On the research

Curated by Priscilla Molina, Archaeology Curator

July 2018

This exhibit stems from the analysis of the symbolic and representative patterns of the most outstanding ceramic, gold and stone objects in our archaeological collection. It includes objects used from 300 BC to 1550 AD in the three archaeological zones of interaction in our country (located in north, south, and central Costa Rica).

These objects —more than 50 of them— come from ritual contexts, which gave birth to a great number of symbols that served as a means of expression and communication.

Several archaeological theories that take into account interpretive and cognitive research will be used to carry out the iconographic and semiotic interpretation of these objects. These studies will allow a more concrete approach to the reasons and values of the pre-Columbian objects that complement our exhibit.

This exhibit goes beyond the mere description of its objects to see them as texts recounting the social organization, myths, beliefs, and everyday practices of our ancestors. The tour becomes an exercise in the archaeological profession as well, in that we study the artifacts in older to reach conclusions regarding their interpretation, even though they are not unique or absolute.

On the Exhibition

The exhibition is made up of seven sections. The first two introduce the public to the world of symbols and recall the human being’s unique ability to create and use its many languages —be it written, visual, or body language, among others— to interact in a collective cultural space or structure.

Each of these sections include educational spaces to bring the visitor in contact with key concepts, such as symbol, sign, myth, rite, for example, and aid the analysis of these objects.

A map of the archaeological regions of Costa Rica sets off the start of the third section, which focuses on the contexts where objects similar to those in the exhibit were found, and the links between these zones. This section also describes how these objects were crafted and used by complex societies with chieftain populations which can be distinguished according to time and space.

The differences and similarities among all three regions are also reflected in the design and symbology of each zone’s material heritage. For example, research points out that objects from the North Pacific after 700-800 AD show different symbology due to the first Mesoamerican group settlement in Costa Rica, which led to representations of Mayan deities, such as Tlaloc or Quetzalcoalt.

The subsequent sections that make up the main part of the exhibition show how mud and rock were used to make a wide variety of objects now recorded by archaeology according to their shape, raw material, date, context, and decorative or crafting features that have led to their interpretation on what they meant for pre-Hispanic populations.

A section dedicated to ceramic objects —used in rituals or to store foods— include ceramic censers, porringers, bowls, vessels, rattles, pots, and metates (mealing stones). These objects all have animal representations in common, which shows their significance as protectors and guides, among  other roles. Their geometric, wavy, linear, and criss-cross decorative patterns, among others, are also easy to recognize.

The section on stone objects is made up mostly of metates with animal representations, mortars, and trophy heads, the latter related to a beheading ritual used in war conflicts.

The tour ends with a recapitulation of the link between these objects and mythological and traditional aspects passed on to over time, as well as their importance within the ample, dynamic space of human interaction.