Tephra layers recovered by Ocean Drilling Program from the forearc and trench regions offshore the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica allow the temporal evolution of the volcanic arc to be reconstructed since 2.5 Ma. Major and trace element analyses by microprobe methods reveal a dominant tholeiitic character and a provenance in the Costa Rican area. The tephra show long-term coherent variability in geochemistry. One tephra dated at 1.45 Ma shows minimum values in ? Nd and maximum Li/Y consistent with very high degrees of sediment recycling at this time. However, overall Li/Y and ?7Li increase with SiO2 content, suggesting addition of heavy Li through forearc tectonic erosion and crustal assimilation. Peak values in ?7Li starting at 1.45 Ma and lasting ?0.5 m.y. indicate enhanced tectonic erosion of the forearc possibly caused by subduction of a seamount at 1.45 Ma. The tephra record indicates significant temporal variability in terms of sediment subduction, reconciling the geologic evidence for long-term tectonic erosion and geochemical evidence for recent sediment accretion in the modern Central American arc.