Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ethical and Legal Issues

What repatriation issues are related to the archaeology of the Inca Empire?

In 1911, Hiram Bingham III of Yale University rediscovered the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu in Peru; over the next few years (1912- 1915) he excavated the site (Alderman, 2010, p. 3; Orson, 2012). The artifacts he uncovered, including ceramics, jewelry, and human bones, were brought from Peru to Yale under a special government decree (Orson, 2012). However, conflict arose regarding the artifacts. In a 1916 communication with the National Geographic Society, Bingham wrote, “Now they do not belong to us, but to the Peruvian government, who allowed us to take them out of the country on condition that they be returned in 18 months… The whole matter has assumed a very large importance in the eyes of the Peruvians, who feel that we are trying to rob their country of its treasures” (quoted in Alderman, 2010, p. 3). There was increasing disagreement over whether the artifacts, especially the human remains, should remain at Yale or be returned to Peru. In 1921, several boxes of artifacts, presumably including the human remains, were returned to Peru, but Yale kept other artifacts. The Peruvian government demanded the return of these Machu Picchu artifacts in 2000, but Yale claimed they only had artifacts they owned (Alderman, 2010, p. 3). This prompted the Peruvian government to file a lawsuit against Yale in 2008 (Needham, 2008).

This case was different from many other repatriation disputes. Unlike many similar incidents, the disputed artifacts were not stolen, but rather left the country by government decree (Orson, 2012). Initially, efforts were made to resolve the situation outside of court, but these were unsuccessful (Needham, 2008). Following this, the Peruvian government tried to focus on legal grounds for their complaint. However, U.S. courts determined that they could not demonstrate national ownership of cultural property dating farther back than 1929, and the statute of limitations on the complaint had passed (since the original formal demand made in the late 1920s) (Alderman, 2010, p. 3). From there, the claimants decided to turn to the moral basis of their demands. The Peruvians claimed that Yale was profiting from the objects at the expense of the people of Peru, and that Yale was not conducting sufficient research on the objects to warrant their continued possession of them (Needham, 2008). The international public became engaged in the discussion as well, placing even greater pressure on Yale to return the artifacts (Alderman, 2010, p. 4). Finally, a two part agreement was reached. Yale will return all objects by the end of this year (2012), with the museum quality objects having been returned by last year for the centennial celebration of the 1911 rediscovery of Machu Picchu (Orson, 2012; Alderman, 2010, p. 4). The second part of the agreement centers on the concern of those at Yale for the continued scientific research of the artifacts (Orson, 2012). They decided that Yale will partner with San Antonio Abad University in Cuzco to continue with research efforts (Alderman, 2010, p. 4; Orson, 2012).

Hiram Bingham III, who rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911 and led its excavation . Photo taken from

What legal framework guides the handling of cultural artifacts of Peru?

The Memorandum of Understanding provides an agreement between the United States and Peru that acts as a, “pursuant to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property” (Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru [U.S. Gov.], 1997). The purpose of the Memorandum was to protect the archaeological and ethnological material from the pre-Hispanic cultures that resided in present day Peru. The document is broken up into four different articles, which all focus on different aspects of protecting these invaluable materials.

Article I states the “Designated List” of materials contains artifacts that cannot be imported back into the United States (U.S. Gov, 1997). Another requirement of Article I forces the United States to publish in the U.S. Federal Register all of the items from excavation sites in Peru (Federal Register). Article II deals primarily with the issue of preserving the “Cultural Patrimony” of Peru. This article also encourages there to be cooperation between academic and non-governmental institutions in order to protect the cultural patrimony of Peru (U.S. Gov, 1997). Article III of the Memorandum makes the point that each government must enforce the issues discussed in the document as well as distribute pecuniary funds if possible (U.S. Gov, 1997). The fourth and final piece of the Memorandum, Article IV, explains that both governments will review the document every five years, and make proper changes if needed (U.S. Gov, 1997).

The Memorandum can be compared to the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Regulations Act (NAGPRA) because of its great intentions, but its lack of enforcement allows there to be issues caused by both parties involved. One of these issues deals with the treatment of human remains. The Memorandum lacks legal framework that states how human remains should be treated (Turner & Andrushko, 2011). Because of this human remains are analyzed, curated, and exported in different ways by each government, which can lead to concerns about their proper treatment (Turner & Andrushko, 2011). Another issue with the Memorandum is that the preservation of archaeological and cultural patrimony has not included insight from many indigenous groups of Peru (Turner & Andrushko, 2011). This can lead to locals holding a negative view against the scientists conducting research in their homeland.

Works Cited

Alderman, K. (2010). Yale Agrees to Return Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru: Ethics- Based
            Repatriation Efforts Gain Steam. Cultural Heritage & Arts Review, 1(2). Retrieved 
            April 16, 2012 from
The Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru.
            (1997). Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United 
            States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru Concerning the 
            Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material from the 
           Prehispanic Cultures and Certain Ethnological Material from the Colonial Period 
           of Peru.
Federal Register. (1997). Peru 1997 Designated List Federal Register Notice. 
            Washington, DC.
Needham, P. (2008, December 10). Peru sues for artifacts. Retrieved
Orson, D. (2012, January 1). Finders Not Keepers: Yale Returns Artifacts to Peru. Retrieved
            April 16, 2012 from
Turner, B.L., & Andrushko, V.A. (2011). Partnerships, Pitfalls, and Ethical Concerns in
            International Bioarchaeology. In Social Bioarchaeology (Chapter 3). Retrieved 
            April 16, 2012 from 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ice Maiden and the Ice Man

The Ice Maiden found in Peru in 1995 and the Ice Man uncovered in the Alps in 1991 come from distinct geographic and temporal locations; however, many of the conditions leading to preservation are remarkably similar. Comparison of the two cases may be able to provide insight into the difficulties and potential advantages of uncovering remains in such contexts.

How were the mummies discovered? What was the recovery process like?

The Ice Maiden, also called Juanita, is a 500-year-old Inca mummy found high in the mountains of current day Peru. She was one of the child sacrifices made as a part of the Capacocha rituals (“Peruvian Ice Maiden,” 2005). She had been especially preserved through time by accumulated ice and snow; however, the eruption of the nearby Mt. Sabancaya in 1990 produced hot ash, which began to melt away this covering (Clark, 1998; World of Forensic Science, 2005). In 1995, anthropologist John Reinhard and Miguel Zarate found bright feathers, a sacred shell, and other evidence of an Incan ceremonial platform near the summit of Mt. Ampato; upon further investigation, they found the Ice Maiden surrounded in other artifacts (World of Forensic Science, 2005). Once the remains had been discovered, however, there still remained challenges. Juanita had been uncovered by the volcanic eruption, and when found had not yet been reburied by heavy winter storms, and so Reinhard and Zarate did not have to worry about the potentially damaging process of freeing the remains from the ice (Clark, 1998). However, as Reinhard describes in his 2005 book on the discovery, there were still many concerns to consider. To leave the mummy would mean allowing its continued exposure to the elements or the possible loss of it under new snowfall; however, removing it involved the logistical problems of moving the remains over treacherous terrain without causing damage and the likelihood of political objections to removal without a permit (p. 30- 31). After weighing the options, Reinhard chose to remove the Ice Maiden from the summit immediately.

The Ice Man is a 5,000-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps in 1991 (Iceman Murder Mystery, 2011). As explained by Alpine archaeologist Dr. Patrick Hunt, at the end of the summer in 1991, two hikers in the Otztal Alps at an elevation of around 10,500 feet found the Ice Man partially exposed in a melting glacier. The location where he was located was normally under a glacier, which had contributed to his preservation; however, dramatic warming in the Alps in the last half century caused the glacier to begin melting, exposing the remains (personal communication, April 11, 2012). This discovery was similar to that of the Ice Maiden in its general context, with both mummies being preserved by extreme snow and ice and only uncovered recently as a result of changing environmental conditions. However, in other ways they each provided distinct challenges to those who discovered their remains. Unlike the Ice Maiden, the hikers who discovered the Ice Man did not realize the significance of their find, initially believing him to be a recent homicide victim, until the medical team examining him recognized the significance of the stone tools found with him (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 11, 2012).

What was involved in the process of removing the mummies from the locations they were found in?

As might be expected in the extreme conditions in which both mummies were found, removing the remains involved a number of difficulties. Rienhard (2005) describes some of the problems of reaching the summit where the Ice Maiden was found, including not only treacherous footing and lack of supplies but also the risk of problems such as acute mountain sickness, which can include headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, and nausea among other things (p. 34- 37, 62). The Ice Maiden was backpacked down the mountain after she had been located. One of the most pressing concerns of her removal was preservation; luckily, the majority of the body was still surrounded by ice, aiding preservation (Maugh II, 1996). Using the ice and insulated sleeping pads they had with them to try and protect her from changing temperatures and the rigors of travel, Reinhard and Zarate were able to successfully bring her from the summit (Reinhard, 2005, p. 30- 31).

Those involved in the removal of the Ice Man did not face the same physical difficulties in reaching the remains, and after the hikers had made the discovery, the Austrian police and the coroner were called in, arriving by helicopter. However, unlike with the Ice Maiden, those involved with the discovery were not able to recognize the true significance, believing the Ice Man to be a modern homicide victim. Because of this, those removing him were not concerned with the preservation of his clothing or artifacts, and may have even used glacial icepicks to free him from the ice; later scientists and archaeologists returned to the site later on and recovered more artifacts, but some of his clothing was partially destroyed in his removal and the process of removal contributed to the destruction or loss of various artifacts associated with him. There was damage done to the body itself, including when they tried to force his body into a coffin (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 11, 2012).

What gains have been made by these discoveries, despite their problematic contexts?

Despite the difficulties associated with the high altitude, frozen remains of the Ice Maiden and the Ice Man, these discoveries can provide extremely valuable information. The ice that froze Juanita preserved her skin, internal organs, hair, and blood, setting her apart from other high-altitude Inca mummies desiccated by the environmental conditions (Clark, 1998). Similarly, the Ice Man provides a complete assemblage of tools and significant information from uniquely preserved organic information. Typically, finds of human remains as old as the Ice Man include a skeleton and a few stone tools or other artifacts and so the Ice Man’s preservation in ice gives scientists a significant and unique wealth of information (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 12, 2012).

One example of the information gathered from these unique discoveries is the ability to look at the diet through analysis of the stomach contents of the two mummies. Analysis of the Ice Maiden, for example, shows she was well fed and that there were only vegetable products present (World of Forensic Science, 2005). This shows that she had a meal of vegetables within six to eight hours before her death (Reinhard, 2005, p. 159). This sort of analysis raises new questions (such as why the meal consisted of vegetables and why it was eaten so shortly before her death) that may give further insight into elements of the ritual of Capacocha. Analysis of the Ice Man revealed that he had eaten a sort of wild goat jerky, as well as showed his use of birch tree bracket fungus as a medicine. Very interestingly, analysis of pollen in his food and body has been used to trace his journey in the days before his death, including movement up and down the mountain before once more ascending to the place of his death (P. Hunt, personal communication, April 11, 2012). The kind of analysis enabled by the preservation of both mummies under ice and snow, which preserved organic information including stomach contents, has permitted a greater understanding of the lives of these individuals, especially leading up to their deaths.

To learn more:

To learn more about the Ice Man, you can watch the NOVA documentary Iceman Murder Mystery at 

Works Cited

Clark, L. (1998). Ice mummies of the Inca. Retrieved February 7, 2012, from 
Iceman Murder Mystery. (2011). NOVA. Retrieved April 11, 2012 from 
Maugh II, T.H. (1996, May 23). Frozen asset. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 11, 2012 from 
"Peruvian Ice Maiden." World of Forensic Science. 2005. Retrieved April 10, 2012 from 
Reinhard, J. (2005). The Ice Maiden: Inca Mummies, Mountain Gods, and Sacred Sites in the 
     Andes.Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.