Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Gold Goes Home Volume 51 Number 3, May/June 1998
by Andrew L. Slayman

The U.S. Customs Service has returned to Costa Rica 69 Precolumbian artifacts seized from smugglers. Consisting of gold ornaments, greenstone carvings, and flaked stone hand axes, the pieces were confiscated in 1994 from two Costa Ricans, Julio Castro Vargas and Alfredo Herrera Castillo, as they drove from Canada into Niagara Falls, New York.

Cynthia Conides of SUNY Buffalo identified the pieces as Costa Rican, dating from ca. 300 B.C. to A.D. 1550. The gold ornaments included representations of animals, mythical creatures, and a human. Among the greenstones were anthropomorphic celts, a grotesque face, stylized bird, and frog. The Customs Service estimated their value at $250,000 to $500,000.

In Costa Rica, all antiquities belong to the nation, and possessing them constitutes theft. The smugglers were released after the seizure, but in 1995 the Customs Service issued warrants for their arrest. Last year, Herrera Castillo was apprehended in Miami as he arrived in the country. He pleaded guilty to lying to customs officials and was sentenced to three months' time served. The artifacts were forfeited, but smuggling charges were dropped. Sometime between 1994 and 1997, Castro Vargas died.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America