Tours and seminars are spheres festival highlights

These spheres are on the lawn in the judicial complex. Photo: A.M. Costa Rica

The Festival de las Esferas is shaping up to be much more than the usual local fiesta. The three-day event starts Friday in Palmar Sur in the Municipalidad de Osa in southwestern Costa Rica.

The festival is based on the enigmatic stone spheres that are the country’s archeological mystery and with large doses of environmental concern and native culture.

A high point of the festival are guided visits to Finca 6, the property owned by the Museo Nacional where a group of spheres can be found in situ.

The museum is working to obtain designation of the spheres as a world heritage site. The designation is by the U.S. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Experts have visited the area to survey the spheres. The recognition would be a big boost for archaeological prestige in Costa Rica as well as for tourism.

The museum said that it is preparing documents to justify the designation based on the cultures of the Diquís area and a comparative analysis of nearby cultures, ranging from Panamá to the Central Valley to the Caribbean coast. The museum also has to present a management plan and guarantee protection for the zone once it is designated.

Museum officials said that they hope to have the documentation ready by 2014.

Descendants of those who made the spheres will be on hand over the weekend to present their culture. There is a recreation of the Juego de los Diablitos by the Asociación Cultural Indígena de Rey Curré at 1 p.m. in the Palmar Sur park. The diablitos generally battle the toro for days in January, recreating the confrontation of native peoples with the Spanish. The presentation Saturday is just an hour.

An hour earlier the native community of the Ngöbe de Conte Burica will perform the danza de la serpiente, according to a schedule released by the museum,

Friday is a day for archaeologists and members of the public with a deep interest in this subject. At 3 p.m. there are seminars on local archaeology. The seminars will be in the facilities of the Universidad Estatal a la Distancia in Palmar Norte.

The inauguration of the festival is planned for 6 p.m. at the Centro Cultural de Osa in Palmar Sur.

Saturday also will see the typical art fair and presentations of local foods. An event for children starts the day at 9 a.m. in the Centro de Estudios y Capacitación Cooperativa in Palmar Sur where a dance is planned.

The centro also will host a number of seminars on biodiversity in the Valle del Diquis and threats to the area.

The Centro Cultural de Osa, Palmar Sur, the university facilities and the Palmar Sur park will hold most of the activities.

Sunday is a series of similar events as well as musical presentations and a seminar for children on archaeology.

Trips on the Río Terraba and its mangroves are scheduled during the festival with boats boarding at the Restaurante Las Vegas, Sierpe, Osa. There is a fee for this.

The tour of Finca 6 can be arranged at the exhibition stand operated by the Museo Nacional in the Palmar Sur park, the museum said.

Finca 6 is just one of the areas where spheres can be found. The 10-hectare (27-acre) site contains 10 spheres recovered from all over the country as well as the ones in situ. This is where the museum plans a museum of the spheres.

There also is a site called Batambal with four spheres owned by the museum and a location called Silencio that holds the largest sphere found to date. That one is 2.5 meters in diameter or about 8.2 feet. Another site called Grijalba contains one sphere.

Francisco Corrales, former museum director and now head of the Palmar Sur project estimates there are about 500 spheres in the country. The museum has registered 300 spheres and has about 110 located with ground positioning devices. They are checked periodically.

Although no one knows exactly who created the spheres, archaeologists attribute the work to the ancestors of the current Borucas and date them from 300 to 1500 A.D.

Corrales has said that he thinks the spheres were used to mark important structures and homes of important people.

The museum has been taking an inventory and also has embarked on a program to recover the spheres.

During 2010 the museum recovered 17 spheres, mostly from private collections. Costa Rican law forbids commerce in or exportation of spheres.

Not everyone agrees with the current archaeological theories on the spheres. They have been attributed to space visitors and craftsmen from the fabled country of Atlantis.  In fact, local author Ivan Zapp and coauthor George Erickson said in a 1998 book that the spheres were used to teach sea routes and constellation paths to navigators of the ancient world.

At one point researchers here believed that the Pacific plains and the Isla de Caño were unique. But researcher Alberto Sibaja Alvarez, who wrote the book “Enigma en el Delta del Diquís,” makes a powerful case that such spheres also were created in China, Europe and even in Venezuela. He has a comprehensive monograph posted on the Web in Spanish entitled “Esferas de Piedra en Costa Rica.”

Tim McGuinness, who has written authoritatively on the spheres, said he created one two feet in diameter using a template and materials that could have been used by the original makers.

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