LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Alan Garcia led thousands of marchers through the streets of Lima on Friday to demand that Yale University return archeological treasures taken from Machu Picchu in the early 1900s.
Peru says Yale has some 40,000 of artifacts including pottery, jewelry and bones from the Incan site in the Peruvian Andes.
The artifacts were sent out of Peru after a Yale alumnus, U.S. explorer Hiram Bingham, rediscovered Machu Picchu in 1911. The Andean country argues the objects were lent to the New Haven, Connecticut, school for 18 months but never sent back.
Yale has shown a willingness to return the pieces as long as Peru can ensure they are cared for properly.
Garcia sent a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama last week asking for help getting the pieces returned without conditions.
“The items must be returned to Machu Picchu before a century passes,” Garcia, who walked with members of his Cabinet and Congress, told protesters.
“The law is on our side and so are the Peruvian people who suffered the looting of their cultural heritage,” he said.
Many marchers carried signs reading:” Yale, return the Machu Picchu relics.”
Yale officials could not be reached for comment, although Garcia said Peru was working with the university to reach an agreement.
At the time of Bingham’s find, the ancient city — now a tourist hot spot that drives economic activity in the region of Cuzco — was essentially forgotten, covered by thick forest in the mountains 8,000 feet above sea level.
Peru is dotted with hundreds of archeological sites and has struggled for years to combat trafficking of fossils and artifacts.
Reporting by Marco Aquino and Teresa Cespedes; Writing by Terry Wade; Editing by Peter Cooney