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Paths to Central American

Frederick W. Lange, Editor


1996 by the University Press of Colorado

Published by the University Press of Colorado
P.O. Box 849
Niwot, Colorado 80544
Tel.: (303) 530-5337

For all the pioneers of Central American archaeology

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America,

The University Press of Colorado is a cooperative publishing enterprise supported,

in part, by Adams State College, Colorado State University, Fort Lewis College,
Mesa State College, Metropolitan State College of Denver, University of Colorado,
University of Northern Colorado, University of Southern Colorado, and Western State
College of Colorado.

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American
National Standard for Information Sciences-Pennanence of Paper for Printed Library
ANSI Z39,48-1984

Library of Congress



Paths to Central American prehistory / Frederick W. Lange, editor.



Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-87081-402-8 (clothbound: alk. paper)
1. Indians of Central America-Antiquities. 2. Indians of Central America-History.
3. Central America-Antiquities. I. Lange, Frederick W., 1944F1434.P37 1996



Introduction, Frederick W. Lange
I. The Saga of an Archaeologist: A Brief Glimpse Into the Life of
Wolfgang Haberland, Doris Z. Stone
2. Settlement, Subsistence, and the Origins of Social Complexity in
Greater Chiriqui: A Reappraisal of the Aguas Buenas Tradition,
John W. Hoopes
3. Stone Tools and Cultural Boundaries in Prehistoric Panama:
An Initial Assessment, Anthony J. Ranere and Richard G. Cooke
4. A Ceramic Sequence for the Lower Diquis Area, Costa Rica
Claude F. Baude;:.. Nathalie Borgnino,
Sophie Laligant, and Valerie Lauthelin
5. The Archaeology of the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica
Francisco Corrales Ulloa and 1figenia Quintanilla Jimenez
6. The Bay of Salinas: Coastal Crossroads of Greater Nicoya
Frederick W. Lange
7. Luna Polychrome, Norma E. Knowlton
8. Preliminary Research in Chontales and the Lake Managua Basin,
Nicaragua, Dominique Rigat and Rajael Gonzalez Rivas
9. The Ayala Site: A Bagaces Period Site Near Granada, Nicaragua,
Silvia Salgado Gonzalez
10. The Nicoya Shaman, Jane Stevenson Day and Alice Chiles Tillett
II. Merchants and Metalwork in Middle America, Mark Miller Graham
12. Prehistoric Coastal Subsistence in Northwestern Costa Rica:
Geographical Diversity and Chronological Trends, Lynette Norr
13. Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in the Northern Intermediate Area:
Elemental Analysis of Artifacts From Honduras and Nicaragua,
Paul F. Healy, Frank Asaro, Fred Stross, and Helen Michel
14. EI Salvador and the Southeastern Frontier of Mesoamerica,
Karen Olsen Bruhns
IS. Lower Central American Archaeology: Some Comments as of 1991,
Gordon R. Willey
16. Gaps in Our Databases'and Blanks in Our Syntheses: The Potential
for Central American Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century,
Frederick W. Lange








Figures ix

Chapter 1
In the field, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
Horseback survey, Ometepe Island, Nicaragua
Haberland's research locations mentioned in this volume
Tala Trichrome: Tala variety incensario
Chapter 2
Aguas Buenas ceramics
Map of Greater Chiriqui, indicating sites mentioned in the text
Pedestal-based stone statue from the Barriles site, Panama
Stone sphere at Palmar Sur, Costa Rica
Artist's reconstruction of an Aguas Buenas ceramic assemblage
Radiocarbon dates associated with Aguas Buenas and related
Chronological sequences in Greater Chiriqui
Distribution of Aguas Buenas settlements in the Torraba-Coto
Brus Valley and neighboring regions
Human imagery in Aguas Buenas vessel supports from
Costa Purruja on Golfito Bay, Costa Rica
Chapter 3
Map of Panama, showing the locations of sites mentioned in
the text
Paleoindian fluted points recovered from Madden (Alejuela)
Lake, Panama
Paleoindian artifacts from La Mula-West
Early Preceramic stemmed and notched points from Central
Early Preceramic stemmed and notched points from La Florencia,
Turrialba Valley, Costa Rica
Late Preceramic tabular wedges or chisels from the Rio Chiriqui
shelters, Boquete phase
Late Preceramic bifacial splitting wedges from the Rio Chiriqui
shelters, Talamanca phase
Unifacial stemmed points from third millennium B.P. contexts in
Central Panama.
Trifacially flaked points from early first millennium B.P. contexts
in central and western Panama

Chapter 4
The Diquis Delta
The Greater Chiriqui
Partition of the surveyed area
Ceramics of the Camibar complex






Ceramics of the Sierpe complex

Ceramics of the Palmar complex
Chronological sequences of Greater Chiriqui

Chapter 5
Archaeological regions of Costa Rica
Comparative chronological sequences, Central Pacific and
Greater Nicoya
Central Pacific region of Costa Rica: generaL distribution
of archaeological sites
View of the Central Pacific from Las Mesas toward the
Tivives mangrove
General view of the excavations at the La Malia site,
Ti vi yes mangrove
Structure made from shells, potsherds, and clay, La Malia
site, Tivives mangrove
Poze Azul archaeological site: locations of mounds,


foundations, and cemetery areas

Mound with walls of river cobbles, Poze Azul site
Carara archaeological site: plan of rectangular foundation
Rectangular foundation, Carara site, lower Tarcoles River basin
Central Pacific region of Costa Rica: sites with Greater
Nicoya ceramics

Chapter 6
Map of geographical locations and sites discussed in
this chapter
Chronological chart
Preceramic (?) tools from the Bay of Salinas area
Bay of Salinas site map
Bagaces period ceramics
Sapoa period ceramics
Las Marias midden map
Detail of Las Marias excavation, with multiple burial
Groundstone celts, Las Marias
6.10. Ometepe period ceramics
6.11. Vallejo Polychrome, Luna Polychrome, Murillo Applique

Chapter 7
Structure of the design field in Luna Polychrome
Map of the Greater Nicoya subarea, indicating sites where
Luna Ware, Luna Polychrome, or Lunoid Polychrome has
been reported
Map of Ometepe Island, showing locations of Late Polychrome
period sites
7 A.
Artifacts recovered by Bovallius from a mound on Ometepe
Island in 1883











x Figures


Proposed sources of derivation of the Earth Monster motif

of Luna Polychrome
Elements of the three Alligator motifs in Luna Polychrome
The three principal criteria for identifying Luna Polychrome
in combination with major motifs.
Bowls of Luna Polychrome: Luna variety
Vessel forms in Luna Polychrome
Modeled faces in relation to main bands on Luna Polychrome
Monkey motifs
Types of Modeled faces in Luna Polychrome
Vessels of Luna Polychrome: Abstract variety and
comparison with Banda Polychrome
Vessels of Luna Polychrome: Negative Red variety
Vessels of Luna Polychrome: Moyogalpa variety
Tripod dishes of Luna Polychrome: Alta Gracia variety
Vessels of EI Menco Polychrome: exterior and interior

Chapter 8
Location of Chontales and Lake Managua basin projects
Population distribution in the Lake Managua basin at the time
of the Spanish Conquest
Toponymy of the Lake Managua basin at the time of the
Spanish Conquest
Survey zones in the Lake Managua basin
Distribution of sites in the northern part of the Lake
Managua basin
Tamarindo site, Test #2, and burial urns excavated in Test #2
Rio Viejo, north side of EI Moucan site
Artificial mound, EI Moudn site
Ceramics recovered from the EI Moudn site
8.10. Distribution of sites in the southern part of the Lake
Managua basin
Chapter 9
Location of the Ayala site, Nicaragua
Ayala site, excavation profile, Test pit II
Polychromes of probable Honduran origin
Obsidian artifacts
Ceramics related to the Usulutan-technique group
Chavez White-on-Red: Astorga Cream variety
Rosalita Polychrome
Belo Polychrome
Belo Polychrome
9.10. Momta Polychrome
9.11. Momta Polychrome

Figures xi






Chapter 10
10.1. Map of Greater Nicoya area
10.2. Female shaman seated on Stool
10.3. Standing female shaman
10.4. Female figurine: Half woman, half jaguar
10.5. Howler monkey effigy vessel
10.6. Domed incense-burner with seated bat
10.7. Rosales zoned engraved plate with dancing shaman
10.8. Jadite ax-god bat pendant
10.9. Ceramic bowl with bat effigy
10.10. Ceramic snuffing instrument
10.11. Bone-sucking tubes
Chapter 11
11.1. Map of Middle America
11.2. Mesita A, East Barrow, San Agustin, Colombia
11.3. Chiriqui phase "Armadillo Ware" jars, with appliqued
frogs with flattened hindfeet in MacCurdy's "metallic type"
11.4. Figure with mask and staff, from Ullumbe site, San Agustin,
11.5. Figure with mask, staff, and fan and cast-gold pin or lime
spatula, Calima style, Colombia
11.6. Merchant party, Chama-style vase, Ratinlixul, Chixoy Valley,
11.7. So-called master and slave figure, from Barriles, Chiriqui,
11.8. Fragmentary figure with conical plaited hat in the style of
Barriles, from theSacred Cenote, Chichen Itza, Yucatan
11.9. Support figure of the largest preserved metate from Barriles,
with overlapping feline incisors, Museo del Hombre Panameno,







Borgona Striated
Agurcia Polychrome
Ayala Plain: Ayala unslipped variety
Ayala Plain: Ayala slipped variety

11.10. Merchant party, Chama-style vase, Chixoy Valley, Guatemala

11.11. Cast-gold twin figure pendant oflong-nosed figures with
fanlike paddles or staffs and "danglers"

Chapter 12
12.1. Map of northwestern Costa Rica, with archaeological sites
12.2. The stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of food



resources in lower Central America


Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of human bone

collagen from modern and archaeological populations with
isotopically distinct dietary patterns


xii Figures


Human bone collagen stable isotope values from archaeological

individuals from the Santa Barbara region of California
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition of human
bone collagen from five archaeological sites along the coast
of northwestern Costa Rica
Stable carbon and nitrogen isotope values of the edible portions
of plants and animals from lower Central America compared to
those of the prehistoric human diet in northwestern Costa Rlca

Chapter 13
13.1. Map of the northern Intermediate Area, detailing the location of
archaeological sites and obsidian sources noted in text
Chapter 14
14.1. Sites and geographical features mentioned in chapter
Chapter 16
16.1. Archaeologically known, lesser known, and unknown areas of
Central America






Chapter 3
Periods of occupation and radiocarbon dates for Panama sites
dating from Periods I through IlIa
Index of "thinness" for complete flakes from some central
Panama sites
Distribution of selected lithic attributes in Cueva de los Ladrones
Chapter 5
Central Pacific archaeological sites
Greater Nicoya ceramics in central Pacific sites
Chapter 6
Bay of Salinas and SapOli River sites

Chapter 7
Definition of decorative zone codes
Location of sites on Ometepe Island yielding identified
specimens of Luna Polychrome
Form frequencies for Luna Polychrome varieties
Chapter 9
Comparison of Ayala site sequence and other Greater Nicoya
chronological sequences
Ayala site, distribution of ceramic typcs and varicties
Bagaces period radiocarbon dates
Chapter 12
12.1. Human bone collagen stable isotope results from
archaeological sites in northwestern Costa Rica
Chapter 13
13.1. Sample Concordance
13.2. (a) Elemental abundances or abundance ratios by x-ray
fluoresence analysis of 4 obsidian artifacts assigned to the
Ixtepeque source, (b) Elemental abundances or abundance
ratios by XRF of 4 obsidian artifacts assigned to the La Esperanza
source, (c) Elemental abundances or abundance ratios by XRF of
2 obsidian artifacts assigned to the GUinope source
13.3. Element abundances from neutron activation analysis of selected
Nicaraguan and Honduran prismatic blades
13.4. Pattern of prismatic blade abundance








Forword xv

This volume accords to Wolfgang Haberland some well-deserved recognition and represents the esteem and respect he has engendered among his
peers, colleagues, and fellow scholars from Central America, Europe, and
North America. Since the 1950s his contributions to our understanding of
the prehistory of Central America have been marked by serious thinking and
resolute confidence in the efficacy of archaeological fieldwork. Recognition
of this legacy and commitment matters. Through the reconsideration of Haberland's individual scholarly contributions, we ultimately examine our collecti ve intellectual history. This takes nothing away from the honor
bestowed on Wolfgang Haberland. In fact, it puts him precisely at the center
of our reflections.
At the same time it behooves us to note that the singular recognition this
publication embodies is not idiosyncratic; that is, it does not represent an
isolated or completely unique process. Our homage to Haberland implicitly
acknowledges the long and brilliant record of German scholarship dedicated
to the prehistory of the Western Hemisphere.
Thirteen of the sixteen chapters in this volume evolve more or less
directly form the research and publications of Haberland. As a result, a number of the authors focus on the refinement or revision of cultural boundaries
and local, regional, or areal chronologies. As Gordon R. Willey points out in
his commentary herein, such time-consuming intellectual endeavors are a
fundamental requirement for unraveling the prehistory of Central America.
What is particularly satisfying to me in these chapters is the ongoing integration of sequences illuminating material remains (e.g., lithics and human
bone) other than ceramics. Of course, the latter are and will continue to command a central analytical position in delineating culture histories. In addition, a diverse range of the writings presented here derive from Haberland's
pursuit of the "real-life" meaning of the material culture he assiduously
unearthed. Particular attention to interpretations of select aspects of ideology, ritual, economy, and agriCUltural techniques are of specific interest.
The other three chapters have different motivations. Doris Z. Stone's biographical essay provides the warmth of human detail and the wisdom of perspective, creating focus insights on both Haberland's personality and his
intellect. As noted, Willey contributed a constructive review and commentary about the analytical chapters in this volume was well as an engaging
order of research directions to tempt Central American prehistorians. The
volume concludes with an energetic invitation by Frederick W. Lange, the
editor, to "interpret the social dynamics of the prehistoric societies we are
dealing with" and a review of the lacunae to be filled as we progress on this
and related agendas.

I do not intend this foreword to serve as a review of the contents; rather it

is a preliminary means to frame some brief observations. As an art historian,
composing a foreword for a collection of chapters almost all of which are
authored by archaeologists is an intimidating but tempting undertaking-an
occasion to toss another discipline's paradigms and methodologies into the
Although I may not share some of the technical expertise or laboratory
finesse demonstrated by my colleagues in archaeology, I do share many of
their concerns about the character of our research designs and the content of
our explanations of Central American prehistory. I see, therefore, the heart
of this volume dwelling in the continued and growing aCknowledgement,
regardless of discipline, that the state level of organization and all of its economic, artistic, social, and other organizational complexity is not the necessary end productof human evolution; moreover its absence within a large
and discrete region is not equivalent to that region being relegated to secondary interest among contemporary scholars of prehistory.
It is precisely the thousands of years of adaptive elasticity of indigenous
Central American peoples and their proficiency in maintaining prior to the
Spanish Conquest, less centralized and less complex social systems than
their neighbors of the Mesoamerican north or the Andean south that warrants
continued and increased scholarly attention. The explanation of this phenomenon and its variation in Central America can made substantial headway
in., among other things, countering the mythic directionality of the evolution
of human social organization.
This tribute to Wolfgang Haberland continues the publication of specific
research related to these issues. Importantly, the authors do not seek an isolationalist perspective on Central American prehistory. They readily recognize
that "neighbors" tens, hundreds, or thousands of kilometers away may have
had a demonstrable impact on the form or content of adaptations in this area.
In a corresponding manner, the impact may well have been in the other
direction (see especially Mark Miller Graham's chapter). These are "facts"
about the past that need to be verified or dispelled; they are not wholesale
evaluations abut the evolutionary or adaptive success of any particular
human organization.
It is, indeed, a personal honor to be in some small way associated with a
scholarly tribute to the eminent archaeologist Wolfgang Haberland. His publications and field projects have already found their deservedly high place in
the history of Central American archaeology. Equally important, his congeniality toward his colleagues and his personal commitment to the discipline
stand as examples for us.
Peter S. Briggs
University of Arizona Museum of Art

Preface xvii

The symposium "Weit ist der Weg: Paths Through Central American Prehistory," which I organized with Doris Z. Stone, was held on Monday, 8 July
1991, at the 47th International Congress of Americanists, in New Orleans,
Louisiana. What the participants knew, but what out of necessity was a
secret beyond that circle, was that this symposium was in honor of Dr. Wolfgang Haberland, a friend and pioneer in Central Ameri.can r~sea~ch.
Wei! is! der Weg was the name of a popular mUSIcal film In Germany
when I lived there in 1959 as a high school student. The term, in German,
refers to a long path, with the implication that it is arduous. In the original
context, it referred to the construction of the Brazilian capital at Brasilia and
the major task of building the road to the interior.
It seemed suitable for the symposium title as well, partially to hide its
honorary focus, but also to emphasize the great efforts that Haberland and
others have made in pioneering research in Central America. Wolfgang was
a student of Franz Termer. He first went to Central America in September
1953, when the world was still reorganizing itself after the years of World
War II. In a recorded interview, which his daughter Susann recently very
kindly made for me, Wolfgang recounted the years spent traveling the isthmus by bus, plane, horse, and leaky boats, dodging revolutions and establishing basic chronologies and conceptual schema as he went:
I got more or less an overview of the situation in EI Salvador, which is
very complicated. You see there was an idea that the whole republic of EI
Salvador was part of Mesoamerica as established by Paul Kirchhoff about
ten years earlier. His frontier went down including large parts of Nicaragua and also some parts of Costa Rica, what we today call Greater Nicoya.
Well, what I found was that there is, or was, a very sharp frontier in
archaeological material different between western and eastern EI Salvador. Western EI Salvador is pure Mesoamerica, while the eastern part is
something else~ it isn't Greater Nicoya but it isn't Mesoamerica either.
They have their own development, some influences going to and fro certainly, but the ceramics change rather abruptly. The Mesoamerican polychromes cease to be east of the Ri6 Jivoa, which is the last river before the

For many of us still working in the region, this statement embodies many
of the same territorial and periphery issues we are still wrestling with.
As with many other early researchers, Wolfgang's foundations are still
intact-we have built upon them and expanded them but still rest on them.
I am extremely impressed by the breadth and quality of the writings in this
volume. Some are highly sophisticated instrumental analyses, others are

re-examinations of established concepts such as shamanism, and others are

filling in many gaps that still exist in our basic chronological ~nd settlement pattern knowledge of the region. Reflecting the current mterest m
Central America, I was particularly glad that participants came from North
America, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Europe.
Karen Olsen Bruhns, Paul F. Healy, Anthony J. Ranere, and RIchard G.
Cooke did not actually present papers at the symposium but nonetheless
have joined in sharing the fruits of their intellectual labors in this vol~?Je,
rounding out both geographical coverage and thematic analYSIS of cntical
contemporary issues in Central American research. On the ~ther hand, the
press of other obligations unfortunately kept Peter B~ggs (UniVersIty of Anzona) from revising his paper for publication, and Illness prevented Done
Reents-Budet (Duke University) and Virginia Fields (Los Angeles County
Museum of Art) from revising theirs. For the timebeing, I briefly summarize
them here:
Peter Briggs gave a paper entitled "Observations on Occupational Specialization and Mortuary Treatment in Lower Central America," in which he
focused on the problems of "identifying and interpreting the occupational
specializations of individuals found in mortuary contexts In archaeologIcal
sites." He observed that though the presence of certain classes of artifacts
(especially gold, shell pendants, and hard stone figurines) have often been
used to identify high status, very few studIes actually analyze the relatIOnship between grave goods and the occupation or role of the deceased. He
suggested that the grave goods represent not only occupation but also politIcal and social roles and that degrees of specialization also are related to levels of cultural complexity. The paper by Dorie Reents-Budet and Virginia
Fields was entitled "Early Classic Maya Jades From Costa Rica: New Interpretations" and focused on the interpretation of Maya glyphs carved on jade
belt celts that have reportedly been found in Costa Rica. This paper was an
update on earlier research on the same topic, concentr~ting on the question
of why precolumbian Costa Ricans focused on the acqUiSItIOn of Mesoamerican jade artifacts. Reents-Budet and Fields asked, "Why were they mterested in Mesoamerican jades when clearly the Costa Ricans were master
jade workers in their own right and may have had fine local sources for raw
jade, and why were the Early Classic Maya jade plaques the jewel' of
choice?" They suggest that the main purpose of the Maya Jades In Costa
Rica was to enhance the prestige of local rulers.
These are both stimulating topics, and I hope that at some time in the future,
these significant works may also be published. For the moment, the broad
range of ages and nationalities of the symposium participants highlights the
growing importance of research on the prehistory of Central America.
Frederick W. Lange

Doris Stone and I had three goals in organizing a symposium for the 47th
International Congress of Americanists in New Orleans in 1991, for which
the majority of the chapters in this volume were originally written: (1) to
honor the pioneering Central American research by Dr. Wolfgang Haberland, (2) to provide a current overview of research themes in the area, and
(3) to provide a forum where younger professionals working in the area
could present their data to an international audience.
Many individuals and institutions combined to make the realization of
these goals possible. The success of the latter goal is perhaps best exemplified by plans by Hoopes, Corrales, and the French team to hold a Greater
Chiriqui ceramic conference in Costa Rica in the near future and the offer by
E. Wyllys Andrews, director of the Middle American Research Institute
(MARl) at Tulane University, to provide the Nicaraguan National Museum
with a complete set of MARl publications. The French Archaeological Mission in Nicaragua provided the airfare for Lic. Rafael Gonzalez of the Museo
Nacional de Nicaragua to participate and also made it possible for Dominique Rigat to participate. Lic. Gonzalez's living expenses in New Orleans, as
well as those of Lic. Francisco Corrales of the National Museum of Costa
Rica, were covered by the Center for Latin American Art and Archaeology
of the Denver Art Museum. Lic. Corrales had just completed a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship in Museum Administration and attended the congress en
route bad to Costa Rica.
All of us were delighted that Gordon Willey and Doris Stone agreed to
serve as discussants for this session. We were honored to have them with us
for the entire day-long session, and I am grateful to them both for their
insightful comments, and their contributions to this volume.
All of the participants and contributors were saddened by the great loss of
our friend and colleague Doris Z. Stone on 21 October 1994 in New Orleans,


Paths to Central American Prehistory

Weit ist der Weg: Central American Archaeology on the
Eve of the Twenty-First Century

The study of Central American prehistory has followed the historical trajectory outlined by Willey and Sabloff (1980:VIl-IX) for American archaeology
in general: from the Speculative Period (1492-1840) through the Explanatory Period (the 1960s to the present in various substages). It was during the
latter half of the Classificatory-Historical Period (1940-1960) and the beginnings of the Explanatory Period that Wolfgang Haberland made his primary
contributions to Central American archaeology.
His professional growth, parallel to broader developments in the profession at large, is seen in comparing his publications on space-time, such as
those for Costa Rica (1955), EI Salvador (1960a), and Nicaragua (1966),
with his other articles focused on behavior and interpretation, such as those
on shaman graves in Nicaragua (196Id), the significance of the distribution
of "Black-on-Red Painted Ware and Associated Features in Intermediate
Area" (1957a), the interrelationship of different early ceramic phases in Central America (1969), and a regional synthesis of Greater Chiriqui (1984a).
As Doris Stone points out (Chapter I, this volume), it is even more admirable that as curator of the Hamburg Museum fur Voelkerkunde und Vorgeschichte, he pursued these interests as part of professional demands that
included a much wider range of world archaeology and ethnology.
The number of scholars involved in Central American archaeology has
grown dramatically since Haberland first went to EI Salvador in 1953. One
measure of this increase is seen in a recent review of the bibliographic status
of Central American archaeology: Lange and Lange (n.d.:8) note that
"approximately 75% of the available printed resources have appeared since
[1967]." Except for Doris Stone and Gordon Willey, Haberland is alone in
spanning the period from 1955 to 1992 in publications pertinent to the
Willey, who was a discussant at the New Orleans symposium and is a contributor to this volume, also had an early and significant impact on Central
American studies as part of a distinguished career in American archaeology.
Many of his New World syntheses (Willey 1955a, 1955b, 1958, 1959b,
1960, 1962, 1969, 1982) have continued to highlight the significance that
additional data from this region should have in our understanding of the
development of Western Hemisphere civilizations.


n reading the various profiles in Willey's Portraits in American Archaeol(1988), I was intrigued by his frequent references to roads not taken,
!cially with regard to his shift, at Alfred M. Tozzer's insistence (Willey
8:288), from Central America to the Maya area. Willey perhaps
resses this shift in professional trajectory most succinctly in the followpassage (1988:288):
Pursuant to my "Lower Central American plan", that I had outlined to him
fTozzer] back in 1949, I began to tell him about my next projected trip to

Panama. This time I would edge a bit north in that country, all the while
keeping in mind my eventual arrival at the Maya frontier. I noticed Tozzer's
face turning very red-or perhaps magenta would be a more accurate
description-as I detailed my long-term research strategies. Then he blew
up. "Gordon," he exclaimed, "you just can't do that! It defeats entirely the
purpose of Mr. Bowditch's intentions and his will! You just can't continue
to fool around in Panama with things like this shell mound culture of yours
and neglect the Maya!"

Willey (1988:289) continues:

This was the only real "fight" we ever had. and I am glad to say that he
"won it". A career in digging in Lower Central America would have been
an honorable and useful way to contribute to New World culture history,
but I am glad I switched to the Maya. Certainly, if I had continued with my
original plan, I think retirement would have overtaken me about halfway
through Costa Rica, on my mole-like progress toward the Maya frontier.

Regardless of these sentiments and because of both the great intellectual

!rgy and insights he brought to Maya studies and the relatively few per1S who have worked in Central America through the years, it has been tanizing to consider what might have happened had all of those resources
en focused on Central America rather than the Maya realm.
I was pleased that Professor Willey responded positively to my request to
;cuss, at least briefly, the "what if" question he himself often has hinted at.
l responds (Chapter 15, this volume) that "if! had stayed with Lower CenJ America in 1952, would I have continued with potsherd time-space sysnatics as the raison d'etre of my archaeological existence? One can only
.ess about matters like this in one's own life, but it would be my retrospece guess that my field of vision might very well have remained so limited."
This approach could be compared to the current call for a "back to basics"
nphasis in education circles. When the effects of the inability to write intel~ibly, to carry out even basic mathematical calculations, or to locate Egypt
I a map of the world are compared with the extensive flights into archaeogical interpretation and modeling that have sometimes occurred in the
Isence of adequate (or any) archaeological data, Willey's words have an
lually urgent ring of credibility. We cannot answer "how" unless we control
e basic data for "when" and "where."

Introduction 3

Nonetheless, developing narrow space-time systematics for individual

valleys, basins, or bays holds the same risk as illuminating an urban parking
lot m an otherWIse dark block: we can light up isolated zones, but in doing so
we also deepen the gloom in adjacent, unlit areas. We are comfortable with
what we see on the parking lot, but we are perhaps less knowledgeable than
we should be of what may be beyond the shadows and less inclined to
explore those areas.
. Using what I hope is not too tortured an analogy, we can compare the
hghtmg of the parking lot to the gradual illumination of some parts of the
Central American isthmus and the relative darkening of others. As Central
American archaeology evolved, initially there was a great deal of emphasis
on developmg baSIC time-space sequences, here seen as individual beams of
light illuminating a number of geographically limited areas (Baudez and Coe
1962; Norweb 1964; Baudez 1967; Linares de Sapir 1968b; Lange 1971b;
Sweeney 1976; Magnus 1974; Accola 1978a; Snarskis 1978; Hoopes 1984).
We made slgmficant progress in building local and regional sequences
(for example, compare Willey 1958:107, fig. 9.4, and Lange and Norr, eds.,
1986:fig. 2). These sequences became our well-lit parking lots. From these
w~ expanded into our local emphases on various regional projects in Costa
Rtca (for the Bay of Culebra, Lange and Abel-Vidor 1980; for Arenal,
Sheet~, ed., 1984; and in Nicaragua and the Lake Managua basin, Rigat and
Gonzalez, Chapter 8, thIS volume), m many cases losing sight of the surroundmg areas.
The ~hapters in this volume represent a balance between the filling in of
space-tJmegaps and the development of syntheses based on the integration of
already developed databases. This volume also utilizes a new nomenclature
for the major cultural periods of Greater Nicoya. The earlier regional period
names (Zoned Blchrome, Early Polychrome, Middle Polychrome, and Late
Polychrome) were based on major changes in ceramic styles and decorative
techmques. At the National Science Foundation-sponsored Cuajiniquil conference III May 1993, the participants decided to substitute a more culturally
"neutral" regional nomenclature, and I have employed the new system in the
volume where it was possible to do so.


Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in the
Northern Intermediate Area: Elemental
Analysis of Artifacts From Honduras
and Nicaragua

The northern part of the Intermediate Area (central Honduras

through northern Costa Rica) is terra incognita in lithic sourcing .... As more [obsidian] sources are analyzed and as more
artifacts can be attributed to sources in this southern Mesoamerica-Northern Intermediate Area zone, the outlines of prehistoric
trade, ethnic interaction, and resource exploitation should be
better understood.
- Sheets et ai. 1990: I 57
Obsidian artifacts from the northern half of the Intermediate Area have
rarely been chemically analyzed, and detailed geological characterization for
sources in the area remains extremely limited. In this chapter, obsidian artifacts derived from four sites located in two separate regions, northeast Honduras and southwest Nicaragua, are analyzed and identified to source.
Detailed elemental results are described, and these indicate that two recently
identified obsidian sources in Honduras (La Esperanza and Giiinope), as
well as a third source (Ixtepeque) in Guatemala, located hundreds of kilometers from the archaeological sites of recovery, were being utilized by Intermediate Area natives for the acquisition of stone-cutting materials. Finally, a
discussion of the role of obsidian trade and possible exchange mechanisms is
Obsidian is a volcanic glass that was a preferred and highly desired raw
material among many ancient stone-tool-using cultures of both the Old and
New Worlds (Torrence 1986). In the Americas, where metallurgy was a
rather late development in the prehistoric era and never widely employed for
tools, obsidian served as a precolumbian substitute for "steel" because of
its superb fracturing qualities and extremely sharp cutting edges. In the


272 Healy, Asaro, Stross, and Michel

Mesoamerican culture area (central and southern Mexico, Guatemala, and

Belize) where obsidian use was widespread, even the sixteenth-century
Spanish conquistadors, equipped with an array of steel implements, were
greatly impressed with the utility of the glasslike stone.
Over the past thirty years, geologists, chemists, nuclear physicists, and
archaeologists have worked together to identify major sources of obsidian
around the world, analyzing specimens from these localities for their distinctive chemical "fingerprint." Obsidian artifacts from many archaeological
sites, representing different cultures and time periods, have now been traced
to particular natural sources, providing researchers with important information on ancient obsidian exploitation patterns and trade networks (Cann and
Renfrew 1964; Heizer, Williams, and Graham 1965; Renfrew, Dixon, and
Cann 1966; Taylor 1977; Weaver and Stross 1965).
In Mesoamerica, there has been considerable progress in identifying natural obsidian sources and tracing artifacts to these outcrops and quarries
(Asaro, Michel, and Stross 1978; Graham, Hester, and Jack 1972; Hester,
ed., 1978; Jack and Heizer 1968). As the obsidian database has expanded,
particularly in the Maya subarea, researchers have begun to produce increasingly sophisticated (and sometimes competing) models of prehistoric
exchange and economic interaction (Hammond 1972; Healy, McKillop, and
Walsh 1984; McKillop and Healy, eds., 1989; Nelson 1985; Rice et al. 1985;
Zeitlin 1982),
Farther south, however, in the adjoining Intermediate Area (see Willey
1959b, 1971:254-359), from Honduras to Ecuador, where archaeological
research has been more limited, there have been few trace element analyses
of this nature, even though obsidian artifacts are known to occur in the
archaeological contexts (particularly in the northern and southern extremities of the area). The absence of an obsidian database from the Intermediate
culture area, comparable to that of Mesoamerica, is due partly to insufficient
information on both the geology and the archaeology. Collection of these
data has also been hindered by major political upheavals over the past two
decades. More information is needed, particularly on the location and
description of natural obsidian sources lying within the area and on the
chemical elemental data for such localities.
Nearly two decades ago, Wolfgang Haberland (1978:424) urged that
future archaeological research in the Intermediate Area should focus more
on the investigation of ancient trade routes. Haberland was largely interested
in the use of sourced trade items (especially pottery) to aid in chronological
ordering of cultural sequences and tracing cultural migrations. He was also
well aware that prehistoric long-distance exchange of other materials (jade,
gold, or obsidian) was likely a crucial, indeed catalytic, factor in the emergence of more complex lower Central American societies, and he continuously searched for evidence of areawide interaction (cf. Haberland 1957a,
1969, 1978, 1986).

Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in Northern Intermediate Area 273

Recently, Sheets and colleagues (1990) identified and described two

previously unreported obsidian sources in Honduras-La Esperanza and
Giiinope. These are the first such sources to be located in the northern
Intermediate Area, and their identification (and successful chemical fingerprinting) is an important contribution. It again raises questions about
prehistoric obsidian usage, sources for obsidian, trade routes, and mechanisms of exchange in this part of the New World.
This chapter examines a small sample (n = 10) of obsidian artifacts,
recovered from dated proveniences at four archaeological sites located in
two regions of the Intermediate Area-northeast Honduras and southwest
Nicaragua. The samples were chemically tested at the Lawrence Berkeley
LaboratOlY of the University of California. Elemental analyses indicate the
artifacts were derived from these two recently identified obsidian sources in
Honduras, as well as a third source, located in the highlands of Guatemala.
The sites and samples, along with the method of analysis, are briefly
described. Finally, comparison with the few previously sourced obsidian
artifacts in the northern part of the Intermediate Area is made, and comments
on possible models of prehistoric exchange are presented.
The obsidian artifacts (n = 5) consisted of prismatic blades derived from two
sites located in the Department of Colon, northeast Honduras: Selin Farm
and Rio Claro (Figure 13.1). To the best of our knowledge, there are no
sources of obsidian in this part of Honduras, which is nonvolcanic in nature.
Selin Farm, situated on the south shore of the Guaimoreto Lagoon, was
excavated in 1976 (Healy 1978a, 1983, 1984a, 1984b). Marked by a series of
low earth and shell mounds, the site was occupied during the Selin period
(A.D, 300-1000). A pair of prismatic blades, recovered from a Basic Selin
(A.D, 600-800) stratum composed of domestic refuse, was analyzed (Table
The Rio Claro site, a much larger community, was located in the Rio
Aguan Valley. It was partially excavated in 1975, and dated to the succeeding Cocal period (A,D. 1000-1530) (Healy 1978b). The more than fifty earth
and stone mounds, positioned atop a natural flat knoll rising 10 to 12 m
above the valley floor, were generally larger and much more densely compacted than those at the Selin Farm settlement. Three prismatic blades were
recovered from an Early Cocal (A.D. 1000-1400) context (Table 13.1).
The obsidian sample (n = 5) consists of prismatic blades recovered from two
sites in southwest Nicaragua: Santa Isabel "A" (Department of Rivas) and
San Crist6bal (Department of Managua) (Figure 13.1). Unlike northeast
Honduras, this region of Central America is heavily volcanic, and, though

Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in Northern Intermediate Area 275

274 Healy, Asaro, Slross, and Michel

Table 13.1 Sample concordance






men I



Honduras Colon
TREN-IO Honduras Colon



sample sample


of c;,\cav

Site name
Rio Claro

ExcavatiQn unit
Pil #3 (25-50 em)

Rio Claro
Rio Claro
Selin Farm
Selin ,,~

Pit #3
Pit #4
Pi! #2
Pit "2


Santa """
Isabel "A"
Nicaragua Rivas
Nicaragua Managua San Crist6bal
San Crist6bal
San Crisl6bal


~~~:~:!~: ~:~::~:

(25-50 em)
(25-50 em)
(0-25 cm)
(0-25 em)




Early Cocal
Early Cocal

Early Cocal
Basic Selin
Basic Selin

Middle Polychrome
#I (150-175 ,m)
cm) Middle Polychrome
Pit D (0-10 cm)
Late Polychrome
Late Polychrome
Pit D (0-10 cm)
Pit D 0-10 em
LaiC Pol chrome






La Espcranza
GUino c


L, Esperanaa 2227-V 8144-Y

L, Espcranaa
L, Esperanza 2227-W 8144-1


The San Crist6bal site, located about 1 km south of Lake Managua, is also
marked by earthen mounds, generally larger in size and more numerous than
at Santa Isabel "A." The site was excavated between 1977 and 1979 (Wyss
1983). The three obsidian blade fragments were recovered from a single
mound stratum dated, on the basis of associated ceramics, to the late Sapoa
period and Ometepe period (A.D. 1200-1520) (Table 13.1).









13.1 Map of the northern Intermediate Area, detailing the location of

archaeological sites and obsidian sources noted in text.

none have been positively identified, it is highly likely that local obsidian
sources exist.!
The Santa Isabel "A" site, a l-km2 area marked by low earthen mounds
on the Rivas isthmus, opposite Lake Nicaragua, was excavated in 1959 and
1961 (Norweb 1964; Healy 1980:49-57). A pair of obsidian blade fragments
were derived from a refuse-filled (ceramics, lithics, bone, and shell) stratum.
Ceramics indicate a temporal assignment to the Sapoa period (A.D. 8001350), particularly the La Virgen phase (ca. A.D. 1000-1200) (Table 13.1).

The ten obsidian artifacts were analyzed by X-ray fluorescence (XRF), with
five of the samples being further tested using neutron activation analysis
Previous research has shown that the most significant elements of obsidian measured by XRF generally are Ba, Rb, Sr, and Zr.. Also measured are
Fe, Ce, Zn, Y, and Nb. The latter may be used in obsidian identification,
especially if their abundances are unusually high. With our nondestructive
procedure for XRF determinations, errors were introduced due to variation
in sample size and shape. Thin artifacts measured against thicker standards
tended to have abundances somewhat higher than the true values. By taking
abundance ratios of elements with X-rays having nearly the same energy
(e.g., Rb, Sr, Zr), this error canceled to a large extent. The measurements
were calibrated with a thick piece of E1 Chayal (Guatemala) reference obsidian. With a new methodology (Giauque et al. 1993), it is possible to make
nondestructive XRF measurements that are precise and accurate and not
affected by the shapes and sizes of the artifacts. The measurements in this
chapter, however, were taken before that methodology was developed.
The abundances (i.e., of Ba) or ratios (i.e., of Rb, Sr, and Zr) are calculated for the individual samples. For each group of samples having a common provenience assignment, the mean values are calculated. In addition,
the standard deviations or root-mean-square deviations (RMSD) in these
values are calculated and compared with statistical errors inherent in
counting X-rays; this permits evaluation of the performance of equipment
and procedures.

Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in Northern Intermediate Area 277

276 Healy, Asaro, Stross, and Michel

If the RMSD of the critical element(s) in a group is less than 10 percent

and if no sample has abundances diverging by three standard deviations
from the mean, all of the artifacts probably have the same provenience. If the
RMSD for a provenience group is less than 10 percent and if the group
agrees to better than 10 percent with a reference group, it is provisionally
assigned to the reference group. A high-precision, destructive, "short" NAA
is then made of a representative member of the group. If the abundances of
an artifact agree within three standard deviations of the errors of measurement or within three RMSD of the NAA reference group, the assignment of
that artifact to the reference group is confirmed. The assignments of all artifacts in the provenience group are then also considered confirmed.
Any artifact whose XRF composition does not conform to the critena
stated is also analyzed by a "short" NAA, and if an assignment still cannot
be made, the high-precision NAA is often extended. If the composition still
does not match any of the obsidian sources known, it can at least be positively excluded from those sources.
In a "short" or "abbreviated" NAA, the elements measured that are most
significant in obsidian analysis are Mn, Dy, Ba, Na, and K. In an "extended
sequence" measurement, U, Ba, La, Ce, Sm, Eu, Vb, Co, Sc, Fe, Th, Cs, Rb,
Hf, and Ta (as well as other elements) are well determined in most obsidians.
The uncertainties of the calibration standard are the major sources of systematic uncertainty after other systematic errors, believed generally to be
smaller than the counting errors, have been taken into account. Standard Pottery, however, is one of the very few standards in which the uncertainties are
known for nearly all the elements measured. The composition of Standard
Pottery, procedural details, and error estimates are described in Perlman and
Asaro (1969,1971). Additional details of the method are given in Stross et
al. (1983).
Generally, if an obsidian artifact belongs to a well-defined group, the
abundances in the artifacts of the best-measured elements (usually fourteen
to sixteen are taken) will deviate from those of the reference group by no
more than 2 to 3 percent on the average. Somewhat greater deviations may
indicate heterogeneity in the source, and significantly greater deviations normally are taken to indicate a different obsidian source.

Of the ten obsidian specimens analyzed, four were determined to have been
obtained from the La Esperanza source, and two from the Giiinope source,
both in Honduras. The other four specimens were determined to have come
from the Ixtepeque source in Guatemala. Although all ten samples were
subjected to XRF, five of these were tested additionally by "extended"
NAA runs for greater confidence. The sample concordance is given in
Table 13.1, the XRF data are given in Table 13.2a, b, c, and the NAA data
appear in Table 13.3. It is seen in Table 13.3 that the average deviation

Table 13,2a Elemental abundances or abundance ratios by x-ray

flourescence analysis (XRF) of 4 obsidian artifacts assigned to the
Ixtepeque source








Mcan(4) and


0.568 0.016

0.890 0.015

O.57 0.01
0.90 0.02

Table 13,2b Elemental abundances or abundance ratios by XRF of 4

obsidian artifacts assigned to the La Esperanza source

211 **







Mean(4) and La Esperanza

0.928 .t 0.020
0.90.t 0.03
0.964 0.010
0.97 0.02

Table 13,2e Elemental abundances or abundance ratios by XRF of 2

obsidian artifacts assigned to the Giiinope source




Mean(2 (2)nd

1.44 0.09
1.61 0.05

1.39 0.09
1.53 .t 0.09

Data for the Ixtepeque source are from Asaro et al. 1978 for all clements
except Ba; that entry is from Stross et al. 1983, La Esperanza and Oiiinope
source data are from Sheets et al. 1990.


Thin samples, such as these, yield higher abundances than the true values
with the XRF methodology employed, but these errors tend to cancel out
when ratios of element abundances are taken.
Neutron activation analysis values

between artifacts and source abundances is between 1.3 and 2.1 percent for
the sixteen most precisely measured elements. This close agreement is consistent with the requirements for a chemical match by high-precision NAA
given earlier.
The five northeast Honduran artifacts were attributable to three different
obsidian sources. Three of the artifacts, with the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) catalog numbers Tren-l, -2, and -3, were provenienced to the
newly described La Esperanza (Honduras) source; one of the artifacts,
Tren-9, matched the Giiinope (Honduras) source; and one other, Tren-lO,
was assigned an Ixtepeque (Guatemala) provenience.

Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in Northern Intermediate Area 279

278 Healy, Asaro, Siross, and Michel

Table 13.3 Element abundance$* from neutroll activation analysis of selected Nicaraguan and
Ie a es
0" uran pnsma(bId
Abund. Err.
1.01 0.06
2.72 0.09



Fc(% )


K(% )

0.547 0.008
0.922 0.015






Na(% )








Abund. Brr,
l.OS 0.08
2.71 0.17


0.541 0.013
0,9'13 0.019
4." 0.12





0.27 0.04
2.09 0,02
2.59 0.Q3
0.759 0.008
7,0< 0,07
2.22 0.Q2
\.894 0.021







L. Esptranza
ThEN .\


Abund. Err.

Abund. Eft.






" '"








0.4"8 0.009
0.925 0.016
3.99 0.08









, '" , '"
'" "


2.99 0.03
0.960 0.010
11.68 0.12
3.'0 0.Q3
1.593 0.021






2.56 0.Q3
2.96 0.03
0.944 0.009
1l.76 0.12
3.36 0.03
1.562 oms





O. ,



Err. Abuod.
sO.a 0.'
0,59 0,05
(lA9 0.05
1.88 0.10
8.03 0.17
2.52 0.10
2.14 0.06
2.47 0.\0
Q.S04 0.01)8
0.506 0.008
0.494 0.008

TREI'< -8
0.57 0.05
8.10 0.16


0.S79 0,016







2,11 0.Q2
2.95 0.03
0.880 0.009
12,10 0.12
3.83 0,04
1.78 0.027






0,872 0.016
3.28 0.06

" '" "

". , '"







2.99 0.03
0.891 0.009
12.12 0.12
3.93 0.04
1.83 0.03





Abundances and errors are in ppm except when otherwise indicated, Errors arC usually (he estimated on
counting gamma rays. Errors for lIIe btep.que rderence group. however. arc the IO01_tIlean_squarc_dev.anons

Da;~r fo~i~heml:~~~~~,:::n~~rcc

are (rom AsalO et at. 1918 for all clementS except Sa. which is from Stmss et al. 1983.
Data for tile La Espcranza and GOinope sources arc from Sheets c( at. 1992.
Yb values art based on a rocalibrated abundance (F. Asaro and H.R. Bowman. unpublished data) of 2.96 ! 0.06 ppm m
Standard POUtt;'o 5.1% higher than originally published (Perlman and Asaro 19(9).
A. D, " Average deviation of arlifaCl abundances from source values for 16 usually most_preclsely_measured elcn'cn(s
[excluding Co, Oy. K(%) and Sb]

From southwest Nicaragua, the five artifacts were also attributable to the
three separate locations, the same trio of sources identified for northeast
Honduras. Three of the five artifacts, with the LBL numbers Tren-4, -S, and
-7, were provenienced to Ixtepeque; one artifact, Tren-6, to La Esperanza;
and another, Tren-8, to Giiinope.


As noted earlier, there have been few previous elemental analyses of obsidian undertaken from sites in the northern zone of the Intermediate Area. To
the best of our knowledge, the obsidian samples described here from northeast Honduras are the first specimens to be characterized, identified to
source, and published. Obsidian is an exotic here, with no known local
The analyses, taken site by site, period by period, indicate that natives of
northeast Honduras acquired their obsidian from multiple sources. There
also is evidence, though admittedly based on a tiny sample, that source reliance shifted diachronically. During the Selin period (A.D. 300-1000), as
shown by the Selin Farm samples, obsidian was procured from sources more
than 200 km (Giiinope) and 3S0 km (Ixtepeque) away. In the succeeding
Cocal period (A.D. 1000-1S20), as exhibited by the Rio Claro samples,
obsidian was being derived from yet a third source (La Esperanza), approximately 2S0 km away2
From the Greater Nicoya subarea, obsidian has been noted preVIOusly til
site collections from both Nicaragua and Costa Rica (Creamer 1983; Healy

1980:28S; Lange et al. 1992; Snarskis 1981a:38; Wyss 1983:46,49). There

are as yet, however, no positively identified obsidian sources in the subarea
and only a handful of previously sourced archaeological specimens.
In regard to the latter, Sheets et al. (1990) chemically identified nine
obsidian artifacts from southwest Nicaragua and four obsidian artifacts from
adjacent northwest Costa Rica. Six of the nine Nicaraguan artifacts were
produced from obsidian extracted at Giiinope, and the other three were quarried from Ixtepeque. Of the Costa Rican specimens, one came from Ixtepeque, one from Giiinope, one from Rio Pixcaya (San Martin Jilotepeque),
another highland Guatemala source, and the fourth matched an obsidian
(pebble) sample from the northeast shore of Lake Nicaragua (Figure 13.1).
From the present study sample, reviewed spatially and temporally, it is
apparent that multiple obsidian sources were being mined in the north, with
some of this material making its way into the Greater Nicoya subarea of
lower Central America (Lange 1984b). During the Sapoa period (A.D. 80013S0), as evident from the pair of obsidian samples from Santa Isabel "A,"
Ixtepeque obsidian was imported over a distance of about 450 km. In the
succeeding Ometepe period (AD. 1200-1520), as shown from the San Cristobal samples, Ixtepeque continued to be used, but obsidian from Gtiinope,
about 180 km away, and from La Esperanza, approximately 270 km away,
was also being acquired.
The picture that emerges is a complex one. In a recent publication on the
archaeology of Pacific Nicaragua, Lange et al. (1992:163) have suggested
that the local needs for lithics were predominantly met with local materials.
They also report that overall 10 percent of the obsidian artifacts they collected in a regional site survey in 1983 were produced in the Mesoamerican
tradition of core-blade technology (Lange et al. 1992: 174). Based on
detailed studies of the probable production technology, artifact types,
and more limited provenience studies, these authors suggest that this
(Mesoamerican) obsidian trade or exchange was concentrated in the LeonManagua region and constituted only a thin, spotty veneer compared to the
use of largely local materials (Lange et al. 1992: 163). They found a very distinct decrease in obsidian abundance between northern Pacific Nicaragua
and the Rivas region in the south, and the abundance was particularly low in
the region just east and north of Lake Nicaragua. Farther south, into Costa
Rica, they found that obsidian was low and concentrated in sites near to the
modern Nicaraguan border. Indeed, at the interior site of Arenal, only two
obsidian artifacts were found among 9,000 chipped-stone artifacts (Sheets et
al. 1990:153).
Table 13.4 tabulates some of the recent data on abundances of lithic artifacts, obsidian artifacts, and obsidian prismatic blades in Nicaragua, northeast Honduras, and Costa Rica, as well as the provenience of the obsidian
(when known). The data for Nicaragua are given as a function of the
archaeological zones proposed (for lithics) by Lange et al. (1992:55).3

Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in Northern Intermediate Area 281

280 Healy, Asaro, Stross, and Michel







iO.3 (~g:~)

Crisl6bal work

, IJsa~:r"~A"







(~7::\ I


I 19












pris. prismatic

Sheets <>1 at 1990


Table 7.1 Lange <>1 al. 1992


Page 54 Lange el aL 1992

Lydia Wy~koff (1976) mentioned












I Ja~~:I"



on page 173 of Lange c! at. 1992

Some of the more usual modes of prehistoric distribution of obsidian have

been characterized as supply zone (direct procurement) or down-the-line
(Renfrew 1975, 1977:77, 1982). Direct procurement has a very slow "falloff" with distance from the source, but the down-the-line distributions drop
off rapidly. For Nicaragua, it is seen in Table 13.4 that the largest proportion
of obsidian among total lithic artifacts is found, by far, in the northern zone.
If all of the nonprismatic blade obsidian had the same provenience, then the
fall-off rate would be a factor of sixteen to twenty from San Jacinto (Le6n)
to Santa Isabel "A" (Rivas), a distance of about 160 km. Ifthe proveniences
were not all the same, then some provenience group would have to fall off
even faster. (The abundance of obsidian artifacts at Le6n is taken as 100 percent of the lithic artifacts because the abundance of prismatic blades relative
to obsidian was given as about the same as found for lithics.) This fall-off
pattern suggests direct procurement of obsidian (for general use) was not the
predominant exchange mode, and it gives an upper limit on down-the-hne
trade of obsidian in Pacific Nicaragua.
The ratio of the abundance of prismatic blades relative to obsidian artifacts for Nicaragua increases dramatically as the abundance of the obsidian
artifacts declines. For example, it is 0.3 percent for Las Padillas in Zone 1, 6
percent in Zone 2, 21 percent in Zone 3, and 33 percent in Zone 4. On the
other hand, the abundance of prismatic blades divided by the abundance of
lithic artifacts is roughly constant, averaging slightly over 3 percent (when

values are weighted by the number of blades) from San Jacinto (Le6n) at the
bottom of Zone 1 to Santa Isabel "A." The ratio for Zone 4 (north and east of
Lake Nicaragua) may be smaller than 3 percent, or the apparent difference
may be due to the small numbers involved.
These data suggest that there was a distinct need for obsidian prismatic
blades, and this need could not be met by local sources of lithic raw materials. It appears, then, that there was a distribution network available and functioning that could supply those needs. It is reasonable to conclude that the
prismatic blades were prestige items and, hence, decreased in abundance at a
much slower rate with distance from the original source than other, less
important lithic artifacts (Renfrew 1977:78). The network (or possibly networks) seems to have supplied prismatic obsidian blades as far south as the
Santa Isabel "A" site in southwest Nicaragua and possibly as far south as the
Bay of Culebra in northwest Costa Rica (Sheets et al. 1990; Lange et al.
1992:124, sample 8139 G from Ixtepeque). The obsidian prismatic blade
network probably did not extend much farther south or inland, judging from
the limited obsidian abundance (0.2 percent) at Arenal.
There are some difficulties with using a prestige-chain model to explain
obsidian prismatic blades in Nicaragua. There is, for example, no apparent
decrease of abundance with distance from the originating source, as would
be expected even for an exchange model such as this. But this incongruity
could be due to the large uncertainties in the values. Also, the abundance of
prismatic blades relative to total lithic artifacts at Las Padillas seems distinctly lower than that found at San Jacinto and farther south.
Obsidian prismatic blades are taken as one of the key indicators of
Mesoamerican connections with what is termed lower Central America
(Lange and Stone 1984b; Lange et al. 1992:163; Sheets 1975), or the northern part of the Intermediate Area. The evidence noted here from Pacific Nicaragua demonstrates that obsidian prismatic blade distribution followed a
different pattern of exchange than that of ordinary obsidian artifacts and that
it was more like a prestige-chain than a down-the-line model. The present
work also suggests that the Ixtepeque source was the most heavily used
obsidian source for this distribution, that an exchange network for obsidian
blades extended south at least to the Rivas region, and that the extent of the
trade, or exchange, in Pacific Nicaragua corresponded to about 3 percent of
the lithic material utilized. However, because of the prestige nature of the
material, its "value" may have constituted significantly more than 3 percent
of the lithic trade or exchange. With control over this type of material, with a
high potential profit margin, Mesoamerican influence may have been quite
significant even at distances of several hundred kilometers.
In northeast Honduras, where virtually all obsidian had to be imported,
the early inhabitants secured this exotic material at the same time as natives
from Greater Nicoya and exploited identical sources in the south hundreds of
kilometers away. Without additional comparative data and with such a small

Precolumbian Obsidian Trade in Northern Intermediate Area 283

282 Healy, Asaro, Stross, and Michel

database, it is harder to reconstruct likely trade mechanisms or types of operational networks. However, overall, the implication from the northeast Honduras and southwest Nicaragua data is that obsidian exchange was
widespread in the northern Intennediate Area and that many different ethnic
groups were concurrent recipients of obsidian from the same sources.
How were such exchanges arranged or conducted? To what extent were
native groups of the northern Intermediate Area integrated economically (if
at all) among themselves? How did they interact with Mesoamerican groups,
which likely controlled access to the Ixtepeque and Rio Pixcaya sources, and
possibly others? The answer, unfortu~ately, to all these questio?s is that we
simply do not know. Without substantial expansIOn of the obsidIan database,
through the addition of a significant number of sourced samples with dat~d
contexts, it will remain difficult to do more than speculate about such prehistoric economic activity.
Ethnohistorical accounts reveal that some Greater Nicoya groups, such as
the Chorotega and Nicarao, were obvious immig;ants from Mesoame~ica,
spoke Mesoamerican-deri ved languages, and practiced many Mesoamencan
customs (Abel-Vidor 1981; Coe 1962a; Fowler 1989; Healy 1980; Lothrop
1926). Similarly, the conquistador Heman Cortes, who conducted some .of
the first Spanish explorations in northeast Honduras m 1524 and 1525, diScovered Nahua-speaking groups there (Healy 1976b:238-239). It IS certamly
evident from such ethnohistorical accounts that both regions (Greater
Nicoya and northeast Honduras) had more than a passing interest in neighboring Mesoamerican groups. Unfortunately, a response to the questIOn of
what kind of trade mechanism was operating is complicated not only by the
limitations of the obsidian database but also by considerable uncertainty
about the precise fonn of sociopolitical organization of many native groups
in the northern Intennediate Area. It is generally accepted that there was
great political diversity, with native societies representing different levels of
organization along a cultural evolutionary scale.
Creamer and Haas (1985) have focused especially on tribes and chiefdoms of this area. They note that tribal societies typically are decentralized
and relatively independent economically, so that interregional, long-distance
trade (to acquire obsidian, for example) would tend to be more limited than
that of chiefdoms, which are more centralized and often import quantities of
valuables and sumptuary goods from outside the local region. Knowledge of
the types of sociopolitical systems that existed at different times in. the prehistory of the northern Intennediate Area is, presently, a rather cruCial missing piece of anthropological information.
Virtually all indications are that the native societies of the northern
Intermediate Area, including northeast Honduras and Greater Nicoya,
were less centralized economically than their peers in, say, the adjacent
Maya subarea of Mesoamerica. Recent assessments of the ancient Maya
suggest they functioned at the level of very highly evolved chiefdoms or,

possibly, independent incipient states ruled by dynastic kings (Culbert, ed.,

1991). Trade with less developed or at least less centralized economies of
Intermediate Area groups to the south may, therefore, have necessitated
Archaeology in much of the Intennediate Area is still in a formative stage of
development. There remains an immense amount of information that we do
not know about these early aboriginal peoples and their societies. As we
search for clues to the myriad transfonnations that occurred in the nature and
organization of aboriginal cultural systems here before ca. A.D. 1550, there
are many factors worthy of closer examination. In our view, prehistoric
exchange is one activity that likely played a central role in the relationships
that prevailed among early Intermediate Area polities, and it is, therefore,
crucial to an understanding of the overall cultural evolution of these emergent societies.
This chapter provides new infonnation about ancient trade of but one substance, obsidian. It has been possible to identify imported goods, ascertain
their date of appearance, and determine their point of origin. We hope that it
will serve as a small contribution to what will be a lengthy investigative process of understanding long-distance exchange in the Intermediate Area.
Much remains to be done.



Lange et al. (1992: 175) mention at least two possible sources of natural obsidian in Nicaragua-one on the west side of Lake Managua, the other on the
northeast shore of Lake Nicaragua. No further details were available.
Cited distance estimates between archaeological sites and obsidian sources
reflect most direct, straight-line measurement and are, therefore, minimum

distances the obsidian was transported.



Uncertainties in the ratios were estimated from Poisson's statistics (Meyer

1975:203). An upper limit was chosen so that the probability of obtaining the
observed value or less was 16 percent. The lower limit was chosen in a similar
way. These limits converge to the familiar Gaussian statistics as the numbers
become larger and larger.
Creamer (1992) has examined regional exchange in the Gulf of Nicoya, arguing
that it is an important type of trade network that warrants more investigation.

296 Karen Olsen Bruhns




The Lempa River boundary is the current favorite. Kirchhoff, however,

favored a boundary that was farther to the southeast and which included the
Nicaragua Lake region and Greater Nicoya; he was utilizing traits present in
the contact period, a time later discovered to have been one of great expansion
of Mesoamerican influence. Others, such as Reyes Mazzoni, have expanded
Kirchhoff's trait list to try to refine belonging or nonbelonging to Mesoamerica in specific regions. Claude Baudez introduced the concept of concentric
rings of Mesoamericanization within Central America and also tried to apply
the concept of a fluctuating frontier zone to this model.
The idea that Central American polychromes may have been influential in the
development of Maya pictorial ceramics is one that Haberland has suggested
from time to time. Regarding the ultimate origins of Central American ceramics, independent invention, something that can be demonstrated to have
occurred in both North and South America, is widely regarded as a heretical
idea by Mesoamericanists. If independent invention of ceramics is not to be
considered, then the most likely source for the early Salvadoran ceramic traditions is coastal Guatemala,
1 prefer to avoid the question of the affiliation of the pot-bellied or boulder
sculptures of the Pacific piedmont. Although they are widely claimed to be of
Olmec inspiration, perhaps yet another "pallid reflection," it is just as likely
that they represent a purely local sculptural expression, along with the "bathtub altars" and jaguar sculptures that appear somewhat later along the southeastern piedmont.

Lower Central American Archaeology:
Some Comments as of 1991

The chapters in this volume have been as diverse and as encompassing as

Wolfgang Haberland's interests and researches in lower Central American
archaeology. Wolfgang has always been a very "catholic" archaeologist.
Like others of us in the 1950s and 1960s, he was very aware of the importance of adequate "time-space structures," and he had a leading role in building these in lower Central America (Haberland 1955, 1960a, 1962, 1966,
1969). He was also interested in all of those things an archaeologist should
be interested in-in subsistence, technology, trade and exchange, and the
evidences for past ritual behaviors-and in examining the ethnographical
record to see what light it might throw on the archaeological one (Haberland
1961a, 1964, 1968a, 1973, 1984a). All of these topics are treated in one way
or another in chapters in this volume, and they compose a fitting tribute to an
old and valued colleague in this field.
Although it has been a long time since I have been directly active in lower
Central American research, I was pleased to be asked to contribute to this
volume. At the same time, let me make it clear that I am not attempting any
kind of a conscientious summary or synthesis of the preceding writings. I
leave that exacting task in the capable hands of Frederick W. Lange. Instead,
I will indulge in more random and general comments, prompted by the
works of our colleagues.
I will begin with the obvious. I think most of us have always looked upon
lower Central America as being more "backward" or "retarded" in the development of archaeological time-space systematics than, say, Mesoamerica or
Peru. And yet, we must remember that the eminent European prehistorian
C. V. Hartman (1901,1907) carried out both stratigraphy and grave lot seriations in Costa Rica in the early twentieth century (see also Rowe 1959). This
was a few years before Manuel Gamio's (1913) Valley of Mexico stratigraphy and as early as another great European archaeological scholar, Max
Uhle (1903,1910), began putting the Peruvian chronological house in order.
But though Mesoamerica and PerU went on almost immediately from these
early twentieth-century beginnings, there was a distinct absence of a followup in chronological research in lower Central America. The two major


298 Gordon R. Willey

archaeological monographs for the area in the forty or more years following
Hartman's work were those of G. G. MacCurdy (1911) on Chiriquian antiquities and S. K. Lothrop's (1937, 1942a) impressive Cocle study, and neither
paid any significant attention to chronology. Only Sigvald Linne's survey of
Darien, in far southern Panama, published in 1929, showed some awareness
of the problem of temporal relations among his archaeological cultures, and
even he did not deal with it as a major issue. In fact, the first serious modem
chronological study for the area was mine and C. R. McGimsey's, on the
Monagrillo culture and later complexes in central Pacific Panama, published
in 1954. One can only wonder about this lag in chronology in lower Central
America. Was it because the area was in some way considered to be of lesser
importance-a place where one might not expect to find the kind of earlier
antecedents one found in Mesoamerica or Peru, where prehistory was best
seen as "flat" and synchronous? One can only speculate.
But since the 1950s, the task of regional sequence-building and the tying
together of these sequences through ceramic typological cross-matchings,
from region to region, has been taken on routinely by more and more archaeologists (Coe and Baudez 1961). Doris Stone (1966a, 1977) and Fred Lange
(ed., 1969, 1971b) have been among the leaders in this (see also Lange and
Stone, eds., 1984). Most of us realize that there is a lot more to archaeology
than such potsherd systematics. At the same time, it is nothing to turn up
one's nose at, for it is the sine qua non of archaeology. Without it, you do not
know where you are nor, literally, which end is up. In reflecting upon it, I
cannot but feel that we-the archaeological profession-should not have the
large territorial-chronological gaps that we still have in the lower Central
American record. I can only urge the younger generation of researchers to
press on with the job.
That they are doing so is manifest in the present volume. Hoopes, Salgado
Gonzalez, Ranere and Cooke, Baudez and his colleagues, Corrales Ulloa,
Graham, and Rigat and Gonzalez and Rivas, detail progress in lower Central
American typological, chronological, and distributional organization. I come
away with the impression-and I hope it is correct-that fairly large blocks
of territory can now be pretty well cross-correlated with each other from
about 500 B.C. up to the time of the Spanish Conquest. Francisco Corrales
Ulloa and Ifigenia Quintanilla Jimenez have done a nice job in working out
the region of the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica. This fits in a piece
between Greater Nicoya (the Salgado Gonazlez and Rigat-Gonzalez Rivas
chapters) to the north and the Gran Chiriqui (the Hoopes and Baudez et aL
chapters) to the south. I think that now we can be on pretty firm chronological ground from about the Panama Canal northward and westward up to
Lake Managua.
But we need some strategically placed work in northwestern Nicaragua
and adjacent Honduras to enable us to carry the chronological linkages into
El Salvador and western Honduras and thus to link up to Mesoamerica.

Lower Central American Archaeology 299

Atlantic Nicaragua and northeastern Honduras are almost archaeological

blank spots as far as any real chronological information goes. In fact, the
whole Atlantic drainage tends to be weak, with the exception of some bright
spots in Costa Rica (see Snarskis 1976, 1984a; Hoopes 1985). And Panama
below the Panama Canal has not seen much archaeological-chronological
improvement since Linne's time (although see Cooke 1984a).
Although lower Central American archaeology certainly deserves to be
examined on its own terms-as Wolfgang Haberland, Doris Stone, Fred
Lange, and others have long insisted-I am afraid I cannot resist taking an
undisciplined look at it in wider hemispheric perspectives. To inquire about a
single trait category, what were the relationships in the origins of ceramics
between lower Central America and the areas to the south and to the north?
For some time now, the data from the Peruvian and Mesoamerican areas
have indicated the first pottery in each of these areas would date somewhere
in the vicinity of 2000 B.C., give or take a couple of hundred years (Willey
1985).1 We have also known that ceramics appear substantially earlier than
this in the Intermediate Area, as in Ecuador (Bischof and Viteri 1972) and
Caribbean Colombia (Bray 1984), where they date back to between 3000
and 4000 B.c. 2 Now, even more recently, Anna Roosevelt (1991) cites dating
for pottery at 5000 B.c. in the Amazon Basin. Did the idea of making pottery
have its American beginnings in the Amazon, spreading from there to Ecuador and Colombia and then from these centers north to Mesoamerica and
south to PerU? The late Donald W. Lathrap (1975,1977), I know, would have
been happy with such a scenario. If so, a gradually rising date line might be
anticipated for the earliest appearances of pottery as one went north from
Ecuador-Colombia into lower Central America. The 3000 B.C. date on Monagrillo pottery, in Panama, would agree with this, and when John Hoopes, in
his doctoral dissertation (1987), came up with a 2000 B.C. date for the beginnings of his Tronadora ceramic complex in the Costa Rican part of the
Greater Nicoya subarea, things seemed to be conforming to this anticipated
upward-sloping dating line. But now, in this volume, he and others tell us
that a Tronadora-related, red-zoned pottery from the Aguas Buenas region of
the Greater Chiriqui subarea of northern Panama and southern Costa Rica
cannot be pushed back in time much earlier than 1000 to 500 B.c. Obviously,
this does not fall comfortably on the north-to-south dating line I am trying to
project. I can hope, of course, that they have not yet found the earliest pottery in Greater Chiriqui; but it also may be that my diffusionist model is too
simpleminded in its expectations.
Such diffusionist projections lead me to wonder about the history of subsistence agriculture, particularly maize agriculture, in lower Central America. The archaeological evidences for agriculttlre include microbotanical
specimens (pollen and phytoliths), macro botanical remains (charred foods),
dietary analyses of human bones, and artifacts that imply food processing
(metates, manos). The microbotanical evidences are substantially earlier

300 Gordon R. Willey

(ca. 6000-5000 B.C.) than the other kinds of evidence (ca. 500-300 B.C.); but
within lower Central America, there is no culture historically meaningful or
suggestive of geographical patterning in these evidences-or so it would
appear from what has been reported. That is, no consistent diffusion time
line, such as the one I was trying to plot for ceramics, can be projected in any
direction. Could it be that the many small environmental-subsistence niches
of lower Central America made any uniform directional spread of agriculture unworkable? This suggests the maize plant had a widespread availability in the area from a very early time, perhaps as early as 6000 to 5000 B.C.,
but that it was accepted and cultivated variably, in accordance with small
regional-natural environmental niches and different regional cultural preferences. Lynette Norr suggests something like this in discussing farming-versus-shellfish diets as revealed by the isotope composition of human skeletal
To tum back to pottery, could such processes have operated in the diffusion of ceramic technology in lower Central America? Let us speculate that
some general knowledge of making containers out of fired clay was diffused
through the whole lower Central American area at a relatively early timesay, 3000 to 2000 B.C. But then this knowledge was put to practical use at
different times and in different places in response to local environmental circumstances or cultural predilections. However, after floating such an idea, I
will qualify it by saying that I still think the general directional drift of the
idea of pottery making was from northern South America, through lower
Central America, and on to Mesoamerica, even though we cannot yet draw a
smooth south-to-north slope for such a diffusion.
I am aware that diffusionist studies have been out of favor for the past
thirty years in Americanist archaeology. Nevertheless, I cannot see how any
archaeologist can deny that the processes of culture change move horizontally in space as well as vertically in time, and I am convinced that only in a
context of the interplay between in situ evolution and external stimuli will
we be able to understand and explain culture growth and change. To be sure,
it has been an American archaeological tradition to be rather vague about the
actual processes involved in diffusion, so I am glad to see Mark Miller Graham turning to an examination of the specifics about how diffusion may have
worked in lower Central America. Graham begins by striking a "deconstructionist" note in decrying the usefulness of culture areas-or the "culture
area-with-time-depth" concept, an idea given its first explicit definition by
the late Paul Kirchhoff (1943) and a later hemispherewide deployment by
myself (Willey 1966, 1971). He has a point in arguing that such culture area
boundaries, based on reified traits rather than on the archaeological record
that is the "text of prehistory," tend to obscure much that is of importance in
the past. In spite of this, I am always a little disturbed by too much denigration of the "normative." A normative approach is necessary to set a framework-in this case culture areas-against and within which we can examine

Lower Central American Archaeology 301

the variability in the archaeological record, as, in fact, Graham proceeds to

do. His hypothesis of a "multilayered" commerce between Mayan, isthmian,
and northern South America polities is fascinating and imaginative. Certainly, there were long-distance passages of ideas through the Intermediate
Area, such as those involving metalworking technologies and metal styles,
that deserve more study, as do Graham's thoughts about Colombian and
lower Central American stone sculpture providing an "iconographic map" of
commerce in metalwork.
To tum away from my preoccupation with time-space systematics and diffusionist themes, attention should be called to the chapters that treat other
topics. Jane Stevenson Day and Alice Chiles Tillett took their point of departure from a Haberland (196 I d) paper in which that author had identified
what he believed to be shamans' graves. The Day and Tillett contribution
reviews Greater Nicoya archaeological ceramics, art, and iconography and
considers these in the light of ethnohistoric information in order to draw
inferences about shamanistic practices. Such matters of cultural content and
function are very much a part of lower Central American archaeology. Similarly, data and interpretations deriving from settlement pattern, architectural,
subsistence, and other subjects-though not treated directly in these chapters-are all very much a part of the archaeological enterprise for the area.
Lower Central American archaeology is coming of age.
Finally, in giving me the opportunity to set down my thoughts and reflections, Fred Lange asked me to consider, from my personal point of view,
what I would have done if I had continued to pursue lower Central American
archaeology rather than going off after the ancient Maya. This was a decision and a change that I made in my life back in 1952-not long after I completed my second field season in Panama. It was prompted by a consultation
with my distinguished predecessor at Harvard, the late Alfred Marston
Tozzer, and I have set down the details of this consultation (confrontation
might be a better term) elsewhere (Willey 1988; see memoir on Tozzer), but
the background to it can be sketched in as follows.
While doing editorial work on the Handbook of South American Indians
(Steward, ed., 1946-1959) when I was on the Smithsonian staff, I began to
get some idea of what was known-or, more importantly, of what was not
known-about the archaeology of what we have come to call the Intermediate Area (Ecuador, Colombia, and lower Central America). It seemed to me
then that a major and urgent task for Americanists was to work out culture
sequences-even if these were little more than "potsherd chronicles"-in
this archaeologically little-known area that lay between the better-known
areas of Mesoamerica and Peru. It was with this in mind that M. W. Stirling
and I went to Panama in 1948 (Willey 1988; see memoir on Stirling). Later,
after I had left the Smithsonian and gone to Harvard, I went to Panama
again, in 1952. I was so pleased with the results of this second expedition,
which led to the Monagrillo report (Willey and McGimsey 1954), that I set

302 Gordon R. Willey

about making plans to return there and, in fact, carry out long-term surveys
and excavations in that country and elsewhere in lower Central America. 3 I
was all set to devote my career to building a chronological bridge on into
Mesoamerica-or at least that is the way I thought of it then. But, with
Tozzer's rather stern urging, I left lower Central America for the Maya, and
when I did this I also shifted away from the "bare-bones of chronology
building" as the goal of my archaeological life to more complex questions
concerning the content of culture history. As it happened, I went into Maya
Lowland settlement pattern studies, following in the line of some research
that I had done in Peru in 1946 (Willey 1953), before I had gone to Panama.
If I had stayed with lower Central America in 1952, would I have continued with potsherd time-space systematics as the raison d' etre of my archaeo-
logical experience? One can only guess about matters like this in one's own
life, but it would be my retrospective guess that my field of vision might very
well have remained so limited. I know that I had other Panamanian sites and
localities in mind for stratigraphic testing and survey. For in 1953, I was considering moving from the Parita-Monagrillo sector, where I had been working, down into the Azuero Peninsula. This was a region where Alain !chon
(1980) was to work a quarter of a century later, and judging from his results,
it would have produced some good archaeological sequences. And this
would have led me, I am sure, to moving on westward in Panama, to places
where Olga Linares de Sapir (l968b) and her colleagues were eventually to
explore. I know that in the early 1950s, when I first came to Harvard with the
unbridled optimism of youth, I had a plan to virtually dig my way north from
Panama to the Maya frontier. In reflecting on this a good many years later, I
made the observation that if I had adhered to such a plan, "retirement would
have overtaken me about halfway through Costa Rica" (Willey 1988:289). I
think I would revise that now: retirement or the grim reaper would have
intervened somewhere well short of the Costa Rican frontier.
If I had stayed in lower Central America, would I have broadened my
approach beyond sequence bUilding? Would I have turned, perhaps, to ecological questions such as those Lange (1978) has addressed in Costa Rica?
Or maybe my settlement pattern background in Peru would have found
expression some way in Panama-but I am inclined to doubt it. Panamanian
archaeology, at least from what I have seen of it, would not lend itself easily
to settlement analysis, certainly not of the kind that is possible in Peruvian
coastal Valleys and deserts, nor even to what we can do in the bush in the
Maya Lowlands. So, in mulling over Fred Lange's question, I am afraid that
if I had not opted out of lower Central America in favor of the Maya, I would
have spent the rest of my career building potsherd sequences in Panamacertainly a creditable, high-minded endeavor but not a very exciting one.
Even I might have become bored with it.

Lower Central American Archaeology 303

Such are the musings of an antique Americanist, and they are not particularly edifyiug other than to raise this philosophical question: Should we
order all of our archaeological data in time and in space before we proceed
with other more meaningful questions about the past? I do not think there
can be any answer to such a question except a negative one. Yet how do I
reconcile this with my previous statement that the systematics of time and
space are the sine qua non of archaeology? The larger and more encompassing answer must be that we proceed with both at the same time.





For Mesoamerica, PUITon and Pox cerami~complexes appear to date ca,

2500-2000 B.C. (MacNeish, Peterson, and .!'1annel)'1970); for Andean Peru,

the earliest ceramics date at about 1800 B.C. (Willey 1971, chap. 4).
Complexes such as the Valdivia, San Pablo, Real Alto, Turbana, Monsu,
Puerto Hormiga, and Monagrillo. See Bischof and Viteri 1972; Lathrap 1975;
Bray 1984; Cook 1984a.
However, I was still drawn back to lower Central America. In 1959, with my
student A. H. Norweb, I played "hookey" from my Maya dig at Altar de Sacrificios and did SOme work in what we now call the Nicaraguan part of Greater
Nicoya (see Norweb 1964).

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks
in Our Syntheses: The Potential for
Central American Archaeology in the
Twenty-First Century

The chapters in this volnme have presented a critical update on prehistoric

research in Central America, demonstrating a balance between filling in
gaps in the space-time charts and contributing to broader interpretive or theoretical syntheses. Our principal continuing deficiency is that we have not
attempted, except in a few specific cases or at the most general level, to
interpret the social dynamics of the prehistoric societies with which we are
In large part this is because, until recently, either the database was insufficient (and it still is in many locations) or we have depended too heavily on
models of cultural evolution and social organization developed for noncomparable, i.e., state-level, terminus Mesoamerican and Andean cultures. One
of Wolfgang Haberland's most enduring contributions to American archaeology was his distinction between the Mesoamerican and non-Mesoamerican
sectors of El Salvador; it is in areas such as these, where different levels of
prehistoric cultural organization are geographically associated, that we may
hope to achieve greater insights into similar but different processes of cultural evolution.
Bruhns reviews Haberland's contributions to the study of the southern
Mesoamerican frontier. The southeastern frontier has evidently shifted
through time, so that there are serious methodological problems in delineating a frontier in an area that is poorly known archaeologically.
John Hoopes and Payson Sheets have been strong advocates in urging a
different approach to the evolution of more complex societies in lower Central America and the Intermediate Area.' Sheets (1992a:36) has noted that
"the Intermediate Area has long been obscured by the extensive shadows
cast by the towering civilizations of Mesoamerica and the Andes," and
Hoopes (1992:71-73) has written:


306 Frederick W. Lange

With the autochthonous, regionalized model, it is assumed that the

cultural trajectories of societies in distinct regions of the Interme-

diate Area may in fact be quite different, and that broad developmental schemes may obscure the individual structures of societies.
Universal economic or symbolic values for items such as maize,

tree crops, manioc, jade, birds, or reptiles cannot be assumed, and

differences in the structure and organization of Formative societies

may have had a significant effect on the nature of emergent rank

and social complexity.
In a recent characterization of prehistoric social organization on the
Pacific coast of Nicaragua, Lange et al. (1992:53-62) divided the isthmus of
Rivas into four noncoextensive lithic and ceramic "zones" or "spheres" and
noted that these spheres overlapping lithic and ceramic zones could be
viewed as fundamentally self-sufficient (see also Lange 1992:131). These
units would appear to be examples of what Hoopes referred to as the "individual structures of societies" with associated but still distinct cultural trajectories, a specific example of which would be the Arenal region of the
cordillera of Guanacaste in northern Costa Rica (Sheets 1984). Hoopes also
has noted (1992:73): "A concentration on the emergence of 'chiefdoms' and
centralized authority (cf. Snarskis 1987; Hansell 1987) may well be inappropriate for many parts of the Intermediate Area. Alternative structures, such
as decentralized complex tribes (Habicht-Mauche, Hoopes, and Geselowitz
n.d.; Hoopes 1988) and segmentary societies may prove to fit the data better
than hierarchical models derived from idealized stages in the cultural evolution of New World state societies.
I have also suggested consideration of the contrasting terms "active or
coercive" and "passive" ranking (Lange 1992: 109-111), with passive ranking being "kinship based, where one's position within the social group is
defined by abilities such as age, knowledge, hunting prowess, and so forth.
Active ranking is viewed as negating the importance of passive criteria in
interpersonal [relationships] through the imposition of externally defined

In addition, Lange et al. (1992:278), in summarizing the current evidence

for cultural development on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua, have noted that
"simpler societies traditionally have been seen as having failed to evolve
higher organizational levels comparable to those of their more complex
neighbors. Rather than failure, the relative isolation of these less complex
societies, their economic self-sufficiency, and their ability to passively resist
external influences are unquestionably indications of success."
These writers also conclude (Lange et al. 1992:277) that "our inability to
develop an alternative, non-imperial model for Nicaragua is currently rooted
in a severe lack of data at both the site and regional levels." Fowler
(1989:264-272), in his work on the Pipil-Nicarao, discussed this problem in

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 307

considerable detail. He concludes that a historical materialist perspective is a

productive means of viewing these differences in complexity.
Finally, as Solis (1991:14) has pointed out, we have only a very limited
database at the level of micropatron de asentamiento ("household level of
settlement pattern") where the data that could contribute to the description of
activity areas that would increase our understanding of household and community organization could be obtained. Partially because of the research
emphases of Michael Snarskis (1983) and partially because of the presence
of river cobble constructions, most such studies in Costa Rica have been carried out in late period (A.D. 1000-1500) sites on the Atlantic coast, in the
Central Valley, and on the Central Pacific coast.
Similar studies in Guanacaste are limited to those by Vazquez (1986) and
Guerrero and Blanco (1987), and in southern Costa Rica, to Drolet (1984,
1992) and de la Cruz (1986). Solis (1991:table 1) lists forty-one such sites in
Costa Rica, of which the majority have been only visited, mapped, and had
surface collections made. Many fewer have been the focus of rescue archaeological efforts, and even fewer have been subjected to careful, planned
There seems to be general agreement, supported by a growing body of
data, that a different model of cultural development and the evolution of
social complexity is needed for lower Central America-the Intermediate
Area and that the traditional, idealized models developed for the highland
and lowland Mesoamerican and the South American Andean civilizationsstates may be of limited, if any, applicability except as distinct contrasts for
Central America and Intermediate Area patterns. How do we go about developing one or more new models for these overlapping areas?
If we are to focus our attention on "defining what may have been very significant differences in the organizational structures of Formative [Editor's
note: and subsequent] societies in relatively small, circumscribed areas
rather than defining of substrate of unitary origin," then filling in the missing
space-time gaps in clearly defined ecologically bounded basins, plains, and
valleys is a top priority. As some of the chapters in this volume indicate, we
have begun to make some progress in this aspect of Central American
research, after (with a few exceptions) a lapse for the past twenty years. The
most ambitious project under way is the systematic archaeological inventory
of Nicaragua developed in cooperation between the government of Sweden
and the Organization of American States (Gorin and Gonzalez, this volume;
Fletcher, Salgado, and Espinoza 1993).
This recent sense of urgency to fill in some existing space-time gaps has
been stimulated by an unprecedented surge of site-destructive economic
development in the area, combined with a sense of how many areas we still
know nothing about. The combination of the sense of impending loss and the
recognition of still significant unknown areas has given new emphasis to this
more "traditional" dimension of Central American research (Drolet 1980;

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 309

308 Frederick W. Lange












SW N''''<AGU''



16.1 Archaeologically known, lesser-known, and

unknown areas of Central America.

Hoopes 1984; Gorin 1990; Baudez et aI., this volume). In this volume and
elsewhere (Lange 1989), I have returned to earlier work (Lange, ed., 1969,
1970, 1971) to suggest a local space-time sequence for the Bay of Salinas
area in northwestern Costa Rica.
Five of the chapters in this volume have not only cast other beams of light
on generally unknown areas of the Central American isthmus but also contributed to continuing regional synthesis efforts for the subareas of Greater
Nicoya and Greater ChiriquI (Figure 16.1). The term Greater Nicoya was
first coined by Norweb (1961) and Greater Chiriqu(by Haberland (1961a).
Both terms have been used somewhat uncritically; the utility of the term
Greater Nicoya was recently reviewed in Lange et al. (1992), and both Drolet (1983a) and Hoopes (this volume) have examined the nature of Greater
Chiriqui. A number of the chapters in this volume contribute to a better
understanding of both of these cultural-historical-geographical units, individually considered to be subunits of either lower Central America or the
Intermediate Area.
In the north, Dominique Rigat and Rafael Gonzalez's survey in the previously little-known Cuenca del Lago de Managua region developed the first

chronological sequence for the north-central part of Nicaragua. Seventyeight sites were recorded, ranging temporally from 300 B.C. to A.D. 1520,
with the majority being from the latter 400 years of the sequence; in part this
reflects an almost total dependence on surface materials. Most of the identified ceramic types can be related to the Greater Nicoya typological system to
the south, with a limited number of "local" types also represented. Fletcher,
Salgado, and Espinoza (1993) have reported a ceramic typology from northern Nicaragua that, even though some ceramics are derived from the Greater
Nicoya area, is clearly most closely allied with southern Honduras.
Although northern Nicaragua is spatially closer to the southern Honduran
area than is the Ayala site sequence reported by Salgado Gonzalez (this volume), Fletcher, Salgado, and Espinoza report none of the non-Greater
Nicoya southern Honduran ceramics reported in some quantity by S. Salgado. Rigat and Gonzalez also note a much higher percentage of obsidian in
the lithic sample than Gorin and Rigat had found in Chontales (Gorin 1990;
Rigat 1992).
Thus, Rigat and Gonzalez Rivas not only developed a local sequence but
also contributed to ongoing efforts at regional synthesis and the attempts to
understand the fluctuations in the geographical-ecological boundaries of
Greater Nicoya through time. The exact relationship of the Lake Managua
Basin to Greater Nicoya or to other existing cultural-geographical units such
as southern Mesoamerica remains to be determined through future research.
Silvia Salgado Gonzalez's report on the Ayala site near Granada, Nicaragua, was a space-time analysis of a collection of stratigraphically excavated
Nicaraguan materials that have been curated at the Peabody Museum at Harvard since they were excavated by Gordon R. Willey and Albert H. Norweb
between 1959 and 1961. Salgado Gonzalez's chapter discusses the Ayala
site's chronological position and its relationship to the Rivas area of Greater
Nicoya and Honduras, with particular emphasis on the Bagaces period (A.D.
300-800 in Nicaragua, A.D. 500-800 in northwestern Costa Rica).
Her study of Ayala's ceramics was conducted to further expand Norweb's
and Healy's work, to build a new regional chronological sequence, and to
make interregional comparisons within Greater Nicoya, especially during
the Bagaces period, which is still poorly understood. She also summarizes
local differences with the general Greater Nicoya sequence and defines new
phase names. As she notes, the definition of the new phases was based not
only on the Ayala site ceramic complexes but also on comparisons with
those of other regional sequences of Greater Nicoya. It is interesting-and
indicative of the relative uniqueness of the Ayala site sequence-that she felt
comfortable cross-dating her phases with the southern Honduran sequences.
In addition to ceramic types from the northern sector of Greater Nicoya
similar to those reported by Healy (1980) from relatively nearby sites,2 the
Ayala site appears to have a comparatively high percentage (given its geographicallocation) of types with relationships to southeastern Honduras. As

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 311

310 Frederick W. Lange

with the Rigat and Gonz~Hez Rivas space-time chapter, the report on the
Ayala materials both fills in a spatial gap in our knowledge of Greater
Nicoya prehistory and contributes to our slowly evolvmg u?derstandmg of
the nature of the relationship between southern Mesoamenca and Greater
The chapter proposing a separate sequence for the Bay of Salmas (mdependent from the adjacent sequences of the isthmus of Rivas and Ometepe
Island in Nicaragua and the Santa Elena Peninsula, the Bay of Culebra,
Tempisque River Valley, and Tamarindo Bay in Costa Rica; see Figure 6.1)
was added after the New Orleans meeting in 1991, and!l represents the revIsion of an earlier paper (Lange 1989). This separation is a departure from
previous publications (Lange 1971a; Lange and Norr, eds., 1986:4; Lange
and Abel-Vidor 1980:4); the decision to establish a separate sequence for the
Bay of Salinas was based on re-examination of the ceramic and lithic assemblages, a significant expansion of the regional database since 1969-1971,
and a clearer understanding of the Bay of Salinas's position in a broader context. The predominant presence of typically southern sector (Costa Ric~)
ceramics, together with a more typically northern sector (Nicaragua) exp~dl
ent chipped-stone lithic assemblage, clearly distinguishes the Bay of Salmas
sites from sites either to the north or to the south.
The chapter by Francis Corrales Ulloa and Ifigenia Quintanilla Jimenez
on the archaeology of the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica summarized
some aspects of a multiyear project (Corrales 1986, 1988a, 1989a, 1990;
Corrales and Quintanilla 1986,1989; Quintanilla 1988a, 1988b, 1990). Like
Rigat, Gonz:Hez Rivas, and Salgado Gonzalez, these scholars fill in a previously unknown space in the chronological sequence of the prehistoric map
of Costa Rica.
As for space-time concerns, it is worth noting that Corrales Ulloa and
Quintanilla Jimenez have suggested the establishment of a new archaeological subarea (the central Pacific) that has no local stratigraphic sequence; all
chronological placements are dependent on cross-dating with either the Central Valley or Greater Nicoya sequences. Although in general this should
yield relatively reliable results, we need to bear in mind that in another Central American archaeological subarea (Greater Nicoya), the 200-year differences between the beginning and end of the Early Polychrome periods in
adjacent Pacific Nicaragua and northwestern Costa Rica can have a significant impact on the interpretation of regional cultural processes (Lange et al.
1992: 177; Salgado, this volume). An archaeological subarea without an in
situ chronological sequence is incomplete.
In their contribution Corrales Ulloa and Quintanilla Jimenez also provide
significant new data on the southern extension of Greater Nicoya and interrelationships with the Central Valley of Costa Rica, as there was a significant
quantity of Greater Nicoya ceramics primarily dating from A:D. 800 to 1200
in many of the sites. Finally, they also feel, on the basIs of aVailable data, that

they can suggest a "Central Archaeological Region" of Costa Rica, as distinct from the more traditional tripartite "Nicoya," "Central Valley," and
"Atlantic coast" regions.
Corrales Ulloa and Quintanilla Jimenez also address another concern of
this summary chapter-that of the archaeological identification of levels of
social organization. In discussing social organization, they write, "evidence
of . . . socio-political complexity is characterized by a transitional stage
between tribal and chiefdom social organizations," and they echo the need to
reassess our means of characterizing prehistoric Central American social
Based on fieldwork from farther south along the Pacific coast, Claude F.
Baudez and his students summarize a survey and testing program carried out
in 1990 in the lower Diquis Area, Costa Rica. The project resulted in a new
chronological sequence for southern Pacific Costa Rica and allowed comparisons with previous work by Lothrop (1963), Drolet (1984, 1992), and Corrales (1989a) in Costa Rica and Linares de Sapir (1968b) in Panama. As with
the Greater Nicoya and central Pacific works already mentioned, their chapter not only contributes to filling a space-time gap but also adds to a better
understanding of the Greater Chiriqui spatial-temporal dynamic.
As space-time gaps continue to be filled and correlated with existing
sequences, we also need to continue to address some priority regional
themes for the Central America area, themes that, incidentally, can only be
more thoroughly studied as the space-time basis expands. It is equally true
that attempts at more synthetic, regional research (prehistoric nutrition, trade
patterns, subsistence, settlement pattern, etc.) can also help to identify where
some of the most critical space-time gaps still exist. In the best of all worlds,
the development of space-time controls and the development of regional syntheses are interdependent and interactive. What are some of the more important themes to be pursued?


The Development of Central American Social Organization:
Tribes, Chiefdoms, and Other Forms of Ranked Societies
As discussed, this is a top priority. Creamer and Haas (1985) may well have,
intentionally or otherwise, set this process in motion when they reviewed the
relationship of archaeological data and social organization in Greater
Nicoya. Although their selection of examples may not have been the most
representative, they performed a valuable service by stimulating a re-examination of the social implications of archaeological remains. However, the
archaeological data necessary for such interpretations are still far from adequate. As Healy (1992: 86-87) observes, "Though they focused on prehistoric groups in Costa Rica and Panama, they enumerated characteristics that
are equally applicable to the aboriginal societies of ancient Honduras.

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 313

312 Frederick W. Lange

Unfortunately, the archaeological data for this area are often incomplete, and
hardly uniform, making a full, detailed interpretation premature, If not problematic."
Many of us previously had assumed that jade, polychrome cer~mics, and
other specialized craft products had been the work of speCialists and
reflected a chiefdom level of organization. We now realize that the eVidence
for chiefdoms is not as strong as we thought and that the use of the concept
is perhaps even inappropriate in Central America-:the Intermedi~te Area. For
example, almost without exception, even the. fanCiest Greater Nicoya ceramics occur both in domestic and mortuary setttngs (Lange 1992).
The 1987 Dumbarton Oaks conference that focused on archaeological
detection of wealth and hierarchy in the Intermediate Area (Lange 1992)
also addressed a number of examples of archaeological representations of
elite behavior and objects of material culture. As Sheets (1992a:28) ~oted,
"High levels of aesthetic achievement are not unusual tn .relatlvely Simple
societies" and "Intermediate Area societies expended conSiderable ttme and
effort in selected crafts, with resultant high achievements in artistic. representations. There is no reason to expect that most of these achievements
required particularly complex societies." These views were echoed by other
contributors to the symposium and to the resulttng volume (Lange, ed.,
1992). There is a growing acceptance among Central American archaeologists that any assumption of a direct correlation between artifact quahty and
. '
social complexity is speculative at best.
Whether most of the archaeological data represent tnbes or chiefdoms, as
traditionally defined, is one issue; whether a more simple system of
unranked, passively ranked, actively ranked, and complexly ranked tnbes IS
a more productive analytical framework is another. As Hoopes has wntten
(1992:73), "A concentration on the identification of the emergence of 'chiefdoms' and centralized authority (cf. Snarskis 1987; HanseJll987) may well
be inappropriate for many parts of the Intermediate Area."
Available data strongly indicate that limited-scale (stngle-slte or.superficial survey) data are not reliable indicators of differing levels of SOCial organization. The potential for the most useful data seems to be tn thepotenttal
for intensive regional survey and testing programs (also known as Improved
space-time control) and assessing the data for the pres~nce or.abse~ce of systems of site hierarchies, rather than attempttng to dlsttngUlsh hierarchical
positions within individual sites and, even worse, trying to apply these tntrasite assessments to regional models.
Finally, there is also a problem with "paradigm disjuncture" .or the difference between what various scholars mean by a SOCial orgamzatlOn term,
such as chiefdom; a good example is the comparison with what some of our
Central American colleagues mean by the same term, usually translated as
cacicazgo (clearly recognizing that not all English-speaki~g resear~hers
agree on what chiefdom means 1). Because of differences tn educatIOnal

background and theoret;~al training, a chiefdom is not necessarily a cadcazgo; the Central American term is more in the vein of the ranked and
unranked options discussed earlier.
Fonseca (1986) has dealt extensively with the issue of the interpretation of
social organization in archaeological research, and in a recent publication
Ibarra (1990:47) defined cacicazgo as (translation mine): "the life style of
semi-cultivator/distributor, characteristic of the Costa Rican chiefdoms, was
based especially in agricultural activities, complemented by hunting, fishing,
and gathering .... The ownership of the means of production, the land, the
raw material and the tools, was communal." This definition contrasts with
the more traditional strongly centralized redistributive system often associated with chiefdoms (although this concept has been reexamined and made
more flexible depending on its geographical and temporal locus ([cf. Drennan and Uribe, eds., 1987]). On a practical level, the use of translations of
English language material for teaching and the development of regional syntheses derived from both English- and Spanish-language publications
requires a communality of terminology and conceptual comprehension.
There is a great need to align the different terminologies so that we are in
fact all writing about the same thing, from the same mutually understood
(even if not agreed upon) conceptual framework.
A number of the chapters in the volume bear directly on our interests in
archaeological representation of social complexity. John Hoopes's chapter
on a reappraisal of settlement, subsistence, and the origins of social complexity in the Aguas Buenas tradition of Greater Chiriqui contains the most
comprehensive overview to date of previous research in the region, focusing
on "the earliest villages in Greater Chiriqui ... with the goal of identifying
problems and questions for future research in the area." Combined with the
more narrowly focused chapter by Baudez and his students and with Drolet's
research (1992), we have a new perspective on the prehistory of southern
Costa Rica and Greater Chiriqui. Drolet (1992:235-236) writes that:
tracing the evolution of two artisan industries over an approxi-

mately 2,OOO-year span of cultural settlement in the Terraba Basin

of southern Costa Rica has permitted a reconstruction of the organizational features associated with early chiefdom formation in
this subregion of Greater Chiriqui. The seeds of this form of polity
organization began in the Formative Period and intensified until
Spanish Contact. One key factor in this growth was the formation
of the settlement territory. This corporate unit permitted the integration of settlements over a wide geographical area and stimulated the appearance of a higher level of leadership and authority

314 Frederick W. Lange

Similar settlement territories appear not to have formed in Greater Nicoya

or in the Arenal area of the cordillera of Gnanacaste, but they can be suggested for the Central Valley and higher Atlantic watershed of Costa Rica.
Jane Stevenson Day and Alice Chiles Tillett's examination of the archaeological data and symbolism reflecting prehistoric shamanism in Nicoya displays interesting differences between the northern and southern sectors of
the Greater Nicoya region of Nicaragua and Costa Rica with regard to possibe interpretations of prehistoric shamanism. Most of the suggested shamanistic traits from the Nicoya region of Costa Rica are absent from the Rivas
region of Nicaragua and, interestingly, from the Bay of Salinas region as
well. (See Lange 1992:115-123, for a discussion of these distributional differences; the differences in the presence or absence of these artifact categories between the northern sector of Greater Nicoya in Nicaragua and the
southern sector in Costa Rica require considerable additional research and
analysis.) For the moment, this chapter clearly demonstrates the hazards of
basing interpretations of social complexity solely on artifact associations.
In his chapter, Mark Miller Graham suggests that the presence of predominantly gold metallurgy may be utilized as a horizon marker in Central
America. He also discusses the reliability of the identification and interpretation of gold objects on stone statuary and the "role of Atlantic watershed
Costa Rican polities in the commerce in metalwork with the Maya of
Yucatan." His interpretation that prehistorically eastern Mesoamerica and
the Intermediate Area were more linked than separate, with major routes of
contact passing through Central America, points out the need for a greatly
expanded space-time database in the eastern two-thirds of Honduras if this
model is to be further developed. His ideas are reinforced by some of the
emphases in Karen Olsen Bruhns's chapter.
The Absence of the State
Closely related to the theme of social complexity is the concern with the
evolution or, in Central American terms, the nonevolution of the state.
Archaeologically, we have data from over 2,500 years of culture history in
an area full of rich natural resources, which, at the time of the Spanish Conquest, had not a single community approaching the size or complexity of
Tikal, Tenochtithin, Monte Alban, or other such well-known sites. Very few
Central American sites even left permanent aboveground architecture, and
the prehistoric landscape was dotted by varying levels of loosely ranked and
even unranked societies. It has been fashionable in some circles to ask a
seemingly pejorative question: Why didn't Central America achieve statelevel complexity? (cf. Willey 1984:375). As Hoopes stated the issue
(1992:46), "For several years, a principal research question for Americanists
approaching the Intermediate Area has been: why did some cultures flourish
and eventually attain the status of civilizations while others stagnated?"

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 315

We have begun to suspect that these Central American groups managed to

avoid state-level complexity; whether accidentally or whether there are indi-

cations of purposeful evasion is another issue. Lange, Sheets, Martinez, and

Abel-Vidor (1992) have suggested a new model in which longer cultural
periods and slower cultural evolution in Greater Nicoya in general and in
Nicaragua Pacific specifically, in comparison with the Maya and the
Mesoamericans, generated a more stable and more peaceful existence for the
p~ople who lived there. This is contrasted with the more rapidly changing
cultural fabric of prehistoric Mesoamerica, which featured tribute, human
sacrifice, and much larger-scale warfare than previously thought. We suggest
that Central America and Costa Rica did not achieve state-level complexity
not because of cultural ineptness but because of the cultural and ecological
opportunities that existed and the options that were selected.
Interregional Trade Networks and Cultural Connections
A better understanding of social organization is also essential for interpreting the forms of artifact production and patterns of exchange that may have
existed. Previous research has demonstrated that we need various forms of
instrumental analyses to reconstruct patterns of raw material exploitation,
processes of artifact production, and patterns of exchange.
To date, instrumental analyses of three groups of artifacts (ceramics,
obsidian, and jade) have greatly enhanced our ability to track and reconstruct
prehistoric networks in Central America and to evaluate Mesoamerican contacts and influence on more than an impressionistic level. Jade has been the
least useful, largely because of our inability to connect artifacts to raw material sources and the lack of large quantities of artifacts from controlled contexts (Bishop, Sayre, and van Zeist 1985; Lange, ed., 1993).
The study of Greater Nicoya ceramics (Bonilla et al. 1990; Bishop,
Lange, and Lange 1988; Lange, Canouts, and Salgado 1992) has contributed
significantly to the study of regional patterns because of both the size of the
analyzed sample and its temporal and geographical range. More than 1,300
samples in the Greater Nicoya Ceramic Sample link over fifty sites in Nicaragua and Costa Rica (Lange et a!. 1992:fig. 6.7a-b) as members of a multiregional analytical network.
A central assemblage of eighty highly distinctive stylistic types and varieties is the common denominator of the ceramic assemblage of Greater
Nicoya. The ceramic assemblages of the northern and southern sectors can
be distinguished by type-variety classifications that have been confirmed and
refined by instrumental neutron activation analyses, or INAA. The methodology and results of the 1,300+ sample Greater Nicoya analytical assemblage have been summarized both in English (Lange, Bishop, and Lange
1990) and in Spanish (Lange, Bishop, and Lange 1990).

316 Frederick W. Lange

All presently classified ceramic types and varieties fall into the following
I. Types/varieties manufactured only in the northern sector;
2. Types/varieties manufactured only in the southern sector;
3. Types with one or more varieties manufactured in the
northern sector and one or more varieties manufactured in the
southern sector; and
4. "Foreign" ceramics falling into extra-areal southern Mesoamerican ceramic groups.
The distributional patterns of ceramics in the four different categories
offer excellent opportunities to examine intraregional relationships and
exchange patterns with southern Mesoamerica and the Caribbean-Atlantic
coastal areas. With regard to a specific comment in Bruhns's chapter, none of
the samples of Usulutan analyzed so far by the Greater Nicoya Ceramic
Project were imported from outside the area. As noted elsewhere (cf. Lange
1992:115) we are dealing with the broadly dispersed decorative technique
applied to local ceramics. For the future we need to expand the combination
of ceramic typological and instrumental analytical abilities, as well as auxiliary analytical techniques that are of less analytical power but of greater utility to the other regions, spheres, and zones of Central America.
Obsidian is another source-related raw material highly suitable for tracing
patterns of resource exploitation, artifact production, and both resource and
artifact distribution in Central America. Although still limited by comparison with Mesoamerican obsidian databases (cf. Charlton and Spence 1982;
Zeitlin 1982; Cobean et al. 1991; Stark et al. 1992), the database for Central
America is slowly accumulating (Sheets et al. 1990; Stross, Asaro, and
Michel 1992; Healy et aI., this volume).
Despite a highly volcanic landscape, obsidian has not been found in Costa
Rica in usable size or quality nodules or veins. All obsidian analyzed thus far
(Sheets et al. 1990; Stross, Asaro, and Michel 1992) from Costa Rica and
Nicaragua was either from the Pixcaya or Ixtepeque sources in Guatemala or
from the newly identified Giiinope source on the western Honduran border
with Nicaragua. Most of the analyzed obsidian has been recovered from contexts that coincide chronologically with both Mora Polychrome and Papagayo Polychrome and are excellent complementary data to the ceramics for
evaluating intersite and interregional contacts (cf. Zeitlin 1982; Stark et al.
In Ranere and Cooke's chapter, the authors examine regional trade systems that are not dependent on instrumental analyses for their definition.
They also make the interesting observation that some lithic distribution
patterns were more extensive than those of ceramics patterns and that

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 317

"lithic and ceramic styles were not always governed by the same constraints." This also seems to have been the case in Pacific Nicaragua,
whe~e La;,ge and Sheets (Lange et al. I 992:figs. 3.1,3.2,3.3) identified
varymg dIstnbutlOns for ceramic and lithic spheres in the northern sector
of Greater Nicoya.
Comparative II?portance of Maize and Other Subsistence Systems
From the begmmng of my research in northwestern Costa Rica (Lange 1969,
1970), I questIOned the Mesoamerican-based "myth" of maize agricultural
dependence that had been promoted about the prehistoric residents of the
southern sector of Greater Nicoya. In sequential periods of research in different parts of the Pacific coast of Guanacaste from 1969 to 1979 (Lange
1971a, 1976, I 977a, 1978, 1980a; Lange et al. 1976), there were no vegetal
remams, no artIstIc representations, no cob impressions, and few functional
manos or metates in domestic contexts.
Since that time the ability to reconstruct diets from human remains has
advanced greatly. In the most ~omprehensive analyses to date, eight individuals ;rom the VIdor SIt~ ",::ere mcluded with a much larger sample from Panama, as well as other hmIted samples from Costa Rica (Norr 1991). Closely
related to thIS more extensIve research, Norr's chapter in this volume presents extensIve stable carbon and nitrogen isotopic data derived from bone
collagen analysis of some of the prehistoric inhabitants. Part of Norr's sample population was derived from sites on the Pacific coast of Guanacaste
Provinc~ in Costa Rica, whe:e there was the potential for both agricultural
a?d marme SubSIstence explOItatIOn. She concludes that a complex pattern of
dI~tary explOItatIOn ~xIsted, with exploitation of either major resource base
belOg vanable WIth tIme period, geographical location, and climate. In most
locations she notes an inverse relationship between marine and maize diets
and "a strong correlation between settlement environment and subsistence
We now know that the dietary strategies of prehistoric Central American
populations were more complex and much less monolithic than we realized.
Th~ ~vailable data appear to coincide conveniently with the models of more
lOdIvIdually struct~red societie~ presented earlier. However, considerably
more research on dIet and nutntlOn and on the auxiliary impact on mortality
and mortuary patterns needs to be conducted. Integration of the ceramic
lithic, faunal, :nolluscan, and human skeletal data from research throughou;
Central AmerIca should provIde a much more accurate overview of the
development of prehistoric subsistence patterns and related social patterns.

In the preceding section, I have sketched out some of the various themes that
need to be addressed in conjunction with basic space-time studies as we

318 Frederick W. Lange

gradually reduce the number of gaps and increase our interpretive understanding.
Methodologically, as we enter the twenty-first century, it is clear that our
basic time-space data must drive our hypothesis testing and our syntheses
and that these efforts at model testing and synthesis will in turn continue to
indicate where space-time data gaps exist. Central American prehistory
requires this interactive process and balance.
The next step is to identify those gaps as specifically as possible for the
four countries of the Central American isthmus: Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa
Rica, and Panama (Figure 16.1). The following inventory of priority areas
for future time-space studies was developed in consultation with persons
working in each of the individual countries and is not meant to be exhaustive
in detail. Some minimal information may exist for certain areas not shown
on the map, and at the same time not all geographical subunits are individually identified.
Although the western one-third of Honduras is firmly allied with the Maya
area (Healy 1984a, 1992), the vast eastern two-thirds is more closely allied
with lower Central America and the Caribbean, and it has received much
less research emphasis. There are two principal unknown regions and targets
for future investigation.
The Gulf of Fonseca unites part of Honduras with Pacific coastal EI Salvador and Nicaragua. The gulf needs to be treated as a single multinational research area, both to increase our understanding of southern
Mesoamerican-lower Central American patterns on the Pacific coast and
to provide additional data on possible Caribbean-Pacific contacts via the
Choluteca River Valley and related connecting river systems, for which
the Gulf of Fonseca is the Pacific terminus.
As Figure 16.1 shows, despite Healy's efforts on the north coast (1974,
1975a, 1978a, 1978b, 1984a, 1984b) and research by others (cf. Clark, Dawson, and Drake 1983), the vast eastern two-thirds of Honduras remains virtually unknown. This area has been overlooked in part because of logistical
difficulties and in part because it shows little potential for contributing to our
understanding of Maya civilization. As Healy has noted:
In eastern Honduras . .. linkages to Mesoamerica . .. are unclear and
probably quite limited. Whether due to its geographical isolation
caused by the rugged mountain interior of Honduras, and therefore
the difficulty of maintaining continuous trade and communication


Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 319

links, or because of the obvious sparseness of nucleated populations

due to the delayed development of agriculture, is debatable. Indeed,
during the ... first millennium A.D., we see signs that northeast
Honduras, increasingly isolated from the western chiefdoms, instead
commenced contacts with Lower Central American groups of the
Atlantic coast, with Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and even regions of
northern South America (Healy 1984b:233-236).
However, the non-Maya research opportunities for this area are significant. The Lake Tansin and Lake Caratasca areas and the Aguan, Guayape,
Guayambre, Patuca, Sica, and Paulaya river drainages (Figure 16.1) all
appear to offer ecologically and geographically bounded study regions suitable for the development of both basic cultural-historical sequences and for
contributing to theoretical issues of broader interest.
Potential significance
As Healy (1992:85) has noted, "What is apparent, however, is that even by
800 B.C., parts of western Honduras were already ruled by emergent chiefdoms, while more easterly regions of Honduras remained at a tribal level of
sociopolitical organization." The area offers the potential for studies of Caribbean-Atlantic coastal systems and alternate patterns of regionalized,
sociocultural evolution. Even closer to the Mesoamericanized part of central Honduras, in the El Caj6n region, the Hirths (Hirth and Hirth 1993)
have defined a distinctive lapidary industry, differentiated both from the
Maya tradition to the west and north and from the Central American tradition from the south. The eastern two-thirds of Honduras potentially also
holds significant data for Graham's "metallurgical horizon" hypothesis
(this volume) and for the development and distribution of modeled, applique, and incised ceramic traditions, as opposed to the better-known polychrome traditions from the western and Pacific areas of Central America.
Taken as a single political unit, Nicaragua is still archaeologically the least
known of all the Central American republics. As Figure 16.1 shows, the
Pacific side of the country is known in a spotty fashion, and the Caribbean
side, except for the work of Magnus (1975,1976), not at all. There are two
principal unknown regions and targets for future investigation.
As pointed out in Lange et al. (1992:260), "many thousands of sites are
thought to be buried and preserved, including Paleo-Indian and Archaic
campsites, later agricultural settlements, and Contact period habitation."
Because of the direction of the prevailing winds and episodes of tephra deposition, maximum potential for finding buried sites would seem to be on

320 Frederick W. Lange


the northern Pacific coastal plain, especially from Managua north to the Gulf
of Fonseca. The nineteenth-century eruption of Cosigtiina and the more
recent inundations of Leon Viejo and the eruption of Cerro Negro are ample
proof of the ongoing natural forces in this region. As was noted (Lange et al.
1992:260), "archaeologists working in Nicaragua should take advantage of
this volcanic 'protective' shield and pay special attention to erosional cuts,
road cuts, and other vertical 'windows' into the substrata." The benefits of
locating and studying buried cultural remains have been amply demonstrated
by Sheets's work in EI Salvador (Sheets 1992b). The importance of multinational research around the gulf was emphasized in the preceding section and
is not repeated here.
The reasons for increasing studies on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua are
much the same as those for eastern Honduras, in terms of the need to add to
our knowledge of Atlantic-Caribbean coastal systems. In addition, there
have been isolated pot-hunter reports and some superficial avocational and
professional visits to sites with mounds and stone pillars that suggest a wide
range of cultural variations, from the expansion of the Mesoamerican frontier to non-Mesoamerican architectural traditions, perhaps related to late
prehistoric Chi be han expansion up the Caribbean coast. In addition, numerous sites on the Atlantic coast seem to have the carved stone statuary characteristic of the Chontales area and of the islands in Lake Nicaragua
(Haberland 1973; Arellano 1979-1980). Prograding of the Atlantic coast
means that early sites are now much farther inland and that except for high
points of land, the areas around the modern coastal lagoons may not be rich
in archaeological remains. From north to south, the Huahua, Cucataya,
Prinzapolka, Grande, Curinhuas, Mica, and Punta Gorda drainages should
all be carefully studied.
Potential significance
Nicaragua is both part of the Caribbean cultural arc on the Atlantic side and
the true transition zone between Mesoamerican and non-Mesoamerican peoples on the Pacific. Ceramic, lithic, and settlement data all show distinct contrasts with Mexican-Maya traditions (Lange et al. 1992:chap. 7) but with
connections to those areas via imported obsidian, use of the Usulutan decorative technique, representations of the Papagayo and Delirio White-on-Red
ceramic groups, and, in contrast with adjacent Costa Rica, the reliance on
local lithic sources for a widespread and developed chipped-stone industry.
All of these elements suggest that Nicaragua will contribute significantly to
our understanding of regional development in Central America.

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 321

Costa Rica
In terms of geographical distribution of archaeological research, Costa Rica
is the best known of the Central American republics, but as Figure 16.1
shows, there are still large areas that are known only from pot-hunter reports
or not at all. There are several principal targets for future investigation.
Pacific (northern)
The Santa Cruz Valley and the Nicoya Valley are both natural basins with
large modern populations and extensive farm- and ranchlands, and there is
superficial evidence that there were substantial prehistoric populations as
well. No extended work has been done in either of these areas, and we currently have no idea of how the local sequence of cultural development compares with that on the adjacent Pacific coast or in the Tempisque River
Valley to the east. As for the Tempisque River Valley itself, despite many
different research projects that have studied various aspects of the drainage
(Baudez 1967; Hoopes 1979; Day 1984c; Guerrero and Blanco 1987), it has
never been the focus of a systematic survey. As with the potential for tephra
buried sites on the northern Pacific coast of Nicaragua, the La Guinea area
sampled by both Baudez and Hoopes and the suballuvial finds of most of the
pri vate collection from Hacienda Tempisque suggest the strong potential for
extensive protected subsurface remains in the valley.
Pacific (central)
Although there has been a significant amount of research in this area in
recent years (cf. Corrales Ulloa and Quintanilla Jimenez, this volume), there
is still a need for a local, rather than cross-dated, cultural-historical
Central Valley and Caribbean coast
Many of the same reasons given for studying the Caribbean-Atlantic
coastal systems of eastern Honduras and eastern Nicaragua can be repeated
here. There is an extensive presence of polychrome ceramics (primarily
from the years A.D. 800-1200) in sites in this area, as well as a shared jade
lapidary tradition (from ca. 300 B.C.-A.D. 700), which suggests we still
have a great deal to learn about Pacific-Atlantic interaction during the prehistoric period. W. J. Kennedy (1978), Snarskis (1975, 1976, 1978, 1984a,
1992), Fonseca (1981), Gutierrez (1986), Blanco (1986), and Hurtado de
Mendoza and Arias (1986) have all worked in the central portion of the
Central Valley-Atlantic watershed continuum, but we have little indication
of how the patterns and sequences they have developed and described will
apply to still unstudied geographical areas to the north and to the south.
The southern Central Highlands, purportedly the stimulus for much of the
stone sculpture in the Barriles area of Panama, and the extreme southern
Caribbean coast in the Sixaloa River Valley along the Panamanian border,

322 Frederick W. Lange

which was supposedly an Aztec outpost, are both poorly known areas.
They presumably have much to offer to our understanding of interregional
contacts and systems and should be the focal points of studies in the near
future. The north-central San Carlos plain, with its many rivers, and the
multiple drainages leading from the Central Valley and eastern flank of the
Central Highlands should also receive intensive study.
Potential significance
Costa Rica has much to offer in further data development for many of the
appositions and contrasts that we find in different guises in Central American archaeology: ecologically contrasting cultural historical development in
the dry Pacific and wet Atlantic climatic regimes, the contrasts of polychrome ceramics on the Pacific watershed and modeled and applique ceramics on the Atlantic, and the overarching presence of some material cultural
classes (for example, jade). Others were more geographically restricted in
their production and occurrence (such as polychrome ceramics).
The archeology of Panama in the twentieth century has been an interesting
contrast of largely opportunistic access to major cemetery sites, such as
;, 2\(. Cocle (Lothrop (1937, 1942a), the Veragus area (Lothrop 1950), and
Venado Beach (Lothrop 1954), and more carefully
structured settlement pattern and human ecology studies (Linares de Sapir 1968b; Linares and
Ranere, eds., 1980; Cooke and Ranere 1984). For a variety of reasons these
efforts have focused on what is commonly referred to as the Central Province of Panama; research in the Chiriqui region to the west and to the Darien
area to the east has been considerably more modest. In this area, there are
two principal unknown regions and targets for future investigation.
This area shows tentative linkages with eastern Honduras, Nicaragua, and
Costa Rica. Just as Nicaragua and Honduras form the southern border of the
Maya area, Panama is distinctly on the northern boundary of South American peoples, most of whom had their relationships with the tropical lowland
rather than Andean highland groups.
Sites in this area are considerably earlier than coastal sites anywhere on the
Pacific coast of Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and the present database, which
has come from a number of sites in limited areas of investigation, needs to
be expanded.

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 323

Potential significance
Panama presently provides us with the best ecological data, mortuary data,
and Paleoindian and Archaic period data of any of the countries in Central
America. Nonetheless more than half of the country is unexplored, and we
have little idea of how data from these regions may alter or amplify our
present interpretations. In particular, research in Panama may help us to better understand the expansion of gold metallurgical techniques from South
America to Central America and Mesoamerica and to better explain whether
the initial expansion was over land, over water, or by a variety of different
means and mechanisms.

An admirable array of advanced analytical techniques, ranging from INAA
applications to jade (Bishop, Sayre, and van Zeist 1985) and Greater Nicoya
ceramics (Lange and Bishop 1988; Bonilla et al. 1990) to isotopic reconstructions of prehistoric diets (Norr 1991), detailed environmental reconstructions (Cooke and Ranere 1984, 1992), utilization of remote sensing
techniques (Sheets, ed., 1984), phytolith analyses (Piperno 1988), and gradual development of a regional obsidian database (Sheets et al. 1990), have all
made significant contributions to current interpretations. However, these
techniques have usually been applied, either experimentally or exclusively,
to one region or subarea or another. The corpus of radiocarbon determinations is also very heavily biased toward the Panamanian area, with Nicaragua, by comparison, being represented by less than a dozen total radiocarbon
determinations. These unbalanced or limited applications have fallen short
of providing databases that can serve as the basis for regional comparisons.
Filling in analytical gaps, through the expansion of the application of techniques that have already proved successful in other locations to address similar problems, will help to tie together space-time sequences through
instrumental or other technical analyses not dependent on impressionistic
analyses of style or technique.
Locating a local jade source remains one of the highest priorities in artifact source, production, and distribution studies in Central America. Chronological control needs to be improved, whether through increased radiocarbon
dating or through the introduction of archaeomagnetic dating as a chronometric alternative.
We also need to greatly increase our sample of Paleoindian and Archaic
period sites if we are to make progress in our attempts to study the origin of
the settled village transition in Central America and its distinctive subsequent development that resulted in nonstate-level societies. At the other end
of the spectrum we have very few sites, if any, that we can say with confidence were occupied at the time of the Spanish invasion, and which truly
represent the endpoint in indigenous cultural development in the area.

324 Frederick W. Lange

The methodology and intellectual framework of the Greater Nicoya

Ceramic Suite need to be applied to other appropriate situations. The
ceramic database has been used to clarify some thinking about the interareal
and interregional aspects of the chronological organization of the Greater
Nicoya CtIltural sequence. The Greater Nicoya Ceramic Project has made it
apparent that most types and varieties have a long duration compared to rates
of ceramic change during the Classic periods in Mexico and the Maya area.
This long duration of types and varieties is being interpreted not as a lack of
chronological control nor a lack of analytical ability to further subdivide the
chronological sequences but rather as an indication of relatively stable cultural, economic, and political conditions (Lange et al. 1992). Very few true
trade vessels from Mesoamerica have been identified in Greater Nicoya, and
some speculatively identified links to southern Mesoamerica (such as the use
of the Usulutan decorative technique) have been shown analytically to be the
borrowing or imitation of a technique, rather than the import-export of
ceramic vessels.
Although INAA ceramic analyses will help us to assess Mesoamerican
influence in the northern part of lower Central America, similar projects
could also be developed in Panama with the Cocle and Tonosf polychrome
styles and in Atlantic-Caribbean areas in which the decorative techniques
emphasized applique, modeling, and incising rather than painting.
Another form of analytical gap is in the lack of analyses of existing collections in museums, either in the various Central American republics or in
other countries. A wealth of data, much of it from sites that no longer exist or
are no longer accessible, remain to be analyzed.

As we head for the twenty-first century, we also need to recognize the political and professional gaps that impede the study of Central America's prehistory. One gap results from the lack of a regional approach to cultural
preservation: most precolumbian culture areas cross over into the borders of
adjacent countries (or as in the case of the Gulf of Fonseca, pertain to three
different republics). Although each of the Central American countries struggles to one extent or another with protecting the cultural remains within its
own political borders, there is not yet a will to coordinate regional conservation that will positively address the cross-border situations, or what we have
cal1ed "cultures without frontiers." There have also been problems associated with the economic impediments of much of the 10cal1y sponsored Central American archaeology being limited to salvage efforts (Corrales 1987a).
Frequently these projects recover a limited amount of data over a relatively
brief work period and provide little opportunity to inventory and investigate
the surrounding area for other sites.

Gaps in Our Databases and Blanks in Our Synthesis 325

For example, when the important Talamanca de Tibas site was found in
the Central Valley of Costa Rica in 1979 (Snarskis 1979), efforts were
focused on the salvage situation, and neither then nor since has any survey
been attempted of the surrounding area-<lespite continuing efforts and
despite continuing reports of chance finds in the process of cultivating coffee
and construction for suburban development. This has been the case in a number of other sites in Costa Rica (cf. Guerrero and Blanco 1987 at La Ceiba;
Blanco 1986 at Ochomogo), and it is one of the most marked distinctions
between nationally funded projects and internationally funded projects that
have the luxury of proceeding at a more structured pace and often involve
more than one season. During the 1970s, the National Museum of Costa
Rica funded ongoing projects in the northwestern Pacific part of the country
(Lange and Abel-Vidor 1980), in the Atlantic watershed (Snarskis 1984a,
1992), and in the southern Pacific (Drolet 1984, 1992). Such projects are
now finished, and other continuous projects are being funded from international sources. In Nicaragua, aU archaeological projects, long-term or salvage, are dependent on extranational funding. In Honduras, the lack of
archaeological research in the eastern part of the country is partial1y due to a
lack of interest on the part of external agencies and the national government
in funding research in the non-Maya (i.e., nontourist) sector of the country.
We must also be concerned about training nationals in these countries to
assume more and more of the research responsibility. At the University of
Costa Rica there has been an ongoing program to encourage students to
carry out projects and write reports that would help to fill in the space-time
gaps in the coverage of national geographical and ecological subdivisions
(cf. Arias and Chavez 1985; Arrea 1987). However, very few of these reports
have found their way into the wider scientific literature (perhaps this criticism is balanced or even outweighed by the failure of many foreign scholars
to publish their results in Spanish; the reality is that we all need to do a better
job of sharing our results with interested colleagues, regardless of level of
training or linguistic ability or limitations). With the sole exception of Costa
Rica, there is very little or no university training in archaeology available in
Central America.
The impending passage to the twenty-first century is to some extent irrelevant to the study of Central American prehistory. However, the end of the
present century represents 100 years, with the flexibility of some convenient
rounding up or down by a few years here and there, since archaeology truly
began in Central America. Stone (1984) notes that Gordon began work in
Honduras in 1896 (Gordon 1898); F. de Montessus de BaUore wrote on
El Salvador in 1892; Bransford (1881), Flint (1878, n.d.), and BovalJius
(1886, 1887) opened the doors for serious archaeology in Nicaragua; Hartman (1901, 1907) began research in Costa Rica; and Holmes (1888) and
MacCurdy (1911) initiated research in Panama.

326 Frederick W. Lange

The passing of the century mark also seems worth observing because we
began this century without the existence of a recognized scientific discipline
of archaeology and are completing the century with a discipline that has
gone through many changes (Willey and Sabloff 1980). As in past eras, the
current direction of the discipline will have a definitive impact, for better or
for worse, on research in Central America in the twenty-first century. Will
the need for a return to an emphasis on space-time systematics be appreciated? Will the efforts to develop a model that challenges or complements the
conventional wisdom on the evolution and preeminence of state-level societies be welcomed by those who dominate the Atlantean heights of central
Mexican, lowland Maya, and Andean highland architectural complexes?
Changes in broader disciplinary emphases and the industry of our own
efforts will combine in as yet undefined variations and coalesce to produce,
it is hoped, an enhanced view of Central American prehistory.



Accola, R. M.



There is often confusion in distinguishing between what have been called

Central America and the Intermediate Area. In the introduction to an edited
volume on the Intermediate Area (Lange, ed., 1992:2-3), I have noted that
"politically, Central America was designated by Baudez (1970:1) as corresponding to 'Five states-Honduras, EI Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and
Panama.' Geographically, he noted (1970: 11) that 'the isthmus can conveniently be described in three zones of unequal length. These are from west to
east, the Pacific zone, the central highland zone, and the Caribbean zone.' For
the purposes of the present volume, this unit has the disadvantage of including
the heavily Mesoamericanized western parts of Honduras and El Salvador,
while excluding western Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela." Further on
(Lange, ed., 1992:3), I noted that "the prehistoric Intermediate Area ...
includes eastern Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, northern Ecuador, Colombia, and western Venezuela." These two definitions clearly demonstrate some overlap in geographical area and their underlying, essentially
arbitrary nature.
The designation of the northern and southern sectors of Greater Nicoya is
made in Lange (1984b:167), despite "general areal unity," to highlight "significant distribution differences in some ceramic types ... as well as differing
patterns of cultural development, subsistence orientation, and degrees of
impact by external influence." The northern sector focused on the inland lakes
of Nicaragua and the southern sector on the plains and bays of northwestern
Costa Rica.

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Fred Stross, Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Alice Chiles Tillett, Houston, Texas
Gordon R. Willey, Harvard University


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