Archeological pieces returned to Costa Rica


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Last year was a great year for pre-Columbian archaeological finds, although they weren’t uncovered in the dirt with traditional trowel and camel-hair brush. The biggest trove came voluntarily–from the Brooklyn Museum.

A pendant from Costa Rica, in the Minor C. Keith Collection at the Brooklyn Museum. The museum has a collection of at least 5,000 pieces spirited away from this country about a century ago by railroad magnate Minor C. Keith who built the railroad that really opened up the country to Atlantic trade, from San Jose to the Caribbean port of Limon.

Keith, also a founder of United Fruit Company, is viewed by Central Americans with mixed feelings. Yes, his railroad helped bring Costa Rica into the modern world but he was also part of the exploitation of the North of poor Latins. He would have thought nothing at the time of carting away a country’s historical heritage.

One would hope that Western Civilization has passed this blithely rapine philosophy, but the fact is that it often takes years of negotiations between foreign ministries to force a museum to give up its ill gotten gains.

Imagine the surprise of Costa Rica’s National Museum when the Brooklyn Museum offered so many pieces voluntarily a few years ago. The New York Times reported the reason: the Big Apple’s museum closets are simply overflowing. They will still keep some 500 of the most compact—and valuable—gold and jade ornaments.

Minor Keith Still, it is unlikely that National Museum director Nancy Quiros will complain. She still has to find in her meager budget the $59,000 needed to crate the artifacts and ship them home. The include weighty items such as metates, ceremonial corn grinding stones, numerous ceramic pots. etc.

But that was not the only 2010 find. Quiros got two lots of objects—with legal writs, without getting even her fingernail dirty. One was 108 objects tucked away in the Heredia home of a family identified only as Mannil D’Empaire.

The other was a truly big confiscation of the Montes de Oca family, Dada Fumero, a tremendous private collection of 3,388 whole objects and thousands of sacks of fragments. The Dada family’s hoard may have been smaller, but it turned up no fewer than 14 of those mysterious stone spheres that fascinate historians.

Meanwhile, the Dada Fumero confiscation had its own fallout—Culture Ministry official Patricia Fumero is under four-month suspension with pay while authorities investigate what accusers say was an alleged attempt to pretend that the family’s objects were duly registered with the ministry. She is accused of favoring an aunt who is linked with the family.

Brief sketch of Keith and his treasure: The Brooklyn-born Minor Keith was 23 when he went to Costa Rica in 1871 to help his brother on the railroad. During the two decades it took to build the line, the energetic young man exercised the initiative common in the so-called Gilded Age to plant bananas within easy access of the rails and the Limon port. On the Las Mercedes plantation, his workers dug up the first gold artifacts, the start of his collection. The Brooklyn Museum bought the collection in 1934, five years after Keith’s death.

Author: Rod Hughes | Source: Fijatevos [January 03, 2011]



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