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History, Archaeology And Excavation: Costa Rica’s Guayabo National Monument

History, Archaeology And Excavation: Costa Rica’s Guayabo National Monument

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on May 17th, 2017.

By no means am I a historian, an archaeologist, or an excavationist, but I certainly respect the work of each and how important it is to our understanding of the past.

Nikki - Guayabo National Monument
Nikki – Guayabo National Monument

Ricky and I have spent a good amount of time in the Turrialba area – partly because Ricky was born and raised nearby the region (his family still resides in his childhood home) and partly because we own land there (for the same reason). The city and nearby pueblos (towns) speak volumes to us but hardly offer as much as a peep to the occasional tourist passerby. Apart from the Turrialba volcano (arguably, Costa Rica’s least popular of its five active volcanoes) and a handful of rafting tour companies that operate in the area, there is not a lot to warrant a visit by those visiting Costa Rica from other countries. Especially when you throw new and unfamiliar Turrialba into the competitive tourism ring, destinations such as La Fortuna/Arenal and Monteverde would knock out the little guy with just one swing. This being said, now and again we come across a random traveller here or there in Turrialba’s supermarkets and banks and we think, they must be here for something. Now we know what drew them in.

Guayabo National Monument - entrance
Guayabo National Monument – entrance

Tucked away an approximate 30 minute drive from downtown Turrialba is the Guayabo National Monument. To confirm (there has been great debate over this as evidenced by discussions in online travel forums), Guayabo is not Costa Rica’s only national monument, however it is Costa Rica’s only protected national monument. Declared so in 1973, the site offers archaeological evidence of life dating back as far as 1000 years B.C. and as late as 1000 years A.D (long before the Spanish colonization).

Ricky - plant from the ginger family found along the Guayabo trail. Ricky says it smells like Canada Dry! :)
Ricky – plant from the ginger family found along the Guayabo trail. Ricky says it smells like Canada Dry! 🙂

When arriving at the site, travellers can opt to tour the monument with a guide or walk the trails on their own (a guided tour takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes, however the trails can be walked without a guide in approximately 45 minutes). Visits are highly recommended for those looking for educational, historical, and/or cultural tours, as well as for travel groups comprised of young children, older travellers, and/or those with limited mobility as the walk is not a difficult one. This being said, some parts of the walk are uphill and downhill, so visitors should be able to walk up and down stairs without issue.

“Petroglyphs are patterned rock carvings, the exact meaning of which is unknown. At Guayabo National Monument there are around 36 petroglyphs with varied patterns ranging from abstract designs to animals.” – Guayabo National Monument

Ricky - viewing a Petroglyph
Ricky – viewing a Petroglyph
Petroglyph
Petroglyph

One of the first petroglyphs displayed at the site is that of the jaguar and the lizard. The design is said to represent “a symbolic alliance of peoples, groups, or high-ranking persons interacting in the Guayabo region and surroundings”. It is remarkable, really. Not only to imagine the colony carving abstract, human, and animal designs into large stones using smaller ones, but to imagine how such a design – a mere scratch in a rock – could not only tell a story full of significance, but that it could also inform us of an entire world and way of life completely lost. That is, until it was found.

The "mound"
The “mound”

The Guayabo National Monument is known for its excavations. Specifically, the “mound” has received great attention as the focus of “several archaeological excavations”. Although an ongoing work in progress, in addition to the architectural structures uncovered, many stone carvings including slabs, tables, seats, and grinding stones have also been found (most of which are kept in the National Museum in San Jose). Together, the evidence of life discovered has put many questions to rest. So many more however, remain unanswered.

“These pools are still functional and store water from two springs. They are part of a larger water transportation system or aqueduct. Water from the first spring falls into the circular pool and then flows through an underground channel beneath the cobblestone road to the wide rectangular pool. Water from the second spring does the same in a north-south direction also ending in the large pool where it flows to the Lajitas creek. It has been suggested that pools are useful in removing sediments from water. Was this water used for drinking or for bathing, or perhaps even ritual bathing? Both uses seem possible.” – Guayabo National Monument

Guayabo National Monument - water filtration
Guayabo National Monument – water filtration
Guayabo National Monument - water filtration
Guayabo National Monument – water filtration

As Ricky and I made our way around the trails it became evident that an entire community not only existed, but that its members were incredibly intelligent. Everything from their water filtration process to the way they used stones to provide a stronger and more secure foundation for their wood and palm-constructed homes was interesting. The intricate and then-complicated work demonstrated by the cobblestone roads was inspiring and the use of symmetrical structures to highlight power within the “chiefdom organization” to not only those within the community but also those who approached it from neighbouring regions was nothing short of genius. Sure, most of these practices seem obvious and have no place in today’s modern world, but it is pretty incredible to think that so many others before us had similar architectural and engineering thoughts without the formal education and nothing but their own two hands to teach them the way. As much as many of us may want to call ourselves trailblazers, the real trend-setters led the way for us years ago. Who knows where we would be (if we would be) without them.

All quotes included above are direct text taken from the Guayabo National Monument

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you been to the Guayabo National Monument or a different historical/archaeological/cultural site in Costa Rica? What did you learn?

Pura vida!

Nikki and Ricky

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