Isthmo-Colombian Area

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The Isthmo-Colombian Area is defined as a cultural area encompassing those territories occupied predominantly by speakers of the Chibchan languages at the time of European contact. It includes portions of the Central American isthmus like eastern El Salvador, eastern Honduras, Caribbean Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Colombia.

Cultural area region with one relatively homogeneous human activity or complex of activities

In anthropology and geography, a cultural region, cultural sphere, cultural area or culture area refers to a geography with one relatively homogeneous human activity or complex of activities (culture). These are often associated with an ethnolinguistic group and the territory it inhabits. Specific cultures often do not limit their geographic coverage to the borders of a nation state, or to smaller subdivisions of a state. Cultural "spheres of influence" may also overlap or form concentric structures of macrocultures encompassing smaller local cultures. Different boundaries may also be drawn depending on the particular aspect of interest, such as religion and folklore vs. dress and architecture vs. language.

Chibchan languages language family

The Chibchan languages make up a language family indigenous to the Isthmo-Colombian Area, which extends from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia and includes populations of these countries as well as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. The name is derived from the name of an extinct language called Chibcha or Muysccubun, once spoken by the people who lived on the Altiplano Cundiboyacense of which the city of Bogotá was the southern capital at the time of the Spanish Conquista. However, genetic and linguistic data now indicate that the original heart of Chibchan languages and Chibchan-speaking peoples may not have been in Colombia at all, but in the area of the Costa Rica-Panama border, where one finds the greatest variety of Chibchan languages.

Isthmus Narrow strip of land connecting two larger land areas

An isthmus is a narrow piece of land connecting two larger areas across an expanse of water by which they are otherwise separated. A tombolo is an isthmus that consists of a spit or bar, and a strait is the sea counterpart of an isthmus.


Major cultural areas of the pre-Columbian Americas:
Andes PreColumbian American cultures.png
Major cultural areas of the pre-Columbian Americas:

Cultural area study and theory

It is a portion of what has previously been termed the Intermediate Area, and was defined in a chapter by John W. Hoopes and Oscar Fonseca Z. [1] in the 2003 book Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia. [2]

The Intermediate Area is an archaeological geographical area of the Americas that was defined in its clearest form by Gordon R. Willey in his 1971 book An Introduction to American Archaeology, Vol. 2: South America. It comprises the geographical region between Mesoamerica to the north and the Central Andes to the south, including portions of Honduras and most of the territory of the republics of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. As an archaeological concept, the Intermediate Area has always been somewhat poorly defined.

The concept draws upon multidisciplinary perspectives, including linguistic reconstructions by Costa Rican anthropological linguist Adolfo Constenla Umaña and observations on Chibchan genetics by Costa Rican anthropological geneticist Ramiro Barrantes Mesén. It is currently being refined through ongoing studies of the linguistics. genetics, archaeology, art history, ethnography, and ethnohistory of this part of the Americas. This includes more recent study of the relationships between this area and the Antilles within a Pan-Caribbean framework.

Genetics Science of genes, heredity, and variation in living organisms

Genetics is a branch of biology concerned with the study of genes, genetic variation, and heredity in organisms.

Linguistics is the scientific study of language. It involves analysing language form, language meaning, and language in context. The earliest activities in the documentation and description of language have been attributed to the 6th-century-BC Indian grammarian Pāṇini who wrote a formal description of the Sanskrit language in his Aṣṭādhyāyī.

Archaeology, or archeology, is the study of human activity through the recovery and analysis of material culture. The archaeological record consists of artifacts, architecture, biofacts or ecofacts and cultural landscapes. Archaeology can be considered both a social science and a branch of the humanities. In North America archaeology is a sub-field of anthropology, while in Europe it is often viewed as either a discipline in its own right or a sub-field of other disciplines.

Cultural area archaeology

Archaeological knowledge of this area has received relatively little attention compared to its adjoining neighbors to the north and south, despite the fact that scholars such as Max Uhle, William Henry Holmes, C. V. Hartman, and George Grant MacCurdy undertook studies of archaeological sites and collections here over a century ago that were augmented by further research by Samuel Kirkland Lothrop, John Alden Mason, Doris Zemurray Stone, William Duncan Strong, Gordon Willey, and others in the early 20th century. One of the reasons for the relative lack of attention is the relative absence of monumental architecture that is so characteristic of the neighboring culture areas of Mesoamerica and the Andes areas and a long history of ethnocentric perceptions by Western scholars of what represented civilization and what did not.

Max Uhle German archaeologist

Friedrich Max Uhle was a German archaeologist, whose work in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Bolivia at the turn of the Twentieth Century had a significant impact on the practice of archaeology of South America.

William Henry Holmes American academic, painter and illustrator

William Henry Holmes — known as W.H. Holmes — was an American explorer, anthropologist, archaeologist, artist, scientific illustrator, cartographer, mountain climber, geologist and museum curator and director.

George Grant MacCurdy American anthropologist

George Grant MacCurdy, A.M., Ph.D. was an American anthropologist, born at Warrensburg, Mo., where he graduated from the State Normal School in 1887, after which he attended Harvard ; then studied in Europe at Vienna, Paris, and at Berlin (1894–98; and at Yale. He was employed at Yale from 1902 onwards as instructor, lecturer, curator of the anthropological collections, and assistant professor of archæology after 1910. He was a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Sites and landmarks

There are a large number of sites with impressive platform mounds, plazas, paved roads, stone sculpture, and artifacts made from jade, gold, and ceramic materials. These include Las Mercedes, Guayabo de Turrialba, Cutrís, and Cubujuquí in Costa Rica and Pueblito ( in Tayrona National Natural Park) and Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Maria of Colombia. Research at sites such as Rivas, Costa Rica helps to document the configurations of large settlements in the centuries prior to the Spanish Conquest. Some of the best-known Isthmo-Colombian sculptures are the stone spheres of Costa Rica. Another area that has provided valuable archaeological information is the Gran Coclé region in Panama, largely coinciding with the modern-day Coclé Province.

Jade Ornamental stone, commonly green

Jade refers to an ornamental mineral, mostly known for its green varieties. It can refer to either of two different minerals: nephrite, a silicate of calcium and magnesium, or jadeite, a silicate of sodium and aluminium.

Gold Chemical element with atomic number 79

Gold is a chemical element with symbol Au and atomic number 79, making it one of the higher atomic number elements that occur naturally. In its purest form, it is a bright, slightly reddish yellow, dense, soft, malleable, and ductile metal. Chemically, gold is a transition metal and a group 11 element. It is one of the least reactive chemical elements and is solid under standard conditions. Gold often occurs in free elemental (native) form, as nuggets or grains, in rocks, in veins, and in alluvial deposits. It occurs in a solid solution series with the native element silver and also naturally alloyed with copper and palladium. Less commonly, it occurs in minerals as gold compounds, often with tellurium.

Ceramic inorganic, nonmetallic solid prepared by the action of heat

A ceramic is a solid material comprising an inorganic compound of metal, non-metal or metalloid atoms primarily held in ionic and covalent bonds. Common examples are earthenware, porcelain, and brick.

Indigenous peoples

The Isthmo-Colombian Area was home to a wide variety of indigenous peoples. A large number of them were speakers of Chibchan languages. These include (but are not limited to) the Pech, the Rama, the Maleku, the Bribri, the Cabécar, the Guaymí, the Naso, the Kuna, the Kogi, the Motilon, the U'wa, and the Muisca.

Pech people indigenous ethnic group of Honduras

The Pech are an indigenous people in northeastern Honduras, previously known as the Paya. As of early 2005 their population had been reduced to 3,800. The Pech language is a member of the Chibchan family of languages, and, although it is still spoken by older people, it is in danger of extinction in the relatively near future.

Rama people indigenous people in Nicaragua

The Rama are an indigenous people living on the eastern coast of Nicaragua. Since the start of European colonization, the Rama population has declined as a result of disease, conflict, and loss of territory. In recent years, however, the Rama population has increased to around 2,000 individuals. A majority of the population lives on the island of Rama Cay, which is located in the Bluefields Lagoon. Additional small Rama communities are dispersed on the mainland from Bluefields to Greytown. The Rama are one of three main indigenous groups on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast.

Maleku people

The Maleku are an indigenous people of Costa Rica located in the Guatuso Indigenous Reserve near the town of Guatuso. They are also known as the Guatuso, the name used by Spanish colonizers. Around 600 aboriginal people live on the reserve, making this the smallest tribe in Costa Rica, but outsiders have come into the community as well. Before the Spanish colonization, their territory extended as far west as Rincon de la Vieja, and included the volcano Arenal to the south and Rio Celeste as sacred sites. Today their reserve is concentrated south of San Rafael de Guatuso, an hour north of La Fortuna.

See also


  1. Hoopes & Fonseca 2003
  2. Quilter & Hoopes 2003

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