|Carl V. Hartman and the Costa Rica Collections
Letters: January 28, 1903
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Read this letter in Spanish
12 th West, 73 d St.
28 Jan. 1903.
Doctor W. J. Holland.
I hereby take the liberty
to address you, in order to enquire, if you should be willing to engage
my services for arch. & ethnological explorations
in Spanish America.
I came over to New-York to the Congress of Americanists as the delegate
of the Swedish Anthropol. Society and with the intention, to interest some
one of the leading institutions in the States for my new plans.
Altogether I have six years practical experience in Spanish America. For
three years I accompanied Dr. Carl Lumholtz on his expedition to Northwestern
Mexico for the American Museum of Natl. Hist. and afterwards I [car]ried
on explorations of my own, under the auspices of the Swedish Anthrop. Society,
for [an]other three years in Costa Rica, Salvador and Guatemala. Since my
return to Stockholm I have been engaged for [an]other three years at the
Ethnol. Museum, at which Prof. Hjalmar Stolpe is the director.
When I last time returned from
the South Prof. Putnam and Mr. Saville made me an offer to go in the field
for the Am. Mus., when I had published
my work in Stockholm. Now, however, Prof.P[utnam] recently
said to me, there is a tie-up all over and I would have to wait perhaps
a couple of months before there will be any opening. On account of the
trouble with Batres in Mexico the Duke of Loubat can not continue the
work in Mexico,
for which Saville wanted me, and as Mr. Jesup has decided not to send
out any expedition, before some rearrangements in the museum have been
Prof. P[utnam] is hindered here from taking up my proposal for work in
Centr. Am. Rather than to wait until Prof. P[utnam] can arrange matters
at an other
museum under his control I follow the advice of a friend and write you.
During the round trip of the Americanists I had the opportunity to admire
your institution and heard you tell us about your great plans for the
During my last sojourn in Central-America I was alone, all the time employing
natives as laborers, guides, interpreters etc. My collections, which now
belong to the Ethn. museum, numbered some 7000 specimens. The results of
the first years arch. work in Costa Rica on the Atlantic Coast are embodied
in a volume I presented to the Congress. It is the first official publication
of the Ethnol. Museum in Stockholm, containing some 250 p. text in large
folio and 87 plates with illustrations in halftone and three-color print.
My other smaller publications are all in Swedish.
On the Pacific Coast, where other civilizations existed, I carried on
excavations for 6 months and obtained about 2000 arch. specimens. The rainy
season and lack of funds made it impossible for me to finish up this work,
and I now propose to carry on investigations anew in the same territories.
To me alone belongs the right to publish all the plans and notes obtained
during this former work on the Pacific Coast and from Stockholm I can obtain
photos of all the objects desired for any future publication.
No systematic arch. research was ever before carried out here and the
field beside being new is very rich and interesting. I have met with four
different methods of burial and also obtained information about two others,
but had no opportunity to visit the localities for the latter. The remains
of ancient Mexican colonies are encountered here. From the cemeteries of
this people the natives have recently unearthed thousands of carved stone-amulets
of high artistic value. Amongst these are more objects of jadite than hitherto
[are] preserved in all the museums of Europe and America from the whole
region of Central-Am. and Mexico. The metates here encountered are unsurpassed
on the Am. continent in size and beauty, often being covered with remarkable
sculptured designs. I know one single cemetery, where already more than
1000 metates have been exhumed. I have located many mounds and shell-heaps
too, which now, without loss of time, can be excavated with good results.
On the shore of the ocean I have discovered a whole field with hundreds
of prehistoric salt-ovens of burnt clay, most of these filled with huge
broken clay-vessels of peculiar shape. This is a feature never described
before and well worth to be investigated.
If this work could
be started soon, I should be able I believe to finish it up till about
I should like to go to San José, the
capital and make a thorough study of the collections in Museo Nacional,
some 10,000 specimens, which never before have been investigated by any
A great advantage for me just now is, that one of my most intimate friends,
Professor H. Pittier de Fabrega, the head of the "Instituto
Physico-Geographico" in San José has recently,
when Dr. Juan Ferraz was discharged, got the arch. museum affiliated with
his institution. At the Congress in N.Y. he urged me ardently to try to
go down to C.R. again. He had no time for arch. and he wants me during the
rainy season to arrange and classify the somewhat heterogenous [sic] collections
in the museum. In return he offers to induce the Government to present a
set of duplicates to the Am. museum, which sends me to C.R. He also hopes
to place a clever artist at my disposal and to be able to give me a room
and possibly some small salary. Professor P[ittier de Fagrega] intends to
leave C.R. after 1 1/2 a year, when his contract is up, and after any native
has got charge of the museum, it will be impossible to make any studies
and obtain material for future publications. In the museum in San José I
am especially anxious to take photos of about 100 large hemispherical votive
bowls from the Atlantic side, which all are covered with multi-colored,
highly conventionalized designs of human and animal figures. In my book
I have made a study of a number of similar bowls and I have shown the meaning
and evolution of the designs. This material, still to be gotten in the S.J.
museum, I consider almost as valuable as a Mexican codex, giving us in fact
almost all the "literature" left by the ancients of C.R.
While in S.J. I would use the opportunity to go back to an ancient stone-quarry,
discovered by me on the highlands, and there I could in a few days secure
a thousand crude stone-implements in various stages of development. I may
also return to the East coast and get you a number of large, mutilated stone-idols
, which I left in the forest on account of the shipping expenses for Europe.
In case I can continue the investigations even during the following dry
season Professor P[ittier de Fabrega] places all his knowledge about ancient
remains, rockcarvings, idols etc. at my disposition. While engaged since
20 years ago on the work on the map of C.R. he has travelled almost all
over the Republic. All arch. work that can be done in C.R. ought to be carried
out soon before the rush of laborers to Panama begins and wages rise.
Ethnol. Collections from the small remnants of native tribes in C.R. ought
to be secured, while Prof. P[ittier de Fabrega']s extremely valuable assistance
can be relied upon. He is the only scientist who has a thorough knowledge
of these tribes, having studied their languages for years. In the museums
of the States there is only one small ethnol. collection from C.R. In Europe
there are three, one in Stockholm, one on Switzerland, made by Pittier and
one small [one] in Berlin. No one however has described this material.
The only tribe in C.R. Pittier has not visited as yet
are the Guatusos, a small disappearing race near the frontier of Nicaragua.
I consider them to be the most primitive people in C. Am. They used stone-implements
until some 20 years ago. They still live in a communistic way, several families
together in a large house and they bury their dead in the very houses. I
should like to induce a few Guatusos to assist me at excavations on the
Pacific Coast, in order to study their language, traditions etc, during
the long, dark, tropical evenings, during the rains etc.
Practically nothing is yet written about the archeology of the Pacific
Coastlands of C.R. and the publication of my work there would become the
fundamental one. It would not take me so very long [a] time to get out this
volume and I, while preparing my previous publication, have become familiar
with the whole English terminology.
At the disposition of your institution I should be happy to place for
future publication the notes, photos etc obtained during my ethnol. work
amongst the tribes of Salvador and Guatemala. As I volunteered my work in
Centr. Am. for the Ethn. Museum in Stockholm the right to publish my observations
wherever I may choose is reserved to me. I collected duplicates of the ethn.
objects all the time and I can secure you a set of these in exchange. My
ethn. col. is by far the largest ever brought together in Centr. Am.
My anthropometric material
is still unpublished. It gives the results of the first somatological
work carried out in Centr. Am., some 40 measurements
and observations, beside photos "en face" and profile of 100 Salvador
Aztecs. Professor Gustaf Retzius has expressed a high opinion about the
importance of this work.
Prof. [Daniel] G. Brinton
in "The American Race" p. 40 writes: "On
the American continent there are no instances of dwarfish size to compare
with the Lapps, the Bushmen, or the Andaman Islanders." My measurements
of the Salvador Aztecs show, that they are of exactly the same small average
size as the Lapps according to von Düben and as the Bushmen according
to other authorities. Through a few weeks additional study of certain
physical traits of this people, the value of my previous records would
enhanced. I can easily prove, that in the high mountains of Guatemala
there exists a still smaller race, of which I often saw individuals,
to the Aztec villages for barter.
My linguistic material from Centr. Am. and the South of Mexico is still
also unpublished. When I three years ago returned from Centr. Am. and visited
Prof. Gatschet in Washington, he told me, that all linguistic stocks of
Panama were known to science. The small vocabulary I did show him, he admitted,
however, was absolutely new to him and not in any way related to any known
stock. This language is today only spoken by some 60 individuals and this
little tribe ought to be studied before it is too late. I only obtained
a small number of common words. A singular fact is that this same people
have developed an alphabet of their own in the same manner as the Algonquins.
I will mention that I, before I on Dr. Lumholtz' expedition got interested
for anthropology, had devoted several years to botanical studies and research
, and that I believe, I can accomplish some useful work too on the ethno-botanical
field , to which so little attention has here been paid. In Centr. Am. I
made [a] collection of about 100 different plants used by the Indians for
economic, officinal and textile purposes etc.
I also will say, that I have a new method for the carrying out of a certain
branch of arch. investigation. It is the application of a system used in
civil engineering to archeology. By this method much time and work will
be saved and far more accurate, scientific results will be obtained than
in the way the work is carried on now. It is not merely a theory of mine.
I have the full endorsement of the highest authority in the matter. This
method has never been put in practice by any archeologist in America nor
Europe. After one arch. investigation has been carried out according to
this plan and the results have been published other archeologists can not
avoid using it. I only ask for the opportunity to introduce the method.
In Costa Rica no law against excavations or the export of antiquities
exists , as yet as the case is in Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico.
As in Stockholm last year Professor Stolpes plan to get a new building
erected and appropriations made for sufficient salaries for assistants failed,
I decided to accompany him to the Congress and to become an American citizen
, in order to get the opportunity to continue my studies in the field for
some of the richly endowed institutions of the New World. My ambition is
to get the chance to develop the branch of Spanish-American archeology and
ethnology in some American museum .
I enclose some opinions expressed about my previous work. In case you
are willing to consider my proposition, I will be glad to go down to Pittsburg
and show you my English publication, photos of my collections etc. I am
always assured of the most hearty cooperation and advice of my former superior
in Stockholm. For references here I may mention Prof. Boaz [sic] and Putnam
and Doctor Carl Lumholtz, 16 West 9 th St. N.Y.
Kindly return the letter with enclosures in case you can not consider
C. V. Hartman