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Intercambio, política y sociedad en el siglo ⅩⅥ

It is a pleasure to introduce this work on exchange, politics, and society in southern Central America during the era of initial contact between indigenous peoples and Europeans. This research by Eugenia Ibarra of the University of Costa Rica is a milestone in our understanding of a region of the New World that has received far less attention from the international scholarly community than it deserves.

In the sixteenth century, southern Central America was a densely populated land sustaining rich and varied cultures. Although the area often has been seen as a cultural bridge of sorts between South America and Mesoamerica, Ibarra's study demonstrates that it is fully worthy of investigation and appreciation in its own right. The particular focus of this study, exchange in southern Central America, nonetheless remains of particular importance for the light it sheds on the connections between different peoples in the region and beyond. The fact that long-distance communications were numerous and constant underscores the significance of connections not only between the peoples of the lower isthmus but among the inhabitants of the Pre-Columbian world in general. These interchanges wove a fabric of understandings that enmeshed the various peoples in the area in social relationships that often ignored or overrode social, cultural, and political differences.

I wish to thank Eugenia Ibarra and the national archives of Costa Rica for the use of the accompanying images. I sincerely thank them.

—Jeffrey Quilter, Peabody Museum, Harvard University

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