Artifact collector made the mistakes of advertising his wares

Those with archaeological collections probably will not get into trouble unless they advertise pre-Columbian pieces for sale.

But that is what one individual in Naranjo did, and that is what caused a judicial raid Friday. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that the home raided was in San Miguel de Naranjo in Alajuela.

Agents said that a worker at the Museo Nacional alerted them that someone was advertising archaeological pieces for sale on a social network. The advertiser conveniently also published a home address.

Agents said they confiscated 45 pieces, including metates, manos and a variety of small pots.

Metates are those small stone platforms, frequently ceremonial, used to grind grain, and a mano is the stone roller that does the grinding. Metates often were used as offerings in graves, so there are a lot of them in collections. The museum displays some metates that are extraordinarily ornate and appear to have been carved from a single piece of stone.

None of the items confiscated appears to have been of museum quality, and there probably is no information on where the pieces are found and when.

Many Costa Rican families have collections of pre-Columbian artifacts and even some of those stone balls from south-central Costa Rica. The museum assumes all such items are covered

by the 1982 law on archeological finds, although many items are in collections that predate the law. In the past, some items confiscated in raids have had to be returned because the owners proved they were acquired before the law went into force.

Frequently, museum officials will check private collections on request and list the holdings.

Despite efforts by the museum, archaeological pieces can be found on sale at weekend flea markets. Most are items stolen in burglaries instead of being fresh from the ground. Adding to the confusion are shops in Guanacaste that make items identical to those made 1,500 years ago. Elaborate tests are needed to determine that they are new.

Residents in some Guanacaste communities, such as Guaitil in Santa Cruz, are using the same clay and molds that their ancestors used to provide ceramics for the Valley of México and the Mayan empires. Tourists who purchase such items usually are advised to keep sales slips handy to avoid misunderstandings at customs agencies.

Agents confiscated metates, manos and lots of ceramics.

Agents confiscated metates, manos and lots of ceramics.

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