Carl V. Hartman and the Costa Rica Collections

Costa Rica Collections at Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Costa Rica's archaeological heritage has suffered greatly at the hands of looters who have plundered its villages and cemeteries for artifacts of jade, pottery, and stone. From the nineteenth century to the present, artifacts have been dug up and hoarded by huaqueros (plunderers) with little regard to their scientific importance. Either contracted by individual collectors or working on their own, huaqueros make their living selling these plundered artifacts.

As a result of this looting, a large amount of Costa Rican objects are contained in private collections and museums, yet only a small percentage has been obtained through formal archaeological excavation. Because huaqueros kept little or no records of their finds, these objects reveal less than those collected under more scientific conditions. Sites looted and objects stolen by huaqueros are of limited use to archaeologists.

During his 1903 expedition, Carl V. Hartman obtained about 12,000 Costa Rican objects for Carnegie Museum. Approximately one fourth of the artifacts were acquired through his own field excavations and the remainder were purchased from individuals in Costa Rica.

The collection obtained through Hartman's exacting and systematic field work provide a great deal of reliable information regarding the context and provenience (exact location within the site) of the artifacts. Because such documentation is missing in most large Costa Rican collections, the artifacts excavated by Hartman are of particular interest to archaeologists.

In addition to the information surrounding Hartman's excavated collection, photographic documentation of some of his digs have proved invaluable to today's archaeologists. In fact, these photographs have made it possible for present-day researchers to locate Hartman's dig sites and reconstruct the sequence and process of his excavations.

Together, Hartman's collection and the carefully documented records of his excavations have enabled today's researchers to relate the excavated materials to local and regional prehistory.

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