The Isthmo-Colombian area (a portion of what has previously been termed the Intermediate Area) was defined in a chapter by John W. Hoopes and Oscar Fonseca Z. in the 2003 book Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia. It is defined as a cultural area encompassing those territories occupied by speakers of the Chibchan languages at the time of European contact. It includes portions of eastern Honduras, Caribbean Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, and northern Colombia.

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.

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, Carl 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, 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 culure 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.

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, Cubujuquí and Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada 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 Coclé Province of Panama.



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