San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sphere Expert Explodes Myths

Some of Costa Rica’s most hallowed artifacts weren’t placed in the country by aliens. Nor do they represent a link to the lost city of Atlantis. They weren’t formed by nature, either. No, the pre-Colombian stone spheres found in the south Pacific region of Costa Rica were formed by indigenous groups. So, let those rumors about aliens and Atlantis go. These groups have their own interesting story to tell.

Archeologist Ifigenia Quintanilla, who has studied both indigenous culture in the southern region and the stones for 19 years, spoke about the mysterious rocks for two hours Wednesday at an event held at Hotel Casa Roland in the Rohrmoser district of San José. She explained the silly misconceptions about the rocks, and also why they have fascinated her for so long.

“There is resistance to this interpretation – (a willingness) to think that the indigenous peoples here did not have the capacity to make these spheres,” Quintanilla said. “Therefore, some people don’t accept the archeological evidence.”

She said the people spreading these rumors about the origins of the stones do not have scientific data to back up what they say. They just use these legends as a way to make money, Quintanilla added.

The stones discovered to date range in size from a few centimeters to 2.1 meters in diameter. The largest stones weigh 15 tons, raising the question of how some were moved to certain islands where they were found. (Quintanilla said circumstantial evidence implies it had to be by boat.

And, she joked, it was definitely not levitation done by mystics, referring to another myth).

More than 90 percent of the rocks were made from granodiorite, a hard, igneous rock similar to granite. Quintanilla says the area’s indigenous tribes used hatchets to carve the rocks into spheres, while some of the stones also have symbols engraved into them. Quintanilla has 288 of the spheres identified in her files, but she says many more are still out there.

And what are the rocks for? Well, they weren’t just made because of boredom, Quintanilla said, dismissing another rumor. These stones were found in high-functioning indigenous societies. Many other artistic works, such as statues and intricate figures created by metallurgy, have been discovered in the same villages that had the spheres.

Quintanilla also believes the rocks didn’t have any sacred use. Instead, she says, the stones had a purpose that their size served well.

“They were a sign of power,” Quintinilla said. “It was a demonstration, a way to make a statement.”

The spheres were owned collectively, and the larger, more organized villages always had the bigger spheres. Today, if one wants to see the stones on display, several can be found in the National Museum of Costa Rica in downtown San José.

Quintanilla is one of the most knowledgeable experts on these stones. She’s

researched for them for two decades and even wrote a book on the mystery called “Esferas Precolombinas de Costa Rica” (“Pre-Columbian Spheres of Costa Rica”).

She added, however, clearing up one more rumor, that she doesn’t just study rocks when she’s doing excavation works. She studies all the artifacts from the various indigenous groups that lived there.

“I don’t want to study just the spheres,” Quintanilla said. “The spheres are a medium for understanding the society.”

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