Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Brooklyn Museum's Costa Rican artifacts

Ever the follower of museum news, I was intrigued to see that the Brooklyn Museum is in the midst of returning 5,000 artifacts that were removed from their country of origin in the late 19th century. Around 90% of the Brooklyn Museum's collection is being returned, including ceramic vessels, stone bowls, benches and grinding stones, that, according to a curator were not "museum quality" and were never displayed. Turns out the museum needs more storage space, and as such decided to donate the pieces. A Costa Rican cultural agency is picking up the shipping cost - close to $60,000 for the first shipment of 983 ceramic pieces alone!

The Museum will retain the other 10% of the items, which happens to be the more valuable portion, containing gold and jade pieces. The museum acquired the collection from the wife of an American who made his name in the export business in the late 19th got it, Minor Keith from my previous post about the United Fruit Corporation. Rampant plundering in Costa Rica lead to a 1938 law stating that all discovered artifacts the are property of Costa Rica.

Here's an example of a piece that is being returned to Costa Rica:

And, here's an example of one of the pieces the museum is not returning:

What do you think? Admirable of the museum, or too little too late?


  1. Too Little, Too Late...and the Museum's motivation seems to be lack of storage space, not a moral decision.
    I definately like the clay pot better than the ugly animal thing.
    Did they actually write those numbers on the clay piece itself? Do museums do that?

  2. Haha - you crack me up mom....the "ugly animal thing" :)

    To answer your question, yes, those numbers are written on the clay piece itself. Remember when I had that internship at the Children's Museum in Indianapolis? That's what I did all day - number objects. We always make sure that any numbering that goes on objects is completely reversible - I'm sure that a simple solvent of some sort will remove the number without damaging the object in any way. Good question!!!

  3. So artifact tattoo'z are reversible?