On his final voyage to America, Columbus landed at what is now the city of Limon, Costa Rica. He was warmly greeted by Carib Indians richly adorned with what appeared to be gold and precious gems. Stories of these riches circulated wildly, and prompted explorers and adventurers to name the territory Costa Rica, or golden coast.
There is archeological evidence that wonderfully sophisticated gold and jade work were crafted in the southwest area of the country more than 1,000 years ago, but despite its name, Costa Rica was one of the poorest and least influential of the Spanish colonies. Life was hard, and there were few valuables or easily exploited resources, compared to more popular settlements in Mexico and Peru, where vast amounts of silver and gold had been discovered.
Visits to some of the 2,000 identified archeological sites within the country reveal evidence of earlier civilizations that were well developed and prosperous.
The pretty little town of Turrialba, 33 miles east of San Jose, is best known as the starting point of exciting white water rafting trips, but just 12 miles northeast, lies Guayabo National Monument. This is Costa Rica's only pre-Columbian site that is excavated and opens to the public. Between 100B.C. and A.D.1400, the population might have been as many as 10,000 persons, but for some unknown reason, they abandoned the city shortly before the Spanish arrived. Excavated ruins consist of paved roads, working aqueducts, stone bridges, and house and temple foundations.
In the pre-Columbian rooms of the National Museum in San Jose, is 2,500-year-old jade with sensitive and sophisticated carvings, ornately decorated grinding stones, a collection of gold jewelry and figurines, all indicative of a highly developed and refined civilization. In the courtyard are examples of the mysterious bolas, stone spheres that remain unexplained, but are found throughout the countryside.