Under the supervision of Dr. Robert D. Drennan, Felipe Sol will carry out an archaeological survey in the Upper TÃ©rraba Basin of southern Costa Rica in order to study the relation between religious organization and political structure in the region's ancient societies. Religion was often an important political element in early complex societies, but the role that religion played in the initial establishment of centralized political organization seems highly varied.
The Upper TÃ©rraba Basin was apparently integrated into a society of regional scale during the ChiriquÃ period (around 1000 AD). Its principal center was a large community at the archaeological site of Rivas, an extensive complex of ceremonial and residential platforms with associated cemeteries. The survey that Mr. Sol will carry out will document the patterns of residence and the distribution of ritual and economic activities across the region in which Rivas emerged as a major center. The regional distribution of settlements - and especially the patterns of change through time in this distribution - are sensitive indicators of the relationship of a hinterland population to a political center, and of the centripetal forces that draw a regional population together. The artifacts recovered in different occupation zones across the region will provide indicators of the distribution of both economic and ritual activities and help to identify what kinds of activities were especially centralized at Rivas. The results of Mr. Sol's survey will place the emerging political center in a broader regional context, and enable him to assess the role that religion played in the emergence of one complex society in the past. It will thus help to understand more generally the ways in which politics, economy and religion connect in the large-scale complex societies in which most of humanity lives today.
The research will have broader impacts as well. As dissertation research it is vital to the training of the doctoral candidate. It will also enhance public understanding of science by collaborating with the Tropical Science Center in its work with local communities to increase appreciation of the natural and cultural resources of the region and of the opportunities that these present for scientific research. As a regional survey it will also make a major contribution to the registration of the region's archaeological remains and aid in the protection and preservation of Costa Rican cultural heritage.
Religion and ritual activities were often prominent in the politics of the early complex societies that can be studied archaeologically, but the role that religion and ritual played in the initial establishment of centralized political organization appears to have varied from case to case. Under the supervision of Dr. Robert D. Drennan, Felipe Sol carried out an archaeological survey in an 87km2 region in the Upper Térraba Basin of southern Costa Rica in order to study the relation between religious organization and political structure in the region's ancient societies. The investigation assessed the role that religion played in the emergence of one complex society in the past. It thus helps us to understand more generally the ways in which politics, economy and religion connect in the large-scale complex societies in which most of humanity lives today. The Upper Térraba River Basin presents a rich and varied pre-Columbian history that constitutes an excellent context for investigating the processes of supra-local polity formation. Different factors influencing sociopolotical organization and settlement pattern were explored: environmental conditions, demography, social status, and religion and ritual. While some degree of inequality was surely present in human interactions from very early in the Térraba sequence, the overall picture is one of increasing size of polities, inequality and wealth accumulation. Small but stable central communities and polities were present from an initial demographic explosion at about 300 B.C. when farming people spread across the region. The scale of these polities increased dramatically in the Chiriquí period (around 1000 A.D.), when the entire study area was integrated into a single polity. Its principal center was a large community at the archaeological site of Rivas, an extensive complex of ceremonial and residential platforms with associated cemeteries. After the initial demographic explosion, population numbers did not change radically through the whole sequence down to the Spanish Conquest. Through most of the sequence, changes in political centralization were slow and modest, and clearly not driven by demographic growth or population pressure. Regional-scale evidence indicates that religion and ritual were not the main forces attracting populations to nucleated centers. Although ritual activities were among the functions of these centers, they do not seem vital to the roles of elites or the power of political leaders in the Upper Térraba Basin at any moment during pre-Columbian times. The emergence of Rivas as a larger and more powerful central community than any that had existed before seems more strongly related to changes in economics, on the one hand, and kinship and social relations, on the other. Important changes in the organization and technology of agricultural production, the decentralization of funerary rituals, and increase s in household size coincide with the emergence of the unprecedented community of Rivas. As doctoral dissertation research, the project provided vital training for the doctoral candidate, as well as field experience and methodological training for five undergraduate archaeology students. Newspaper, radio, and television interviews as well as public presentations provided an opportunity to discuss the research, and archaeological research generally, with members of the local community.