Archive for June 7th, 2008

Who looted Machu Picchu first?

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

The story as we know it gives Yale University explorer Hiram Bingham III the honor of having been the first Westerner to exploit the Inca ruins in 1911, but a team of historians say one Augusto Berns, a German adventurer and con man, got there way earlier.

Berns made a (sucker’s) deal with the Peruvian government to grab as much loot as he could from Machu Picchu back in 1867.

Berns purchased land across from Machu Picchu in 1867, and an 1887 document even shows he set up a company to plunder the site, Greer told The Associated Press.

Berns wrote that Machu Picchu “‘will undoubtedly contain objects of great value, and form part of those treasures of the Incas,'” Greer said.

Peruvian historian Mariana Mould de Pease backs Greer’s claim. She said she found in Yale University archives a letter of understanding between Berns and Peru’s then-president to pillage the site, as long as the Peruvian government received 10 percent of the profits.

See what I mean about the sucker’s deal? Because, damn, 10 percent is just embarrassing. If you’re going to let foreigners take your country’s cultural patrimony and run, shouldn’t you at least get a decent cut?

This insensate generosity flummoxes me. “Sure, buddeh. Go ahead and take all the piles of painstakingly worked ancient gold you can find. Just leave me a Krugerrand in the tip jar on your way out. Oh, and don’t forget to tell your friends about our great selection and rock-bottom prices!”

Who knows were the stuff Berns took has ended up. We know that Bingham’s loot, a massive collection of over 4000 artifacts ranging from mummies to ceramics to gold jewelry, ended up on display at Yale where it remains to this day, although after much negotiation it is finally slated to return to Peru in 2011.

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