Pre-Columbian Costa Rica

The largest and most developed pre-Columbian population in Costa Rica was that of the Chorotegas, whose ancestors had migrated from Southern Mexico to the Nicoya Peninsula, probably in the 13th century. They were running away from enemies who wanted to enslave them. Their name translate as “fleeing people”.

Outstanding farmers, the Chorotegas managed three harvests of corn per year. They also grew cotton, beans, fruits, and cacao, which they introduced to Costa Rica and whose seeds they used as currency.

The Chorotegas lived in cities of as many as 20,000 people, which had central plazas with a marketplace and a religious center. Only women could enter the market.Women wore skirts, the lenght of which depended upon their social level. Men could go naked, but often wore a large cloth or a woven and dyed sleeveless cotton shirt.

Women worked in ceramics, producing vessels painted in black and red, decorated with plumed serpents (the symbol for unity of matter and spirit), jaguars, monkeys, and crocodiles. They carved stylized jade figures in human and animal shapes. The figures may have been used in fertility ceremonies or to bring good luck in the hunt. They wrote books on deersking parchment and used a ritual calendar.

Social prestige was gained by good warriors. Apparently, decapitaded heads of enemies were war trophies. Their stone figurines represent warriors with a knife in the one hand and a head in the other.

They workshipped the sun, the moon, and the bones of their ancestors and believe that all things had souls. During religious festivals there was a ritual inebriation with a fermented chicha made from yuca or pejibaye. The burial mounds of these people have yielded the greatest number of pre-Columbian artifacts in the country.