60 million years ago...
...the actual territory of Costa Rica did not even exist. It was during the 3rd Period when the ocean floor folded and pushed a mountain range above sea level. This mountain range set up a land bridge between two continental masses, and during a period of formidable volcanic activity, which is still perceivable, the Central American Isthmus was formed.
Between 12,000 and 8,000 years B.C.E...
...approximately, people began first appearing in this area, occupying areas in the tropical forest. The first inhabitants lived by hunting large animals, like the giant sloth, which are now extinct. It took over centuries of selection of plants and animals for the inhabitants to establish their diet. Over this time period they also perfected the use of specific tools. Slowly the inhabitants began to group together and stay in the same place.
Between 4,000 and 800 years B.C.E.
...the production of food began, mainly because the geographical location of the area lent itself to growing many diverse crops. In this region, there were harvests of corn, yucca, sweet potatoes, beans and other vegetables. This process allowed for growth in the population as well as changes in the necessary tools used to grind grain, explore the forest, and store food.
The development of agriculture led to the establishment of villages and social and political organization based on family groups. From this the cacicazgos (tribal units lead by the Cacique or Tribal Headman) began to trade with other groups from the South (Panama, Ecuador, Colombia) and the North (Mexico and other Mesoamerican people). Salt and cocoa became two of the few Costa Rica’s exports.
During the First Centuries of the Christian Era...
...the predominance of the southern cultures became more evident; so the influence of the Mayan cultures like the pieces of artisan Jade work was starting to be replaced by other metals, such as gold.
The people were organized in a political system of cacicazgos (tribal headman) and developed better agricultural tools: sowing, natural fertilizer, and irrigation. They added fishing, hunting, and recollecting items such as honey and salt and handmade goods.
These changes also influenced variations in the social order bringing about conflicts of status and rank that had not existed before.
Before the Arrival of the Spaniards..
...and unlike the civilizations to the north, the Yucatan, the highlands of Guatemala, and the gulf of Honduras, the territory of Costa Rica was home to a diverse population, politically divergent with a precarious technological and social development.
Some 400,000 people lived in Costa Rica at the start of the 16th century, mostly in the Central Valley and the North Pacific region.
“The universe constructed by the first people was a lush, tropical environment, characterized by dense tropical forests, plentiful rivers, bogs and reservoirs, thick, lush vegetation, blue mountains, and beautiful fauna, abundant and diverse” say the historians Iván Molina and Steven Palmer.
The village was the fundamental social nucleus, the core cell of daily activities which made up the cacicazgo. All power depended on the people and the extension of their will.
The Cultural Characteristics of the Villages...
...answer to a vision of power that is hereditary and passed through the mother, tying people to their ancestors; the power was translated through this lineage.
The differences in these different groups can be seen through their architecture, depending on which region they live in.
In the North Pacific, the people built rectangular ranches, while they were circular in the Central Valley. On the other hand, the whole Atlantic region like in the South Pacific region, the people lived in palenques (thatched-roofed, log houses), in which up to 400 people lived and which were protected by large fences.
And, as it is natural, there were many different languages.
The vision of the world held by those first people was decidedly animistic. That is to say, they held the belief that individual spirits reside in natural phenomena and objects.
The rites of the dead indicated these early cultures’ preoccupation with immortality. The funeral ceremonies included special treatment of the body, which was sometimes buried with treasured possessions and slaves (sometimes sacrificed), according to the social status, to help the person in the afterlife.
The shaman was the center of the religious life. He was the intermediary between the natural and supernatural world. The rites and ceremonies were held in temples, bigger that the regular houses, where they also kept the ritual objects such as masks, musical instruments and some icons like gold pieces.