History and Evolution of farming in Pre-Columbian Costa Rica

History of Pre-Columbian Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country in Central America, bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, Nicaragua to the north, Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island, and the Pacific Ocean to the southwest.


Archaeological data confirms the arrival of the first humans to Costa Rica to between 7000 and 10,000 BC. By 2000 BCE, settled farming villages were abundant. Between 300 BCE and AD CE, many communities went from a tribal, clan-centric system – kinship-based, rarely hierarchical, and reliant on self-sustenance – to a hierarchical one, with chiefs, religious shamans or leaders, artisan professionals and so on. This social organization rose from the need to establish production and trade, manage relationships with other towns, and plan aggressive and defensive activities. These groups built broader territorial divisions to produce more food and control more extensive sources of raw materials.

First settlers

The appearance of humans in the Americas was a much later event than on other continents. The mass of ice over the continents during the last Ice Age caused the oceans to drop by about 120 meters (400 feet), leaving groups of hunters from northeast Asia to move eastward in hunt of vast herds of animals. They moved to North America and lived there in several waves. Throughout several millennia and successive generations, the descendants of these hunters settled throughout the Americas and their adjoining islands.

Mesolithic Period

Around 8000 BCE changes in the climate brought about the end of the last Ice Age. The rise in temperature caused extraordinary changes in vegetation and saw the extermination of the mega-fauna, through either the death of the plants they consumed, extreme predation by hunters, or both. The hunter-gatherers had to improve strategies to adapt to new conditions, and they proceeded by hunting smaller species such as deer, tapirs, and collared peccary. Moreover, the unique resources of tropical vegetation helped them survive through all times of the year.

Neolithic Period

By 5000 BCE, it became customary to farm tubers and corn, as well as plant fruit and palm trees. Agriculture developed slowly, stemming from the knowledge of the seasonal cycles of nature and the increasing domestication of familiar plants. This expansion occurred over thousands of years and synchronized with traditional hunting and gathering, but it afforded distinct stability. 

Between 2000 BCE and 300 BCE, some early farmers’ communities became egalitarian (social equality) societies. The expansion of agriculture indicated changes in the bond between humans and nature and allowed them to feed many more people. Moreover, the ever-growing dependency on agriculture compelled human groups to establish robust settlements around agricultural fields. This led to well-built villages of huts that had to be built in clear areas of the forest. The farm system most likely applied was slash-and-burn: The wood would be cut with stone axes, and spades then burned to prepare it for sowing crops. Agricultural practices included vegeculture, semi culture, or a combination of both.

Vegeculture (cultivation of plants on stakes) came about by farming tubers (yams, yucas, sweet potatoes) and various palms and trees (avocados, nances) in order with fishing and hunting. This activity was reasonably stable since it required few nutrients from the soil, rarely caused erosion, and could be grown in hilly areas. By such means, communities based on vegeculture would change very slowly.

Opposite to vegeculture, semi culture (cultivation of plants from seeds) had a more significant effect on the environment. It required more nutrients from the soil and caused more considerable erosion. In return, this system had a unique advantage: it made food easier to store to make it accessible all year, not just around yield time. This led to larger societies where gatherings would be expanded. The primary semi cultural action was corn production, as well as associated plants such as beans.

Throughout 2000 BCE, non-nomadic agricultural communities used ceramic utensils and bowls, and tools made from bone, wood, and stone for farming tasks and preparation of food. The oldest of these agricultural village communities (2000–500 BCE) was found in Guanacaste. 

Was it worth reading? Let us know.