|Carl V. Hartman and the Costa Rica Collections
Expeditions in Costa Rica
Carl Hartman left for
Costa Rica on an archaeological expedition in March 1903-just two weeks
appointed curator of Ethnology and Archaeology at Carnegie Museum of Natural
History! The activities of his journey were centered around ancient Costa
Rican culture, and his means of studying this culture included excavating
collections, and researching museum artifacts.
Although Hartman's purchases, excavations, and research were all integral
parts of his activities in Costa Rica, his excavations are the most interesting
to today's scientists. In his field work, Hartman uncovered Costa Rican
artifacts while recording their surrounding data with photographs, notes,
diagrams, and maps. Hartman performed his excavations at four sites-three
in the Highlands (Chinchilla, Curridabat, Concepcion) and one in Nicoya
(Las Huacas). Although there are significant photographs of the Chinchilla
site, little has been written about this site. Studies of the artifacts
from the Las Huacas site are numerous.
The techniques Hartman employed are as interesting as the artifacts he
excavated. His approach was scientific, meticulous, and more detailed than
that of other archaeologists of the time. The surveying techniques he utilized
were similar to those found in civil engineering-procedures that archaeologists
would soon adopt worldwide. He learned these techniques from his mentor
and friend Hjalmar Stolpe who had developed and incorporated them in an
excavation of a Viking cemetery. The exacting and systematic methods employed
by Hartman provide accurate documentation of his finds, even by today's
standards. The data offer today's scientists a unique perspective on the
archaeology of northwestern and central Costa Rica, making possible the
reconstruction of past cultures through the objects they left behind.
One of Hartman's major activities in Costa Rica was to purchase collections
of artifacts. Purchased objects constitute about 75% of the artifacts in
the Costa Rican collections at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. The purchased
objects lack the detailed contextual information (due to practices such
as looting), yet they still give archaeologists the opportunity to compare
them with more scientifically obtained objects.
Within two weeks of arriving
in Costa Rica, Hartman bought two large collections of artifacts from
Father Jose Maria Velasco —the Velasco I and II
In contrast to the artifacts excavated by Hartman, the objects in the Velasco
subcollections offer virtually no contextual data. Velasco employed huaqueros
(looters) to unearth the objects from a variety of locations in the Nicoya
Peninsula and made little or no record of each object's geographical location,
placement in the ground, or proximity to other artifacts. Without the context
of artifacts, archaeologists find it difficult to create a picture of past
cultures and their activities through time. For example, a certain object
found in a burial might indicate a culture's belief in an afterlife, whereas
the same object found in a living space might indicate the object's use
in daily life.
Later in his expedition, Hartman also made a brief excursion to the Atlantic
coast where he obtained stone figurines from the Las Mercedes site. Hartman
also returned to San Jose where he purchased the Troyo Collection, as well
as several other small collections.
After making the Velasco purchases, Hartman spent time at the Museo Nacional
in San Jose where he studied and made extensive photographs of its Costa
Rican artifacts. The glass negatives for these photos still reside in the
Carnegie Museum of Natural History archives. The photographs of these artifacts,
as well as the photographs of Hartman's excavations, still remain as evidence
of his journeys and interests during his seven-month stay in Costa Rica.