Before the Spaniards
12,000 years. These early people hunted sloths, mastadons, and giant armadillos. The end of the Ice Age led to environmental change and people had to adapt as their original prey animals disappeared. Joining together into highly mobile groups, they began to hunt smaller game and exploit the area's plant resources. Agriculture appeared around 5,000 years ago, mainly of roots and tubers. The need to tend crops led people to settle in small villages. With the introduction of corn, food surpluses enabled a completely settled life. Around 1000 BC, pottery appeared. The widespread use of easily breakable ceramic goods is only possible in a sedentary society.
Crocodilian figures are often portrayed on ancient Costa Rican artifacts. The ancient people believed that these dangerous creatures possessed supernatural powers. Incense burners, called censers, were used in religious ceremonies. When the ancients burned copal resin inside the pot, the smoke escaped from the holes you can see around censer's top and on on the alligator's body. Copal produces a thick, but pleasant-smelling, smoke that was believed to represent the brains of the gods.
ocarina is a musical instrument, kind of like a flute. These instruments have existed around the world for more than 12,000 years. In Mesoamerica, they were especially popular among the Maya and Aztecs. The use of ocarinas probably spread through the trade networks. The instrument is played by blowing into the tube extending to the right (see above). The air resonates within the hollow chamber and different tones can be produced by pressing on one or another of the 4 holes in the top. The blowfish design testifies to the native people's close relationship with the sea and its animals.
coatimundi, a forest creature that is a relative of the raccoon. The censer (bottom) is decorated with the image of a bird. Both of these artifacts were found in the northwest coastal region of Guanacaste and date from between 300 BC and 300 AD. Pre-hispanic people used musical instruments for religious rituals, political ceremonies, and sometimes just for fun. Costa Rica occupies what historians call the Intermediate Area, where influence of the cultures of Central Mexico overlapped that of the Andean cultures centered in the area of Peru. Over the millennia, successive waves of settlers arrived in the area from both the north and the south. This created an interesting mix of people, cultural traditions, technologies, and art. In addition to the influence of migration, trade networks extended through Costa Rica, linking the empires of Peru with those of Central Mexico.While ocarinas, censers, or other physical and cultural artifacts may have arrived from elsewhere, the ancient people of Costa Rica soon developed their own unique designs and styles.
toucans are very realistically portrayed. Their large, curved beaks form the handles of the bowl, which may have been used for ceremonial purposes. As towns and small cities developed, pre-hispanic societies in Costa Rica became stratified, specialized, and hierarchical. By 500 AD, chieftaincies had become hereditary and an astronomically-oriented priesthood had developed. Along with these, specialized classes of artisans, warriors, and farmers appeared.
El Guayabo, outside San José, ruins of a small city were recently discovered. El Guayabo was built around 1000 BC and flourished until the Spanish arrival in the early 1500s. Twenty-five hundred years is an astonishingly long period of continuous occupation. Archaeologists believe that as many as 10,000 people once lived here. Numerous stone structures have been unearthed, including circular platforms, staircases, roads, and an extensive network of aqueducts. The circular platforms were once topped by towering conical structures. However, these were made of perishable materials such as wood. Only their circular stone bases have survived. The aqueducts were part of a complex plumbing system using sand and stones to filter the water. Another site, named Rivas, was discovered in southern Costa Rica near a town of the same name. People of the Chiriqui culture occupied Rivas between 900 AD and 1300 AD. Similar to El Guayabo, Rivas contains circular platforms and cobbled roads. Rivas is unusual in the number of tombs containing grave goods that have been discovered. Archaeologists have identified a road system at least 150 km (93 mi) in length which appears to connect El Guayabo, Rivas and other ancient sites in Costa Rica. This may indicate a much more complex society than previously thought. Unfortunately, the Caravan tour itinerary did not include El Guayabo, Rivas, or any other archaeological sites. I didn't find out about them until I began my research on Costa Rica's pre-hispanic history. By contrast, during our Caravan tours of Mexico, Guatemala, and Panamá, we had numerous opportunities to visit ancient ruins. (Photo from Wiki images)
in the form of a macaw, this grinding platform was used for ritual purposes. Metates are one of the oldest known tools for grinding plant-based foods. The earliest examples are paleolithic, i.e. they pre-date agriculture. During the Old Stone Age, these grinding platforms were used to crush seeds and other plant foods gathered from the natural environment. As old as this technology is, metates very similar to this can be purchased in many Mexican hardware stores. They are used to grind corn to make tortillas. Modern metates tend to be very utilitarian, however, and usually lack the wonderful animal motifs favored by the ancients. Because of their association with the all-important maiz (corn), metates held deep symbolic meanings for ancient people. They have often been found among the grave goods in ancient Costa Rican tombs.
Sharks are fearsome ocean predators, equivalent to jaguars on land. As such, they became powerful symbols. A shark's tooth was sometimes used in blood-letting rituals. Bats were associated with darkness and the world of the dead because they live in caves. Winged pendants carved from jade were popular during the 1000 year period between 300 BC and 700 AD. Carved jade objects like the pendant were symbols of power and status. They appeared at a time when agricultural surpluses were enabling societal specialization and the development of hierarchies. Reverence for jade, and for objects carved from it, seems to have filtered south from Mesoamerica. Exactly how this cultural transfer occurred is not presently known but it may have involved the trade networks. Interestingly, archaeologists have not yet identified any ancient jade mining sites in Costa Rica. The jade objects found to date are mineralogically similar to those from ancient mines along the Motagua River in southern Guatemala. This reinforces theories about the influence of trade.
as early as 2100 BC. It is likely that metallurgy arrived in Costa Rica from the southern trade routes, just as jade had filtered down from the north. Somewhere around 500 AD, gold began to supplant jade as the favored material for the jewelry and ritual objects which symbolized social status and power. Ancient jade workshops along Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast soon began to switch over to the manufacture of gold objects. Artisans learned the "lost wax" method for casting and used it extensively. The widespread use of gold at the time of the Spanish Conquest can be seen in the very name of the country: Costa Rica means "Rich Coast". The originator of the name may have been either Christopher Columbus in 1502, or Conquistador Gil González Dávila in 1522. The coast they visited swarmed with gold-bedecked natives. Unfortunately, gold had a magnetic attraction for the Spaniards. If the native people had not possessed it, the Spanish might have bypassed them for a very long time.
Poás is one of 14 volcanoes stretched like a necklace along the crest of the mountains that form the spine of the country. The mountain range and its volcanoes grew out of tectonic activity along the Pacific subduction zone. Nine of the fourteen volcanoes are active and, of these, the most active are Irazú, Arenal, and Poás.
Gunnera insignis and it is native to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panamá. Since time immemorial, local people have used the broad leaves as a quick way to shelter from a downpour.
Parque Nacional Volcán Poás to protect 5,600 hectares (13,838 acres) of mountain and forest.The park was the brainchild of a Costa Rican student named Mario Boza. He visited Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1960s and was inspired to campaign for a park to protect Poás.