Museo Nacional de Costa Rica
Past Research

ImageCentral Caribbean Project 


Supported by the Aportes Award granted by Florida Bebidas Company, archaeologist Ricardo Vazquez from the National Museum , archaeologist Silvia Salgado and geographer Rafael Arce from the University of Costa Rica (UCR), lead the project “Monumental Pre-Hispanic sites and roads in the Central Caribbean in Costa Rica .”

Field trips were taken in the year 2004 and involved the recognition of sites, records of their location with GPS technology and plan drawing. There was an intention to analyze pictures taken from airplanes and satellites, but it was not possible to get any results. 

Sites were located by means of oral information and written reports. Systematic prospect was used only to assess the possibility of interconnection between archaeological roads. Although reports of some of the sites had been obtained in advance, most of them did not show precise location, size, characteristics, and relationship with paved roadways or calzadas , as they are called in Spanish. 

The project was focused on 13 sites where indigenous peoples built civil works of huge dimensions. The period between 1,500 and 500 years ago is of most interest to this study. Particular emphasis was placed on identifying and following paved roadways related to the sites. Constructions that have endured the passage of time is made with well-set river stone and artificial soil fillings. The best known monumental site displaying such edifications is the National Monument of Guayabo in Turrialba. 

All sites investigated show an outstanding presence of tombs and burial areas, objectives of tomb-robbers. This activity, along with intensive agriculture and mechanic land movements have resulted in the destruction of archaeological reservoirs in the Central Caribbean, which started about 120 years ago. 

The results of this project have increased the knowledge about the level of development of Amerindian peoples from the south of Central America. They have also allowed the National Museum to make the landowners aware of the findings and promote the conservation of these sites by means of current laws in force. 

Las Mercedes Project 

The National Museum archaeologist Ricardo Vazquez lead during May and June, 2005, the on-field stage of the project “Development and scope of cacique power: Las Mercedes site, Central Caribbean, Costa Rica,” with the extremely valuable support of a volunteer group from the University of Montreal (UM) headed by Dr. Claude Chapdelaine, Titular Professor of this academic institution in the province of Quebec, Canada. 

Las Mercedes site is located in Pocora, Guacimo, province of Limon. It was discovered thanks to the construction of the former railway in the late 1870s. Since that moment on, the overwhelming wealth of cultural material in the site became evident. Unfortunately, it was deteriorated over the years due to tomb-robbers, intensive agricultural activity and new constructions. The relevance of Las Mercedes site has been published in writings on archaeology nationally and internationally since the beginning of the XX century. However, the site was never before rendered the research effort it required, at least not until this project was started. 

Today, part of the site is enclosed in what is now the EARTH University. On the National Museum's request, the EARTH keeps reserved the central area of the site, which is the one with most engineering work and remains of large cemeteries, for investigation purposes only. This area shows the group of structures recorded in 1896 by Carl V. Hartman and formed by a high platform and large walls of round pebbles that reach up to 360 ft. long. 

The archaeological work focused chiefly in a 12-acre area of the central sector involving excavation and mapping labors. The stratigraphic sequence, construction method of two elevated platforms, the configuration of the cluster described by Hartman, and sketching of two main paved roadways were studied. From all the study area, a general plan was drawn and digital mapping of the most outstanding architectonic features was begun. It was also possible to dig a tomb with vessels from the Guanacaste-Nicoya area and ceramics of local manufacture. 

Stratigraphic excavations revealed remains of human activity dated 3,000 years ago, though it seemed more intense between 2,000 and 500 years ago. Regarding the construction of monumental work, the period between 1,500 and 500 years ago is the most interesting one. Nevertheless, the investigation is still at baby steps as to reach for conclusive interpretations. The results of carbon 14 tests performed during the recently finished project are expected to start a database that helps draw some conclusions about the site's chronology. 

It is very likely that the project will be extended during the forthcoming years as a consequence of an inter-institutional agreement between the National Museum and the UM. It would be possible, therefore, to widen the study area within the archaeological reserve. Management at the EARTH University has been interested in cooperating with this scientific study and launch a proposal to assess the findings in site concealing also restoration and museography elements.