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The Brooklyn Museum Just Returned Over 1,300 Looted Historical Artifacts To Costa Rica

Photo via museonacionalcr/Instagram

Around one hundred years ago, a wealthy American businessman named Minor Keith looted a construction site in Costa Rica. He took countless archeological artifacts back to his home in the United States. Since then, the Brooklyn Museum in New York City has been in possession of many of the artifacts.

But recently, the Brooklyn Museum returned 1,305 of the artifacts back to their original home in Costa Rica.

The National Museum of Costa Rica wrote an in-depth Instagram caption explaining the Brooklyn Museum’s initiative. They paired the caption with a slide show of some select artifacts.

“These are some of the repatriated objects that came back to Costa Rica in December 2020,” they wrote. “They are part of the well-known Keith collection. American businessman Minor Keith found the items at the end of the 19th and early 20th century at a railroad construction site. They were exported from Costa Rica because there were no laws protecting cultural heritage back then.”

The caption went on to explain that the gift is the second time the Brooklyn Museum has repatriated Costa Rican artifacts. “This is the second and last batch to arrive from the Brooklyn Museum; we received the first round of 981 pieces in 2011,” they wrote. “The [Brooklyn Museum’s] initiative allowed these artifacts to return to their place of origin where they were made about 2,500 years ago.”

The artifacts include “ceramic vessels, vases and household utensils. They also include “spikes, metates, zukias, tombstones and stone human figures”.

via museonacionalcr/Instagram

According to the National Museum of Costa Rica, “approximately 60% of the set are whole or almost complete pieces”. The remainder are “fragments of pieces.” Experts believe the tombstone was for an “important person from a now-extinct civilization.”

“The tombstone is a piece we have only seen as illustrations in study books here,” said National Museum of Costa Rica researcher Daniela Meneses. “It’s amazing to see that piece now. It’s very emotional.”

The Brooklyn Museum repatriated the historical artifacts without request or prompting from Costa Rica.

via museonacionalcr/Instagram

“We initiated conversations with the National Museum of Costa Rica to see if they wanted the collection and they accepted the objects as an unrestricted gift,” said senior curator Nancy Rosoff to Artnet News.

Costa Rican historians and archaeologists are reportedly “in awe” of the generosity of the gift–a generosity that is rare in this day and age. “We don’t know why they did it, but it’s something very good and atypical in the world,” said archaeologist Javier Fallas to Reuters.

Hopefully the Brooklyn Museum’s initiative is the beginning of a pattern of modern institutions attempting to right the wrongs of the past through present-day action.

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