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The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica also known as Las Bolas (petrospheres) are believed to have been first created around the year 600, with most dating to after 1,000 but before the Spanish conquest, ranging in size from 2ft 4in to 8ft 5in (70-256cm) - that dot the sites. Including those on the Isla del Cano, there are over 300 of these orbs, some weighing up to 16 tons. Most are sculpted from gabbro or granodiorite, a coarse grained equivalent of basalt; a dozen or so are made from coquina, a hard material similar to limestone formed from a shell and sand in beach deposits, and another dozen from sandstone. However, no one actually knows how the orbs were made or why. The only method available for dating the carved stones is stratigraphy, but most stones are no longer in their original locations. These Costa Rica’s iconic stone spheres have been recognized for their value to World Heritage by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The UNESCO listing only applies to balls with a diameter of 70 cm or larger and its unclear how or if it will affect the many spheres that have been removed from Costa Rica. Of more than 300 recorded petrospheres found in the southern region about a dozen remain in their original context, according to an educated estimate by John W. Hoopes, an archaeologist whose research contributed to the UNESCO listing.


The Stone Sphere of Costa Rica at the Museo Nacional in San José

The spheres are commonly attributed to the extinct Diquís culture and are sometimes referred to as the Diquís Spheres. They are the best-known stone sculptures of the Isthmo-Colombian area. They were initially reported in the late 19th century, scientific interest was first piqued after a great many more were discovered in the 1930s by the United Fruit Company clearing the jungle for banana plantations. Workmen pushed them aside with bulldozers and heavy equipment; additionally, inspired by the stories of hidden gold, they began to drill holes in the orbs and blow them open with dynamite - until the authorities intervened. However, many still remain where they were placed centuries ago, and judging by the style and carbon-dating of associated pottery, can be dated from AD 1000 to the coming of the Spaniards; however this methodology only provides the date of the latest use of the orbs, which could be many centuries older.

Numerous myths surround the stones, such as they came from Atlantis, or that they were made naturally (like the stone balls found in Jalisco, Mexico). Some local legends state that the native inhabitants had access to a potion able to soften the rock. Research led by Joseph Davidovits of the Geopolymer Institute in France has been offered in support of this hypothesis, but it is not supported by geological or archaeological evidence.

Many of the orbs were found to be in alignments, consisting of straight and curved lines, as well as triangles and parallelograms. One group of four orbs was found to be arranged in a line oriented to magnetic north, leading to speculation that they might have been arranged by people familiar with the use of magnetic compasses or astronomical alignments. Some have regarded the spheres as navigational aids or relics related to Stonehenge or the Easter Island heads. In the cosmogony of the Bribri, shared by the Cabecares and other native American groups, the orbs are "Tara's cannonballs". tara or Tlatcque, the god of thunder, used a giant blowpipe to shoot the orbs at the Serkes, gods of Winds and Hurricanes, in order to drive them out of these lands.

Fortean Times Magazine Vol. 318, September 2014: "The Mystery Orbs of Costa Rica"

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