora and fauna. This is the extent of the cultural heritage on display. The Cusco Archaeological Museum is equally poor.

In contrast, Bingham, from being an unknown explorer, after sacking Machu Picchu improved his economic status and social position, receiving an honorary doctorate in history, a fellowship at Yale, and a post in the local State government.

Currently, Bingham and his activities are given as examples of the worst piracy that the national heritage of this country has ever suffered. This makes it obviously inappropriate to name him as the discoverer of Machu Picchu in local school texts.




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