The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica announced that it has received 1305 Pre-Columbian artifacts from the Brooklyn Museum as part of its repatriation efforts.
While announced only recently, the actual return of the works occurred in October last year. The artifacts in question come primarily from the collection of business tycoon Minor Cooper Keith. Keith was a prominent businessman in the 19th and 20th centuries, primarily engaged in the banana corporation and railway businesses in Costa Rica. At the time of his death, he had around 16,000 artifacts of various kinds in his Costa Rican plantations. After his death, his wife donated some 4,500 works to the Brooklyn Museum in 1934.
In recent years, scholars had shed light on Keith and the way he had acquired his wealth (and art collection). In an interview with NPR, author Dan Koeppel compared workers in Keith’s plantations to slaves. In 2011, the Brooklyn Museum sent 981 works from his collection to Costa Rica. At the time, the museum said that Museo Nacional de Costa Rica had not filed for the return of any artifact, which hindered the repatriation process. This has now been cleared.
The works sent to Costa Rica include eating utensils, tombstones, and a metate. While most works belong to the pre-Colombian era, some could be thousands of years old. Rocío Fernandez (Director, National Museum of Costa Rica) said that some of these works would be displayed in a dedicated pre-Colombian gallery that is being renovated right now. Sylvie Durán (Minister of Culture and Youth) said:
“The recovery of these archaeological pieces means recovering fragments of our past that crossed our borders when we still did not have legislation to prevent it.”