November 2008

Costa Rica, Land of Wonders

For immediate release

Montreal, November 3, 2008 - Pointe-à-Callière, the Montréal Museum of Archaeology and History, will be presenting Costa Rica, Land of Wonders from November 4, 2008 to April 19, 2009. The exhibition, produced by Pointe-à-Callière in partnership with the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, in San José, brings to Canada for the first time close to 230 precious gold, jade, ceramic and sculpted stone artifacts, all of them of a rare and splendid beauty. For the Costa Rican museum, this is the largest international exhibition on this subject ever produced. Welcome to the "rich coast."

Costa Rica, Land of Wonders looks at the history of this country over a period of approximately 2,000 years, from 500 BC to Columbus' arrival in 1502. Visitors will learn about the diversity of its main regions, as they admire artifacts from each one: superbly executed human- and animal-effigy vessels, finely carved jade pendants, splendid gold finery and stone items symbolizing the traditions of the country's peoples.

The discoveries to be made are stunning in every respect. This land that was long considered a mere offshoot of the brilliant Olmec, Maya, Inca and other civilizations to the north and south actually developed its own remarkable style. The voyage back in time will also look at the appearance and evolution of increasingly powerful chiefdoms in Costa Rican agricultural societies. Many of the artifacts illustrate the influence of nature on those peoples' cultural and social lives.

An exotic encounter
Visitors are bound to be fascinated by the beauty of this country and its wildlife, depicted in many of the pieces in the exhibition. As they explore a space evoking the tropical forest and the mysteries of a little-known civilization, they will come to realize that the archaeology of Pre-Columbian Costa Rica (i.e., before Columbus' arrival in the Americas) has truly earned it its designation as the "rich coast."

Archaeological treasures come to Canada for the first time ever
Most of the artifacts from the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica have never been shown outside of Costa Rica before. Their tremendous esthetic appeal and technical mastery make them true masterpieces.

Some of the items in the exhibition are unique to Costa Rican culture, and have no equivalents in other Pre-Columbian American societies: for instance, finely sculpted stone grinding tables - metates - and mysterious stone spheres, many of them impressively large.

Costa Rican archaeology
Economic development in Costa Rica in the late 19th century led to the discovery of a large number of graves. Unfortunately, many archaeological artifacts left the country and made their way into private collections. Other factors also erased traces of the past, including the acidic soil, torrential rainfall and land development. So although Costa Rican archaeologists have unearthed enough artifacts to make it possible to establish a context for items used by the elite, there is still much work to be done to gain a greater understanding of the day-to-day life of these early populations.

Today the Costa Rican government is intent on protecting the country's archaeological heritage. All objects found must be turned over to the collection of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, salvage digs are required before any construction and archaeological sites are protected by law - a job made easier now that Costa Ricans themselves are more aware of their importance.

Fruitful collaboration
This exceptional selection of artifacts could never have been brought here without the tremendous collaboration of the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. The San José museum is making accessible to the North American public the little-known but immensely fascinating history of a country whose artifacts pay tribute to the bonds between man and nature. This is a gratifying partnership for Pointe-à-Callière, helping it with its mission of introducing local audiences to the world's major civilizations. Another major contributor to the project was archaeologist Claude Chapdelaine, a professor at the Université de Montréal who has conducted archaeological research in Latin America for many years.

A very special publication
The catalogue, produced by Pointe-à-Callière in partnership with the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica, is one of the few works written in French and Spanish on Costa Rican archaeology. The 80-page, abundantly illustrated catalogue presents all the items in the exhibition, along with a discussion of Pre-Columbian archaeology. It is available at the Museum gift shop.

Look forward to a sunny fall and winter at Pointe-à-Callière, from November 4, 2008 to April 19, 2009.

Pointe-à-Callière thanks the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica and the Ministry of Communications of Costa Rica, along with its partners: Air Canada, Ulysses Travel Guides, Marriott SpringHill Suites, La Presse and The Gazette.

The Museum is subsidized by the city of Montréal.