The Round Stone Spheres of Costa Rica
This is art from sculptura - not the stone spheres
Why do we all love round spherical objects in the landscape?
Round balls set on the ground, floating on the water, hanging from trees or set in the garden delight us in a way nothing else does. Is this an atavistic (love that word) urge?
Did our ancestors share our affection for round objects?
Did they have gazing balls in the Bronze age?
Costa Rica Museum - ancient sculpture?
Maybe so - if we use the round stone balls of Costa Rica as evidence... The Diquis Valley of Costa Rica is home to unique and mystifying ancient Stones Spheres. These spheres were carved over a thousand years ago and remained in place until the middle of the 20th Century (1940s) when the United Fruit Company (yes, them) cleared the area for banana plantations.
There they were - hundreds of perfectly round spheres - carved (?) from granodiorite, a hard, igneous granite which was quarried many miles away. The largest reach eight feet in diameter and exceed 16 tons in weight while deviating less than a quarter-inch from perfect roundness. How were they made? and transported? and what were they for? These questions baffled scientists.
The balls have been endangered since the moment of their discovery. As early as 1948, the spheres were deteriorating due to exposure to temperature changes, water damage (from irrigation) and from fire used by the United Fruit Company to clear the land. Others were blasted to bits or cracked and opened due to the local belief that they contained gold. When they were studied in the 1950s, fifty balls were recorded as being in situ. Today, only six are known to remain in their original positions.
In fact, two spheres from Diquis Valley are at the International Sculpture Garden in Philadelphia! The smaller one weighs 9,000 pounds, the larger one almost 24,000. They were brought to Philly with the cooperation of the Costa Rican government
So why were they made? Although many theories exist, not one is agreed upon. One popular theory is that they were used as markers of some sort — as signposts, celestial references, or indicators of property lines. Unfortunately, we’ll never know since nearly all the stones have been moved from their original positions. It is possible that they formed an earthly map of the night sky millennia past - larger ones were set on platforms or arranged in patterns that suggest astronomical alignments. Or they functioned as antennae in an ancient power grid or were used in religious rituals. One theory is that they were created as status symbols. In other words, they were lawn ornaments!
The Landmarks Foundation is concerned that the remaining Spheres stay in place and is lobbying for the repatriation of those that were removed. The Costa Rican government plans to create an archaeological preserve and park in the Diquis area as a place to display the Spheres that the Landmarks Foundation repatriates. Thank goodness!
To shape such a monolith with primitive tools was a prodigious feat and to transport heavy rocks by river from outcrops in the mountains is almost unfathomable.
We will never know how or why these spheres were made - but these perfectly formed rock spheres attest to the fact that we all hanker for roundness in our lives, yes?
For more on this go to the BBC or Interesting Thing of the Day