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South America: Burke Museum to return artifacts to Peruvian government
After four years of coordination, several artifacts from the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture’s Peruvian collection returned to their home country last week.

Burke Museum to return artifacts to Peruvian government
This pot, given to the Burke by a Seattle woman in 2007, is one of 
many artifacts traveling back to Peru in this repatriation 
[Credit: University of Washington]

The items include human remains, ceramic vessels and bowls, necklaces, and a textile, each of which have different histories. On Wednesday, the Peruvian Consul General arrived to attend a private gathering held by the museum, during which the items, excluding the human remains, were exhibited before they were packed up and transported.

Over the past four years, the Burke has been working with the Peruvian government to identify objects in the museum’s collection covered under a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) convention that allows governments to designate significant objects of cultural heritage and protect them from leaving the country of origin. The convention, called the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, was signed by the U.S. government in February 1983, and prohibits U.S. museums from accepting objects imported after that year.

“It’s been an honor to care for these collections,” said Dr. Peter Lape, associate director of research and curator of archaeology at the Burke Museum, in a statement. “We are glad to help send these collections home to Peru.”

In a statement released Oct. 29, the Burke Museum stated the artifacts will be flown by the United States Air Force last Friday from Portland, Ore., to the Peruvian Air Force base in Lima, Peru. Two officers from the Peruvian Ministry of Foreign Relations will then receive the objects and transfer them to the Ministry of Culture for further preservation. However, Laura Phillips, the museum’s archeology collections manager, told The Daily that process may take longer, but the objects are now out of the Burke’s control.

Phillips said what actually started the Burke in examining their Peruvian collections was a different ruling that dealt with the handling of Native American cultural items for federal agencies or institutions that receive federal funding. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 stated that such institutions should return Native American cultural items — including human remains, funerary objects, and objects of cultural patrimony — to lineal descendants and culturally affiliated Indian tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations.

“That [law] led us to re-inventory all our human remains and we found three sets of human remains that are Peruvian,” Phillips said. “So it’s sort of in the spirit of that law, we talked to the Peruvian government and said, ‘Would you be interested in these individuals?’ And they said yes.”

The Burke’s administration then coordinated with the Peruvian government to identify other Peruvian artifacts in their collections that the Peruvian government would also like returned. She explained that each artifact came to the Burke’s possession in different ways.

One was a textile brought by a collector to the United States in November 1983, several months after the UNESCO convention was passed. Phillips said at that time, the law was so new that the collector was unaware of it.

Among other items, the Burke is also returning a collection of dolls, which turned out to be on one of the International Council of Museums’ Red Lists because they were created by villagers in areas where looting occurred. The villagers searched through dirt piles left behind by looters for scraps of ancient fabric. These were then used to create new red-listed, black-marketed dolls, which is a gray area for many archaeologists, Phillips explained.

Phillips said during the Peruvian Consul General’s visit, he expressed “heartfelt” feelings for the “cultural patrimony” that the Burke is returning.

“It’s really important that people in the United States recognize the laws [that are] in Peru, because Peru is well-known for its amazing archaeology,” Phillips said. “Just [showing] how important it is for those objects to go back and to be in context again, it was clearly very heartfelt for him.”

Source: The Daily of the University of Washington [November 09, 2014]

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