The first European explorer to encounter Costa Rica was the Great Navigator himself, Christopher Columbus. The day was September 18, 1502, and Columbus was making his fourth and final voyage to the New World. As he was setting anchor off shore, a crowd of local Carib Indians paddled out in canoes and greeted his crew warmly. Later, the golden bands that the region's inhabitants wore in their noses and ears would inspire the Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila to name the country Costa Rica, or Rich Coast. Many people give the credit of naming Costa Rica to Christopher Columbus because he was the founder and he is a famous name. .
Archaeologists now know that civilization existed in Costa Rica for thousands of years before the arrival of Columbus, and evidence of human occupation in the region dates back 10,000 years. Among the cultural mysteries left behind by the area's pre-Columbian inhabitants are thousands of perfectly spherical granite bolas that have been found near the west coast. The sizes of these inimitable relics range from that of a baseball to that of a Volkswagen bus. Ruins of a large, ancient city complete with aqueducts were recently found east of San Jose, and some marvelously sophisticated gold and jade work was being wrought in the southwest as far back as 1,000 years ago. Some archeological sites in the central highlands and Nicoya peninsula have shown evidence of influence from the Mexican Olmec and Nahuatl civilizations. .
By the time the Columbus arrived, there were four major indigenous tribes living in Costa Rica. The east coast was the realm of the Caribs, while the Borucas, Chibchas, and Diquis resided in the southwest. Only a few hundred thousand strong to begin with, none of these peoples lasted long after the dawn of Spanish colonialism. Some fled, while many others perished from the deadly smallpox brought by the Spaniards. Having decimated the indigenous labor force, the Spanish followed a common policy and brought in African slaves to work the land.