Despite website, questions remain on stone spheres

Costa Rica’s famous stone spheres now have their own website. The graphics are colorful, and the site is chock full of information about the Diquís region at the mouth of the Río Térraba in the country’s south Pacific coast.

But despite all the glitter, including a 360-degree air tour of the region, the major questions are not answered.

Eleanor Lothrop was the wife of one of the first archaeologists to study the spheres. Mrs. Lothrop said this in her 1955 book  “Pick from the Past: Mystery of the Prehistoric Stone Balls:”

“Why should hundreds of these perfectly formed spheres, whose diameters extend from a few inches to eight feet, be dispersed throughout the . . . jungles of Costa Rica?

The question remains unanswered, although many theories have been advanced.  Lothrop, himself, thought the stone balls had something to do with astronomy.

The Museo Nacional that put up the website begins the account of the area 3,500 years ago. Still, humans have been present in Costa Rica since at least 13,500 years ago. There was evidence of the ancient Clovis culture found in Costa Rica to support this idea.

Most expats know the story. Balls were only discovered toward the end of the 19th century, and their number and significance only became known when banana companies began clearing land there for plantations. Archaeologist Doris Stone published the first academic paper on the topic in 1943.

The museum has set up a satellite site in Palmar Sur and is safeguarding Batambal, El Silencio, Finca 6 and Grijalba-2 where the balls are found. There also are balls on Isla del Caño offshore.

The balls were designated as international human heritage by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

So far the best archaeologists have come up with is that the balls are emblems of power used to mark the homes of chiefs. There is a pretty good chance the full facts about the balls never will be known.

Probably 2,000 years from now when archaeologists excavate the site of today’s Corte Suprema de Justicia, they will conclude that the stone ball there was made by judicial magistrates. Like many other public and private buildings in Costa Rica, the balls are being used as decorations.

There probably is no reason to doubt that native populations did not do the same thing.

Archaeologists generally date the balls based on the type of broken ceramics found nearby.

So they have attributed the balls to what they call the Diquís Culture.

Some expats have published material that claim extraterrestrials made the balls, but evidence for that is lacking. Still, the balls are featured in a number of UFO-linked sites.

Part of the website features this 360-degree view of the region.

Part of the website features this 360-degree view of the region.

There are about 300 known balls. Although they are not as perfect as Mrs. Lothrop said, making them was a job that rivaled other ancient monuments.

The leading theory is that native craftsmen, or maybe craftswomen, sat around pecking at chunks of rock until they had the desired shape.

In fact, an animation linked to the new webpage shows several workmen doing that.

Some have advanced the theory that the craft workers used the nearby river in a way that jewelers tumble gemstones, but experts on hydro power have said many of the balls are too big to have been made that way.

Then there is the question of how the balls got to Isla de Cano. The logical response is by boat, but there was a time when humans occupied Costa Rica that the oceans were about 60 feet lower and crews could have carried the balls from what is now the mainland on foot.

Even though there is no definitive answer to the major questions about the balls, the museum has constructed a spectacular and bilingual site, which includes a link to a graphic showing the coastal changes over 48 million years on YouTube.

Viewing the site would be good background for expats who are planning to attend the three-day festival of the spheres in the Diquís region April 28 to 30.

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