01/04/2011 08:22 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Brooklyn Museum Returns Pre-Columbian Artifacts, But There's A Catch

Usually, the return of artifacts to their country of origin involves legal threats or repeated pleas, but instead this story is about cleaning house rather than the clearing of conscience.

The Brooklyn Museum wants to return nearly 4500 pre-Columbian artifacts to Costa Rica in order to save space in their archives. They have offered the objects to the National Museum of Costa Rica, which has accepted, but has not raised the $59,000 needed to pack and ship the first set of items.

The artifacts include bowls, figurines, ceremonial metates, benches and other objects, mostly made of ceramic or stone. They are part the museum's collection of nearly 5000 objects exported nearly a century ago by railroad magnate Minor C. Keith, which were found on his Costa Rican banana plantations. The Brooklyn Museum will keep some of the more valuable items, including some made of gold and jade. Previous attempts to give away the objects to Costa Rican and American museums were unsuccessful.

The museum has been downsizing its collection for the last decade, deaccessioning works which are not exhibited or do not fit the museum's mission. Reducing the size of their permanent collection will save the museum storage costs and staff members' time.

Most museums are only able to display approximately 2-5% of their collection, leaving the rest in storage rarely (or never) to be seen by the public. It is unlikely the returned objects were ever displayed at the Brooklyn Museum.