Historical Archaeology

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 65–80 | Cite as

Archaeology and Ethnohistory on the Spanish Colonial Periphery: Excavations at the Templo Colonial in Nicoya, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

  • John W. Lawrence


Archaeological and historical investigations were carried out in the town of Nicoya, Costa Rica, between 1989 and 1991. The town is of historical interest as having been reported as the largest indigenous chiefdom along the northwest coast when the Spanish first reconnoitered the region in 1519. The settlement quickly become incorporated into the spanish colonial empire and persisted as a pueblo de Indios for close to 300 years. Excavations within and outside the purported colonial-age church in Nicoya failed to produce any evidence for a nucleated indigenous community, but they did uncover a colonial-age cemetery outside the church as well as several inhumations within the church presbytery. Archaeological and historical evidence also suggests that the church was rebuilt at least once in the past and that the current structure probably dates to the mid-19th century. This research indicates that indigenous Nicoya was not a single nucleated settlement, as has been generally held by archaeologists and historians. The Spanish more likely encountered a number of dispersed villages under the political leadership of a chief named Nicoya, and the current town of Nicoya is the result of a 16th-century reducción (forced resettlement) of these villages. Finally, the interpretation of the church’s history based on historical documents and archaeological investigations is contrasted to contemporary understanding of Nicoya’s history. The divergent histories provide additional insight into the important role the church structure plays in the lives and identities of the townspeople.


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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • John W. Lawrence
    • 1
  1. 1.BurlingtonUSA

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