New jade museum overwhelms, but displays are low on data

The new Museo de Jade is overwhelming, The Instituto Nacional de Seguros said all 7,000 of its pre-Columbian holdings have been put on display in the five-story, $21.5 million museum.

The visitor is at first impressed by the work by museum employees in creating creative displays for the archaeological artifacts. Then they are impressed by the work to create the artifacts by pre-Columbian residents of Costa Rica. The display room on the fifth floor, for example, contains hundreds of elaborate ceramic pieces from five regions of Costa Rica.

The museum has ample signage in English, elevators to make every floor accessible for the disabled and pleasant staff members in each display room.

The museum does suffer from the basic problem that affects Costa Rican archaeology. Most of the ceramic vessels, jade pendants and other artifacts have little or no history. The detailed
explanation of where the piece was found is missing.

Archaeologist are not really interested in just collecting ceramics. They want the artifacts to speak and tell them about the complex societies that crafted them.

The museum chose not to put labels in the display windows. To find out about a ceramic piece or a jade pendant, a visitor must go to a computerized panel. Nearly every display case has a panel in front with photos of the display items. The touch screens allow a visitor to find out information specific to the item of interest in Spanish or English. But too many say the origin of the piece is unknown.

This is the same problem that existed when the pieces were at the former jade museum in the insurance institute’s headquarters. Without knowledge of the origin, an archaeological piece is close to useless for scientific study.

Costa Rica is full of such items, many the product of 19th and early 20th century pot hunters. There is hardly a home of wealthy Costa Ricans that does not have its own archaeological display but almost always without any indication of the origins of the pieces. Then there are the spectacular replicas mainly from the Chorotega area that are offered for sale in gift shops. Add to these the booty of home burglars that shows up at the Sunday flea markets.

More recently archaeologists and students are revealing the past with professional care and precision.  At Finca 6 and nearby Osa sites, too, professionals are trying to obtain answers about the culture that created the iconic stone balls. There also are long-running professional sites being researched elsewhere in the country. Many state-of-the-art devices are being used. Some time will pass before this new knowledge of former residents ends up in the display cases of museums.

Until then, many of the ceramic pieces are like Greek statues: great to look at but with a limited history.

Life-sized piper

Life-sized piper

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