San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Indigenous cemetery uncovered in Tres Ríos


A team of archaeologists has uncovered a rare and important time capsule on private property in the Costa Rican town of Tres Ríos, just east of San José.
During an archeological impact study, the group discovered indigenous burial grounds with remains that they reckon date back to 1,100 A.D, team members said Tuesday.
The roughly 400-square-meter lot in a suburban area is the site of 32 graves, where archeologists so far have found the remains of 26 individuals, ranging from infants to adults. The team has also uncovered 98 ceramic artifacts, such as pots and bowls, on the grounds.
The tombs were made out of river rock and topped with flat slabs with printed hallmarks. Bodies were stacked on top of each other, some up to five levels high.
Maritza Gutierrez, the lead archeologist for the dig, was unsure to which indigenous group the remains belong.
Gutierrez said that the indigenous people broke the bones into pieces before placing them in the tomb as part of a once-common ritual in Costa Rica’s central valley. Flat bones, such as the pelvis, as well as skulls, were buried in the ground around the caskets.
The property is owned by a Belgian woman who was required to conduct a “best environmental practices” assessment in order to obtain her building permit.
This option requires an archeological impact study and, if builders find signs of an archeological site, construction must be halted until experts can excavate the land and remove the bones and artifacts.
Archeologists began searching the Tres Ríos property two months ago and expect to continue digging for an additional two weeks.
Mirna Rojas, the head of the National Museum’s anthropology department, emphasized the importance of adequately completing these analyses.
“This is why it is so important to do these archeological impact studies,” she said. “As you can see, this started as nothing, but look at the quantity of fossils and artifacts. They take up three-fourths of the lot.”
Rojas said that builders will often attempt to conceal archeological remains in order to prevent construction delays. But she warned of the possible consequences of this neglect.
“An archeological site isn’t like a forest that you can replant,” she said. “Once it’s destroyed, there is no way to recover it.”
The bones and artifacts will be taken to a laboratory for analysis and carbon dating. The examinations will help specify which indigenous group the remains are from and establish with more precision the dates of the group’s existence. 
Once the studies are completed, the artifacts and remains will be displayed at the National Museum.

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