Costa Rican Art Returning Home

BY Larisa Epatko  February 17, 2011 at 12:08 PM EDT


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About 4,500 pieces of Pre-Columbian artifacts, including ceramic bowls and animal-shaped vessels, taken from Costa Rica are returning soon to their country of origin.

The Brooklyn Museum, which was given the pieces, is keeping some of the gold and jade pieces but returning the rest in an effort to cull its sizable collection. Many of the returning artifacts — bowls, vessels, figurines, benches, and ceremonial metates or grinding stones — were never on display.

Minor C. Keith, a railroad magnate and founder of United Fruit Co., found the objects on his Costa Rican banana plantations and legally removed them from the country around the turn of the last century. Later, Costa Rican lawmakers passed a law saying any artifacts found after Oct. 6, 1938 are property of Costa Rica.

To raise the $59,000 necessary to send the first shipment of about 980 artifacts, Beila Zider, a retired sociology professor teamed up with La Nacion newspaper to launch a dollar-a-person drive. They were able to generate thousands of dollars before the state-owned National Insurance Agency came through with the full amount, reported Alex Leff, GlobalPost’s Costa Rica correspondent.

There was almost a sense of disappointment — “It would have been more honorable if each Costa Rican had given a dollar. We were going to make it,” Zider said.

The artifacts are destined for the National Museum of Costa Rica, where many people will be able to view them, but Leff told us that some in the archeology community think their rightful place should be their actual point of origin — in Limon province, an area Leff describes as relatively poor.

“It would be a huge point of pride for a region that feels neglected if they’d be brought back there,” he said.

The artifacts are expected to arrive in their new home in March.

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