Natural Disasters and the Avoidance of Complexity: Arenal Villages in Comparative Context

Author(s): Payson Sheets

Year: 2021


This is an abstract from the "Advances and New Perspectives in the Isthmo-Colombian Area" session, at the 86th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

Small sedentary villages were established by about 4,000 years ago in the Arenal area of Costa Rica. The egalitarian nature of internal organization continued until the Spanish conquest, with no evidence of significant inequality developing, socially, economically, religiously, or politically. However, they were subjected to occasional violent explosive volcanic eruptions from Arenal volcano. The larger eruptions forced evacuations, but villagers returned to their ancestral homes, and resumed pilgrimages to their cemeteries. They maintained a remarkable continuity of culture in spite of the stresses. A case where Ancestral Puebloans in the US Southwest reestablished egalitarianism after disastrous conditions is compared. Contrasts with the complex societies of Mesoamerica, particularly the Maya and Teotihuacan, are presented. They suffered more greatly than these two “simpler” societies beyond the boundaries of Mesoamerica. The advantages of small-scale societies facing unanticipated massive stresses are presented. Some of those advantages could be employed in hazard planning in present-day societies, to reduce risk, property damage, injuries, and deaths.

Cite this Record

Natural Disasters and the Avoidance of Complexity: Arenal Villages in Comparative Context. Payson Sheets. Presented at The 86th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology. 2021 ( tDAR id: 466935)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -92.153; min lat: -4.303 ; max long: -50.977; max lat: 18.313 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 32077