Behind the Scenes of "Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America's Past Revealed"—Guayabo and Las Mercedes
Tomorrow, April 18, Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed opens at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York. The exhibition is making its New York debut after first appearing at the museum in Washington, D.C. In anticipation, the museum is releasing four behind-the-scenes videos about research sites that are the sources of many of the objects in the exhibition. This third video, led by Ricardo Vázquez Leiva, an archaeologist who works at the National Museum of Costa Rica, takes a look at two archaeological sites in what is now Costa Rica—Guayabo and Las Mercedes.
Guayabo and Las Mercedes are important for excavation because the scale of the architecture found there suggests that they represent societies where power was highly centralized. In southern Central America, they stand as uniquely monumental examples.
Many of the objects unearthed in this area were excavated in the early 20th century by teams who worked for the American businessman Minor Cooper Keith and his wife, Cristina Castro Fernández, whose family was prominent in Costa Rica. The Keiths amassed a collection of nearly 16,000 objects during their time in Central America. In 1916, Minor Keith became a trustee of the Museum of the American Indian—Heye Foundation, later to become the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian.
Research excavations resumed in the region in 2005. Objects recovered from Guayabo and Las Mercedes continue to provide new insights into the lives and societies of the peoples who lived there.
For more details about the first peoples of Costa Rica, download the free exhibition catalogue. A short article on Minor Keith can be found on pages 72 and 73.
All four exhibition videos can be seen as a playlist here.
Joshua Stevens is the Public Affairs specialist at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York.
Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed is a collaboration of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and the Smithsonian Latino Center.