National Museum of the American Indian to Return the “Echenique Disc” to Peru

Echenique DiscImage via National Museum of the American Indian

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Peruvian government this week signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate the return to Peru, for the benefit of the citizens of Peru and particularly the Indigenous communities of Peru, of the “Echenique Disc,” a pre-Inka gold ornament recognized as the symbol of the city of Cusco.

The memorandum was signed by Machel Monenerkit, acting director of the National Museum of the American Indian; Ambassador Allan Wagner, minister of foreign affairs for Peru; Alejandro Neyra, minister of culture for Peru; and Victor Boluarte, mayor of the Provincial Municipality of Cusco. The Peruvian ambassador to the United States, Hugo de Zela, took possession of the disc at the ambassador’s residency in Washington, D.C., on June 15.

“Peru commemorates 200 years of independence in 2021,” Monenerkit said. “In recognition of this important event and the tremendous significance the disc has for the people of Peru, I am proud to mark this moment together. This return is consistent with the museum’s mission to facilitate the continuity and renewal of Indigenous cultural traditions. We thank the Peruvian government for collaborating with us on this achievement.”

Wagner thanked the directorate of the National Museum of the American Indian for the permanent support and willingness to work jointly with Peru on cultural matters of mutual interest, and celebrated the signing of this memorandum of understanding that will allow the realization of a long-standing desire of the Peruvian people. “The return of the ‘Echenique Disc,’ on the occasion of commemorating our bicentennial of national independence, constitutes a cause of deep joy for all Peruvians, a fact that will help to reinforce our values ​​of unity, solidarity and resilience and that, without a doubt, strengthens the historical and close ties of friendship between Peru and the United States,” Wagner said.

The design of the “Echenique Disc” became the official symbol and shield of the city of Cusco in 1986, being a piece with high symbolic, cultural and national identity value for all Peruvians. It is a circular thin sheet of metal 13.5 centimeters (5.3 inches) in diameter, approximately 90% gold, 5% silver and 5% copper. It was made with techniques commonly used in ancient Andean metal work.

George Gustav Heye, the founder of the Museum of the American Indian—Heye Foundation (the predecessor institution to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian), purchased the disc in 1912 from Dr. Eduard Gaffron, a German physician and antiquities collector working in Peru.

The disc has been included in several exhibitions during its time in the museum’s collection:

  • ”Star Gods of the Ancient Americas” (1982–1984), a traveling exhibition organized by the Museum of the American Indian, which opened in New York at the American Museum of Natural History and traveled to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
  • “Our Peoples: Giving Voice to Our Histories,” one of the inaugural exhibitions of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. (2004–2014).
  • “The Great Inka Road: Engineering an Empire,” an exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. (2015–2021).

The “Echenique Disc” will be incorporated by the Ministry of Culture into the National Inventory of Cultural Heritage of Peru.

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