In the region of the Diquis River Delta, on the Island of Caño, and in several other locations, a few hundred of these enigmatic stone balls
(over 300 have been cataloged to date) sit in surprisingly spherical perfection, inspiring intriguing questions regarding their origin, history, and function.
These rock orbs range in diameter from just 4 inches to over 8 feet
. They are carved in black granite or granodiorite, a rock similar to granite, interestingly the same material used for the famous “Rosetta Stone” used by archeologist Champollion to begin deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphics. These spheres, known locally as Bolas de Costa Rica (Costa Rican Balls), caught the attention of the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro, who in 1547 stated that “the lords of this empire gather every four years in this Country of Balls, where they receive advice from great wise men.”
The geographic location of Costa Rica, in the center of Central America, is likely the reason that the artifacts found here display a variety of influences
from the Mayans of the north to the Olmecs and the Toltecs of Mexico, the Chibchas of Colombia, and even the Quechuas and Incas of distant Peru. In 1939, as loggers from the U.S.’s Standard Fruit Company deforested the region to grow bananas, they discovered a number of these balls, some of which they blasted with dynamite in the hopes of finding gold. They didn’t find the precious metal, but they did stumble upon an enigma that remains a mystery today
. In 1943, the archeologist Doris Stone published the first known article about the spheres in American Antiquity
. The piece caught the attention of S. Kirkland Lothrop of the University of Harvard, author of the reference book Archeology of the Diquis Delta
, published in 1963. Beginning in 1970, the Costa Rican government has protected the pre-Columbian spheres and some of the balls damaged by dynamite have even been reconstructed.
Today, these rock spheres make up part of this Central American country’s iconic landscape, and they are present in some official buildings, town squares, and emblematic places in the capital city of San Jose. They even appear on the five thousand colon bill. In 2014,
the Balls of Costa Rica on the UNESCO World Heritage List
. We do not know the exact function of the balls. No logical explanation regarding their disposition and organization in relation to the earth has ever been found, and precisely who created them and when is also unknown (although their appearance and the quality of craftsmanship they display seem to indicate one culture that has unfortunately been largely lost).
The stone spheres sprinkled around Costa Rica have served as a source of inspiration for painters and sculptors
and they have inspired creative theories from those that insist the balls were left by the last inhabitants of Atlantis. Swiss “scientific” writer Erik von Däniken says they provide clear evidence of a visit from ancestral extra-terrestrials. What is clear is that while other regions have pyramids, obelisks, and monuments such as Stonehenge, Costa Rica’s stone spheres also offer a rare glimpse into a distant and mysterious past.