Costa Rica completed this Wednesday the repatriation of at least 1305 pre-Columbian pieces, which were in the North American Museum in Brooklyn, located in the state of New York. This delivery corresponds to the second and last one that has been managed since 2011, when 981 pieces were delivered.
These 2,286 archaeological pieces are part of the 16,000 extracted at the beginning of the 20th century by the businessman in charge of the construction of the railway, Minor Keith. The operations to carry out the repatriation had a cost of 44 thousand dollars in the first delivery and 23 million colones in the second. The National Insurance Institute (INS), the National Museum and the Brooklyn Museum took care of the economic cost of packaging and transportation.
“The pieces were unpacked and inventoried, both quantity and state of conservation were recorded. The next step is to include them in databases and assign them an internal consecutive number and they will be made available for future exhibitions, both in the National Museum and in museums that require them for loans or research from specialists ”, explained the archaeologist Leidy Bonilla, from the Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
The return of the pre-Columbian pieces was managed by the will of the Brooklyn Museum and not by judicial process. They justify that at the time when they took possession of the findings, there was no legislation on this matter. These objects represent a historical moment in the formation of collections and in the economic, social and political development of the country. The return of the pieces took place by sea in 31 cured wooden boxes.
“We are deeply grateful to the Brooklyn Museum for the opening to return these pieces to the country, and, of course, to the National Museum of Costa Rica, for spearheading this recovery process,” commented the Minister of Culture and Youth, Sylvie Durán .
Antecedents of the appropriation of pre-Columbian pieces
A report given by the Department of Heritage Protection, detailed that the collection that the American businessman extracted, was around 16 thousand pieces, which were distributed in 1914, when a part was loaned to the American Museum of Natural History in New York , another was sold or donated to the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, and after Keith’s death, his wife donated items to the Brooklyn Museum, while others were purchased in 1934.
In 2020, specifically in March, the National Museum learned of the Brooklyn Museum’s interest in returning to the country a part of the pre-Columbian objects that it guards, all from the Keith collection.
These actions were possible because the Keith family donated, loaned and sold the pieces before the promulgation of Law No. 7 of October 6, 1938, on control of the exploitation and trade of archaeological relics.
The archaeologist Bonilla said that both ceramic and stone pieces were found, which from the bibliographic references that have been collected, it is known that they come from very important archaeological sites in Costa Rica.
Bonilla continued by commenting that these pieces will help fill certain gaps, especially in the ceramic typology, as well as in lithic instruments and figures. The Brooklyn Museum keeps another part of Costa Rican pre-Columbian pieces in custody.