Archaeology

Public Peruvian museums struggle to properly care for artifacts

By Rachel Chase

A new report reveals that few museums have inscribed their collections in the National Cultural Heritage Registry— and some museums don’t even know how many artifacts they have.

Public Peruvian museums struggle to properly care for artifacts

(Photo: Rosemanios/Flickr)

A recently released government survey has revealed some unsettling truths about the state of public museums in Peru.

After studying practices at 18 different museums, the General Comptroller of the Republic has come to the conclusion that many publicly-funded museums are not adequately documenting or caring for artifacts in their collections.

One of the outstanding problems revealed by the survey is that museums have been slow to register their collections in the National Cultural Heritage Registry. Further study showed that 72% of public and private museums across the nation had not registered even a single piece from their collections in the registry. The survey also found that six in 10 public museums didn’t even have an official inventory list of their collections.

Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, an archaeologist who works in Ayacucho, told El Comercio that the problem with leaving pieces unregistered is that they’re impossible to track if stolen. “Without registering, you don’t know how much you have nor do you know what’s being lost. One of the first things that [authorities] ask for when we’re trying to recover a piece is its registry information. Without that, we don’t have anything.”

El Comercio reports that museums are also struggling with proper care for artifacts. At the Regional History Museum of Huamanga in Ayacucho, El Comercio spoke to museum authorities who freely admitted that they didn’t know where some of the pieces had come from. They were also informed that some of the artifacts are stored with mothballs, Andean mint, or insecticide for preservation purposes.

But the problem of not registering pieces is more complicated than it may appear. The National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History, which houses around 200,000 artifacts from many different periods of Peruvian history, employs six people just for the purpose of cataloguing and registering artifacts. But so far, only 13,326 pieces have been registered. El Comercio reports that the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History has hired these staffers with their own funds, with no additional budgetary incentive or support from the Ministry of Culture.

The National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History is one of Lima’s larger and more well-known public museums. Smaller museums— such as the Regional History Museum of Huamanga— may not have as much wiggle room in their budget to hire staff for the purpose of registering pieces.

Archaeologist Walter Alva, head of the Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum in Lambayeque indicated to the paper that his museum finds itself short on funds for completing the registry process. The Royal Tombs of Sipán Museum has registered 108 pieces from their collections to the National Registry even though the museum’s total collection numbers in the thousands. “We’ve had to use funds from donations for this purpose [or registering artifacts],” Alva told El Comercio. “We’ve registered 9,000 pieces in our inventory, but we still have to add them to the national registry.”

The survey discovered that the problems of inadequate care and registration are most prominent in museums in the interior of the country.

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