Giant Stone Balls
Diquis Delta Region, Costa Rica
The spheres or stone balls first came to light during the early 1940s, discovered during excavations in the Diquis Delta region by the United Fruit Company. Workers on these plantations found a large number of these stone spheres, some totally exposed, and other buried. Many were severely damaged when they were found, as in many cases it was earth moving equipment that ran into them while clearing forest for banana planting.
As early as 1948, the stone spheres were deteriorating due to exposure to alternate heat and cold (93 to 97 degrees F in the shade in the winter, much hotter in the sun). The balls were subjected to the sun's heat, and rain, as well as to fire when the United Fruit Company cleared the land in the 1940s. The stone spheres received alternate light and shade under the cultivated banana trees and they were drenched weekly by irrigation when it didn't rain. Evidence of battering and cracking was seen. Falling giant tropical trees may have shattered some balls as well.
Looting was the major problem. To such an extent that as many as 95% were taken. Many of the smaller and medium size balls were moved to adorn parks and gardens. To this day, you can see them throughout Costa Rica in older homes, in parks, and adorning public buildings.
Another threat was the mistaken belief that they contained treasure. Many were blasted, or split, owing to the native belief that they somehow contained gold. In part, this was because some claimed gold was found near the balls.
The first major
archeological data was published by
Dr. Doris Z. Stone in 1943, then later by S.K.
Lothrup in 1963.
Stone ball. Gardens of the National Museum, San Jose.
This is one of the few stone balls that still can be found at its original
emplacement at the banana farm, Finca 6, near Palmar Sur.
The decade of the 1940's marked the beginning of banana production in the region of the Diquis delta, in the southern countryside of Costa Rica. While clearing the forest and digging for irrigation systems, the United Fruit Company brought to light fabulous stone balls of different sizes and weights with an impressionably exact spherical shape.
The investigations driven by Archaeologist Doris Stone during the period of 1940-1941, and those conducted by Samuel K. Lothrop years later, shed little light in their origin, age, or reason for their perfect manufacture.
Even with the most recent investigations done by several archaeologists, we keep finding the same old enigmas. Who made them and when? What was their purpose? What about the tools used to build and transport them? Perhaps those tools proposed by the Archaeologists that they themselves haven't found yet?
In spite of the fact that most of the stone balls are associated with pre-Columbian archaeological sites, there is no way to know for sure if they were made by those cultures or one that preceded them and which existence we completely ignore. It is possible to date their context but not the stone balls.
At the time they were found, many legends talked about gold and gems hidden in the core
of the stone balls. These stories drove greedy and unscrupulous people to destroy many of them.
The stone balls were taken from their original places in the South and were moved to other areas of the country to decorate gardens and parks. These stone balls were left in total abandonment in a solitaire street in Aserri, a neighborhood south of San Jose. Is it possible that future Archaeologists will date these stone balls in the 21st century in accordance with their present context?
They come in different sizes; from more than six feet to just a few inches in diameter. Most of them have been removed from their original sites and placed in front yards of wealthy residences, parks, and public and private buildings all over Costa Rica as unique objects of decoration.
Theories and speculations regarding their use and purpose range from symbols of political power to representations of spaceships, cult objects, accumulators of telluric energy, or astronomical markers. The truth is that a long time will pass before a definite last word can be said regarding these fantastic stone balls, that for now are as enigmatic as the monoliths of Stonehenge or the Moais of Easter island.
Two stone balls. Part of the group in Finca 6
"In spite of the efforts of many people and institutions supporting, protecting, and studying the stone balls of Costa Rica, there is still a lot of work to get done.
It is my intention with this website to bring awareness about these megalithic monuments that are a legacy for all humanity.
The solution to their multiple mysteries and their preservation depend mainly in our effort to stop the destruction, illegal commerce, and mobilization from their original sites. It is also necessary to start a campaign to educate the world regarding these wonderful round enigmas."
Another view of the group in Finca 6, mainly conformed by four stone balls
aligned in a square in a North-South direction.
Stone ball located at finca El Silencio, in the proximities of Palmar Sur.
With it being more than 6 feet in diameter, it is one of the biggest balls ever found.
SOURCE: Stone Balls from Costa Rica - by Edwin Quesada
From Science Frontiers #52, JUL-AUG 1987. © 1987-2000 William R. Corliss
George P. Cittenden, who purchased the relevant land for the United Fruit Company in the 1930s, was first to note the presence of mounds and stone spheres. Dr. Doris Z. Stone visited the area in 1941 and 1943, publishing her findings in 1943. S.K. Lothrup's work stemmed from Stone's.
Dr. Stone (1943),
Verneau and Rivet (1912-1922) and
others discussed the distribution of stone balls,
large and small, throughout
the New World. They concluded that the spheres
served different functions
in different areas. Large examples outside the delta
area are rare. Isolated
specimens up to 3 feet in diameter are known from
Olmec sites in Vera Cruz
Mexico. They have been reported at Zaculeu in the
(largest 15 1/2 inches in diameter), occurring in
the first level of occupation
in what is regarded as Early Classic Maya.
Dr. Stone published plans of 5 sites in the Diquis Delta containing 44 stone spheres. She also reported other balls north of the Sierra Bruquena near the town of Uvita and in the flood plain of the Esquinas River. She also saw two specimens at Cavagra.
In Costa Rica, Lothrup reported stone balls in the Diquis Delta, Camaronal Island where they were on hilltops, on the hills north of the Diquis and high up in the Cordillera Bruquena that reaches about 1,000 meters in height. The most easterly group was near Piedras Blancas.
Stone spheres (balls to Lothrup) range in diameter from a few inches to as much as 8 feet with weights ranging from only a few pounds to 16+ tons (15,000kg). They are made of the local igneous rock (density about 3.0) with a few exceptions. Most were of a granite. They numbered in the many hundreds if not thousands. No granite is found near where the balls were found except for small water borne stones. The granite must have been transported from the mountains. The weight of the stone blocks necessary to form spheres and the work itself reveal that the spheres are clearly the work of more than one person. The time to make the spheres with primitive tools was thought to be enormous, even with large gangs working on one example. However, as has been proven in recent years, skilled stone masons could have created spheres with a meter diameter in relatively short periods of time, with just 2 individuals. Smaller balls 1ft-2ft could have easily been created by one individual in less than a week.
Small (10 and 24 inches) stone balls were found individually in burial mounds as well. In at least 2 instances, balls were placed in graves indicating individual ownership. Thus these balls represented a form of wealth. Though this may not have been the view during the period when they were being created, but may represent the perception of later generations that looted spheres had some value.
Sometimes balls occurred singly, other times in groups. The largest group known to Lothrup contained at least 45 balls. Depressions in which balls previously stood could still be detected then. Some spheres were buried. Per John W. Hoopes, At the time of a major study undertaken in the 1950s, fifty balls were recorded as being in situ. Today, only a handful are known to be in their original locations.
Rotundity varied, and the surfaces varied in smoothness. Because the all context has been lost, it is all but impossible to determine over how long a period of time, these balls were being created. It is possible that the rougher worked balls were either created before or after those of finer detail. As is the case elsewhere, an individual group or guild may have perfected the craft, only to be copied later on by those without the skills and knowledge needed for the same level of perfection.
Per Lothrup, age of the balls is estimated according to associated pottery types. Evidence suggests the spheres represent a span of many centuries. Some are of relatively great age, others the handiwork of the 16th Century inhabitants. This suggests a stable population and cultural continuity over a long period of time.
Per local Diquis legend, the spheres represent the sun but this is not believed because disks universally represent the sun in the New World. The spheres were highly valued and probably had a religious or magical significance. Probably successive generations labored to enlarge the number of balls in individual assemblies. The large groups may have ritual significance as they were set in formal alignments. The lines may mark astronomical sight lines. Although, this website author believes they had another function.
The stone balls and mounds were too heavy to move for the crews that cleared the ground for banana farming in the early 1940s. Lothrup's group found evidence that some stone spheres had been placed on top of mounds as well as groups of spheres where no trace of mounds existed at the time.
Per Lothrup, the natives of the Diquis Delta were capable stone cutters because of their great stone balls and numerous statues, but they did not apply stone cutting skills to construction of dwellings. Per John W. Hoopes, The peoples who lived in the area where the balls are found were Chibchan speakers. The balls have been found in association with architectural remains, such as stone walls and pavements made of river cobbles, and both whole and broken pottery vessels that are consistent with finds at other sites associated with the Aguas Buenas and Chiriquí cultures. These are believed to represent native peoples ancestral to historical Chibchan-speaking group of southern Costa Rica.
believers have implied that the balls
may date as early as 12,000 years ago. Per
John W. Hoopes, there
is no evidence to support this claim. Since
the balls cannot be dated
directly by methods such as radiocarbon dating,
which can be applied directly
only to organic materials, the best way to date them
is by stratigraphic
context and associated artifacts. Lothrop
excavated one stone ball
that was located in a soil layer separated from an
deposit that contained pottery typical of the Aguas
Buenas culture (200
BC - AD 600). In the soil immediately beneath
this ball he found
the broken head of a painted human figurine of the
Buenos Aires Polychrome
type, dated to AD 1000-1500 (examples have reportely
been found associated
with iron tools). This suggests the ball was
made sometime between
AD 600 and 1500.
Please refer to: Lothrup, S. K , Archeology of The Diquis Delta, Costa Rica, Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard, University, Vol. L1, 1963.
Dr. Tim McGuinness
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