Costa Rica said it is “more complete” after recovering nearly 200 pre-Columbian artifacts from Venezuela, where they had been amassed by a wealthy Estonian art collector.
The handover of the 196 stone and ceramic figurines to the National Museum in Costa Rica on Wednesday marked the biggest-ever return of archeological items to the Central American country.
The figurines included representations of warriors and animals, as well as hand-crafted spheres and grinding stones made by indigenous people who had lived in different parts of Costa Rica for thousands of years before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1502.
The head of the museum’s heritage protection department, Marlin Calvo, told a news conference that the artifacts had been taken out of the country via “illicit trafficking.”
They ended up in the possession of Harry Mannil, an Estonian businessman who settled for most of his life in Venezuela and who died in Costa Rica in 2010.
Mannil’s Caracas house operated as a private museum, displaying the many works of pre-Columbian and South American indigenous art he had accumulated.
The pieces returned to Costa Rica were seized by Venezuelan authorities between 2009 and 2014. Mannil had tried to transfer some of them to the United States but was stopped by Venezuela’s customs service.
Venezuela shipped them out on December 24 and they arrived in Costa Rica on January 2 ahead of the formal delivery to the National Museum.
“Today, Costa Rica is more complete,” President Luis Guillermo Solis told the news conference.
“Today, the country, with the return of these nearly 200 items from our heritage, is complemented, is filled up with a part of ourselves that wasn’t with us,” he said.
Solis added the artifacts had “suffered so many humiliations in the hands of those who had illegally grabbed this important part of our history,” and called on the National Museum to display them in a special section.