A ceremonial center within a University campus: Las Mercedes Archaeological Site, EARTH University, Costa Rica

Ricardo O. Russo
Professor, EARTH University - National Association of Agricultural & Forestry Extensionists (ANEAF) International Mini-Conference Indigenous Revival and Sacred Sites Conservation Geography Department, University of Georgia, Athens, GA. USA April 5-7, 2012

Introduction EARTH was established by Costa Rican law in 1986 as a private, non-profit, international University, with the support of the Costa Rican Government, U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Since 1990, EARTH University’s innovative educational approach has been preparing young people from Latin America, the Caribbean and other regions, including Africa and Asia, to contribute to the sustainable development of their countries and construct a prosperous and just society. EARTH offers a four-year undergraduate program in agricultural sciences and natural resources management, providing a world-class scientific and technological education that emphasizes values, ethical entrepreneurship and environmental and social commitment. EARTH University facilities guard the remains of an important archaeological site: Las Mercedes. Las Mercedes is located in Guácimo, in the Province of Limón, Central Atlantic Region, between the foothills of the Turrialba Volcano, and the Caribbean lowlands (Figure 1). Las Mercedes site was discovered in 1871 and was first reported by publication in 1901. Artifacts from Las Mercedes are on display in museums in the United States and Europe. The site was the subject of very little research in the twentieth century and, rather, disturbance from looting and agriculture was severe. However, the core of the site retains impressive traces of its occupation and architecture. Research by the National Museum of Costa Rica, in collaboration with foreign universities, in 2005, 2009, and 2012, has allowed progress in defining the size and configuration of the site core (Portions translated from R. Vázques lecture, October 2009).


retaining walls or terraces.Figure 1. Las Mercedes-2. including a plaza for public ceremonies surrounded by high-status residences. Las Mercedes was the center of a large chiefdom that existed from AD 1000 to 1500. ramps. and is where the two roads converge. funerary areas. 4 funerary areas. and Las Mercedes-3. 1 ramp. Las Mercedes is divided into 3 large complexes: Las Mercedes-1. plazas. sensu a team of researchers of the Costa Rican National Museum. 6 retaining walls or terraces. and paved roads (Figure 2). Excavations at Las Mercedes-1 have revealed that it has an area of 5 hectares and consists of 7 platforms. The site contains a variety of architectural features including platforms. 7 walls. 2 plazas. Location of Las Mercedes Archaelogical site. 2 . it comprises an area of 25 hectares. only Las Mercedes-1 has been extensively studied. Costa Rica. lead by the archaeologist Ricardo Vázquez. However.

5 km away.D.com/MMediaFiles/nacioncom/f6/f66aee72-1287-468f-9202-3623d5ff6ef4.albany. (Rosenswig 2012 http://www. Two paved causeways link the central monumental compound to outlying settlements 1.php ) 3 .nacion. Numerous stone sculptures (such as the 4. Costa Rica.5 foot high example of a chief wearing a crocodile mask and holding a trophy head pictured below) have been recovered from the site. Las Mercedes Archaelogical site.there are at least 5 secondary centers around Las Mercedes that were the seats of smaller secondary chiefs that likely paid tribute to the rulers of Las Mercedes.edu/anthro/15505. Furthermore. 1000 and that occupation continued through to the colonial period. Source: http://www.pdf How old is Las Mercedes? Radiocarbon dates suggest that the major phase of architectural construction at the site’s center began circa A.Figure 2.

Retaining wall in the site core flanked by a cobblestone pavement. Source: R. Other example of cobblestone architecture in the core area. 2009 4 .Figure 3. Vasquez. Vasquez. Source: R. 2009 Figure 4.

Source: R. Archaeologists Robert Rosenswig (SUNY. 2009 Figure 6. 2012. Vasquez. Photo: Alonso Tenorio. Albany) and Ricardo Vázquez (Museo nacional) participated in the removal of a “Chac mool” at Las Mercedes Site.Figure 5. Limón. Source of construction material in the Dos Novillos River 600 meters from the Las Mercedes site. Guácimo. The sculpture is anthropozoomorphic. 5 . Costa Rica. La Nación.

Figure 8. La Nación. discovered and excavated a large “chac mool” sculpture this year. Costa Rica. Photos: Alonso Tenorio. Archaeologists Robert Rosenswig (SUNY. University of Georgia. Albany) and Gerardo Alarcon (Museo Nacional) participated in the removal of a pre-Columbian sculpture at Las Mercedes. Personal communication.Figure 7. a graduate in Anthropology. 6 . Archaeologist Dennis Blanton. The sculpture depicts a warrior. More recently.

So far. worked with a team from the “Museo Nacional” in Las Mercedes excavation site. State University of New York at Albany. 7 . with linear stone walls flanking the entry point of a paved road. La Nación.Figure 9. View of the site core. Guácimo. 2005 season. Students of archeology Ben Connally (right) and Liam Murphy. as well as a plaza and remnants of a large central mound. 15 of these “montículos” (mounds) that functioned as platforms for buildings have been found (Figure 10). Limón. Costa Rica Example of a stone retaining wall and pavement surrounding a platform at Las Mercedes. covering 25 hectares of EARTH University. Photo: Alonso Tenorio.

Albany. Vásquez. rich in exchange of experiences and information. Views of Las Mercedes Mercedes Archaelogical Site. On several occasions we encountered the research group led by the archaelogist Ricardo Vázquez. 2009. from the National Museum and students from the University of Montreal or SUNY. Costa Rica. 37 tree species with a diameter at 8 . As a result. Woody species composition of Secondary forest in Las Mercedes Mercedes Archaelogical Site Regularly. Photos: R. I went with my students of tropical silviculture to the site.a b c Figure 10. The interaction of EARTH students with visiting students has always been a learning opportunity. where we inventoried plant species in the secondary forest surrounding the site. As a result of the activity we obtained information on the floristic composition of the 17 year-old secondary forest (in 2009) surrounding the site.

6 3.5 and 3. Cecropia obtusifolia Hampea appendiculata Cordia alliodora Cestrum racemosum Luehea seemannii Ochroma pyramidale Senna hayesiana Bursera simarouba Carapa guianensis Alchornea costaricensis Chloroleucon mangense Ficus werck leana Inga oerstediana Guatteria diospyroides Inga edulis 23.4 3. were censed and data were analysed (Tables 1 and 2).48 2.83 16.13 3.83 0.2 2.2 3.11 17.09 17.83 0.7 13.5 9 .6 14.9 8 13 20 1. Table 1.48 1.15 17.31 3.83 0.01 5. rarely is higher than 4.1 6 10 20 2.65 1.1 14.7 13.13 17.5 10 12 25 4.96 4.13 4.4 2.0 3. 1988).2 4 17 23 1.65 1.14 19.83 0.4 14.65 0.5 3.5 (Magurran. number of trees per plot .48 2.2 14.65 Trophis racemosa Cedrela odorata Vernonia patens Beilschmiedia sp. The value of H 'of Shannon generally ranges between 1.6 13. belonging to 32 genera and 21 families.31 2.5.83 Table 2. ShannonWiener (H') Simpson (l) Fisher (a) 1 10 22 2.7 9 13 25 2. Anacardium excelsum Piper aduncum Virola sebifera Nectandra sinuata Inga sp Hyeronima alchorneoides Ficus colubrinae Erythrina costaricensis Cupania cinerea Ceiba pentandra Adelia triloba 1.83 0.1 13.58 15.1 7 7 17 2.83 0.9 2 20 30 1. Frecuency table (%) of tree species found in the 17 year-old secondary forest surrounding Las Mercedes Archaeological Site.01 15. Richness (number of species per plot).4 2.83 0.94 17.4 5 18 29 1.79 4.48 2.0 13.5 2.83 0.39 15.06 17.9 3 17 24 1.1 3. Shannon & Simpson diversity indices in the ten plots.83 0.48 2.83 0.breast height higher than 5 centimeters (DBH > 5 cm).65 1.48 2.5 13. Plot # Richness(S) Trees/plot Trees/spp.

http://www. 12 p. Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. Acknowledgements First of all. "Past Research: Central Caribbean Project & Las Mercedes Project". Vázquez Leiva. Vínculos (San José.html?Itemid=64. http://www.go. Museo Nacional de Costa Rica) 31: 27–77. 10 . Charla y presentación. R. 11 p. from the National Museum.museocostarica. Caribe Central de Costa Rica".cr/es_cr/a-fondo/las-mercedes.html?Itemid=64. Universidad EARTH. Las Mercedes. (2009). "Arquitectura. National Museum of Costa Rica. dedication and contribution to Las Mercedes project in EARTH University Campus. (Internal Document unpublished) Segura. Fausto Sarmiento for inviting me to participate in this MiniConference on “Indigenous Revival and Sacred Sites Conservation” to share my teaching experiences with this presentation. Ricardo. 14 y 15 de octubre 2009. I would like to thank Dr. and his co-workers. Wendy (2009). for their research work.. un monumento escondido. s/f. Russo.cr/en_en/investigacin/proyectos-concluidos-5. Vázquez Leiva. I would like to thank Archaelogist Dennis Blanton (UGA graduate) for reviewing and giving me suggestions to improve this presentation. and Claude Chapdelaine (2008). Ricardo.Bibliography National Museum of Costa Rica (2009).museocostarica. Guácimo de Limón. Caminos Empedrados y Cronología del Sector Principal del Sitio Las Mercedes-1. I also would like to acknowledge Archaeologist Ricardo Vázquez.go. In addition. Las Mercedes. El otro gran cacicazgo del Caribe central: segunda temporada de campo en el sitio Las Mercedes-1. Costa Rica: Departamento de Antropología e Historia. Caracterización estructural y florística de un bosque secundario enriquecido de 17 años en la Región Tropical Húmeda de Costa Rica.

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