History and Looting in Costa Rica

guayabofromabove.jpgMaggie Koerth-Baker has a terrific two-part series on the ancient Chibchan culture in Costa Rica at BoingBoing.  The ancient CAribbean shares many characteristics with the ancient Mediterranean, in which a number of cultures traded and impacted each other.  Yet Costa Rica receives relatively little attention:

Despite a scarcity of giant tourist-attracting monuments, ancient Costa Rica was a pretty hopping place—a nexus of trade where the cultures of Mexico and Central America met those of northern South America, and elements of both were incorporated into the unique and diverse Chibchan culture. Gold ornaments, jade carvings and pottery are literally just below the surface, uncovered by modern construction—or even just poking around in the backyard. So why the low profile? Blame the combined forces of local climate, indigenous tragedy and looting as national pastime.

She talks with Michael Snarskis, an archaeologist examining ancient Costa Rican cultures.  The series does a terrific job documenting the damage done by looting, something archaeologists must account for in nearly every excavation in Costa Rica and elsewhere.  Are there any archaeological sites not at risk from looters?

Ancient Costa Rica Part I: Lost history in the land of the crossroads
Ancient Costa Rica Part II: The narrow road to Guayabo

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

International Red Tape, $500 Translation

International red tape often hampers the investigation of the illicit trade in antiquities, this example involves Leonardo Patterson (discussed earlier here) and the difficulty in acquiring a decent Spanish-German translation. From AFP a couple days ago:

SAN JOSE (AFP) — The price of a translation is keeping the Costa Rican government from retrieving a collection of pre-Columbian objects it claims were stolen by a private collector now living in Germany.

In August 2007, Costa Rica first learned about Leonardo Patterson’s collection stored in Spain since 1997. Its more than 1,700 pre-Columbian pieces originate from Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia and Peru.

Costa Rica is seeking the recovery of 457 of those objects it says are part of its national heritage.

Patterson’s collection is of incalculable value, said Marlin Calvo, head of the Cultural Heritage Protection department at Costa Rica’s National Museum.

The objects are “very beautiful, very diverse, and in very good condition,” said Calvo.

Patterson, a former Costa Rican diplomat and renowned art collector, was questioned and part of his collection seized by Munich police in April this year, after he took it out of storage in Spain and had it shipped to Germany.

Investigators valued the objects at more than 100 million dollars.

Costa Rica, along with Mexico and Peru, say some of the pieces were stolen and are attempting to recover them, even as Patterson maintains he obtained them in Europe, legally.

Since May, Costa Rican authorities have tried, without success, to reclaim the pieces. Their main problem: the price of a translation.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com