On the Indian Tribes and Languages of Costa Rica

Mss.572.9728.G11

Date: 1875 | Size: 0.1 Linear feet, 114 p.

Abstract

A paleontologist and expert in Cretaceous and Tertiary invertebrates, William More Gabb was hired by the Costa Rican government to conduct of natural historical and ethnographic survey from 1873-1875.

Read before the American Philosophical Society on August 20, 1875, Gabb's essay "On the Indian tribes and languages of Costa Rica" was published in full in the APS Proceedings 14 (1875): 483-602. Dealing with several tribes, including the Bribri, the paper touches on physical description, history, the names of tribes, their political organization, and ethnography. The essay includes a brief grammar of the Bribri language.

Background note

Born in Philadelphia on January 16, 1839, William More Gabb became something of a prodigy in paleontology. As a teenager, Gabb wrote to New York state geologist James Hall to express his interest in paleontology, and after graduating from high school, managed to wrangle an appointment with the New York State Museum, working on the invertebrate collections.

Returning home to Philadelphia in 1860, Gabb became a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences and began publishing at a furious pace, including his signature monograph, Synopsis of the Mollusca of the Cretaceous Formation (1861). As his reputation grew, Gabb landed a coveted spot on the California Geological Survey, and from 1862 to 1866, he took part in an intensive project that took him from the Mohave desert in the south to Washington state in the north. By the end of this period, Gabb had etablished himself as one of the nation's foremost experts in Cretaceous and Tertiary invertebrates. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1869.

In 1869, Gabb resigned his position with the Survey to travel to Santo Domingo on behalf of a New York mining company. His three year stay there resulted in an important monograph, On the Topography and Geology of Santo Domingo, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. As his time in Santo Domingo wore down, Gabb was hired by the Costa Rican government to conduct a topographical and ethnographical survey of Costa Rica, based on the speculation that that country held vast mineral wealth and to help plan for a railway. In three years, he collected large numbers of natural historical and ethnographic specimens (now at the Smithsonian Institution), but also contracted malaria, permanently impairing his lungs. He was still working up the geological and paleontological results when he died on May 30, 1878.

Scope and content

Read before the American Philosophical Society on August 20, 1875, William More Gabb's essay "On the Indian tribes and languages of Costa Rica" was published in full in the APS Proceedings 14 (1875): 483-602. Dealing with several tribes, including the Bribri, the paper touches on physical description, history, the names of tribes, their political organization, and ethnography. The essay includes a brief grammar of the Bribri language.

Collection Information

Physical description

114p. (inc.), 0.1 linear feet

114p. (inc.), 0.1 linear feet

Provenance

Acquired, 1878.

Preferred citation

Cite as: William More Gabb, On the Indian Tribes and Languages of Costa Rica, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued April, 2003, rsc.

Other finding aids

The essay is also indexed in the online Daythal Kendall Guide to Native American Collections at the American Philosophical Society.

Related material

Several letters of Gabb's are included in the John L. LeConte Papers (Mss.B.L493).

In the J. P. Lesley Papers (Mss.B.L56), see James Hall's appraisal of Gabb's qualifications.

Bibliography

Dall, W. H., "Biographical memoir of William More Gabb, 1839-1878." National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs 6 (1909): 347-361.

Indexing Terms


Subject(s)

  • Bribri language
  • Indians of Central America -- Costa Rica
  • Indians of Central America -- Languages
  • Linguistics