One of the first unexplained archaeological discoveries was in the early 1930s when scientists discovered numerous stone spheres along the Diquis Delta in Costa Rica.
The spheres all ranged in size – ranging from centimeters to over two meters and weighing up to 16 tons. They appear to have been carved from granite and other types of rocks and are believed to date back to between 200 BC and 1600 CE.
Simply studying a photo of what the spheres look like can be quite striking because they appear to be nearly perfect in shape and look smooth to the touch. This is surprising because they are so old, and you would think by looking at them that they would appear to have aged or collected dust or rockiness over time.
They were initially discovered when farmers were clearing forests to plant banana crops and the farmers were amazed at how smooth the surface of the spheres was. Some of the tales that have been told regarding how the spheres were formed include that they originated in Atlantis, that they were created by nature, and that native inhabitants used a potion to soften already-formed rocks.
Despite numerous tales being told, it is still not known why they were created or where they came from.
The Diquís Spheres
These mysterious ancient stone spheres were created by a civilization lost to time and are now mostly lawn ornaments.
Popping up in yards across Costa Rica, the huge, stone Diquís Spheres might be seen as simply a landscaping trend, but in fact, the rounded stones are mysterious artifacts that were created centuries ago in great numbers, but for unknown reasons.
In the 1930s, workers from the United Fruit Company, clearing land in the Diquís Valley of Costa Rica, began unearthing large numbers of almost perfectly round stone spheres. The largest of these man-made balls is over two meters in diameter and weighs over 16 tons.
No one is sure exactly when or how they were made, or for what reason, but, according to University of Kansas archeologist John Hoopes, “The balls were most likely made by reducing round boulders to a spherical shape through a combination of controlled fracture, pecking, and grinding.” They were likely the product of an extinct civilization of people that existed in the area between 700 CE and 1530 CE.
Today, virtually all of the spheres have been taken from their original locations. Many are prized lawn ornaments across Costa Rica. A collection of six now resides in the courtyard of Costa Rica’s National Museum in San Jose.
What You Should Know About these Giant Balls?
They were originally found in the delta of the Térraba River, also known as the Sierpe, Diquís, and General River, near the towns of Palmar Sur and Palmar Norte. Balls are known from as far north as the Estrella Valley and as far south as the mouth of the Coto Colorado River. They have been found near Golfito and on the Isla del Caño. Since the time of their discovery in the 1940s, these objects have been prized as lawn ornaments. They were transported, primarily by rail, all over Costa Rica. They are now found throughout the country. There are two balls on display to the public in the U.S. One is in the museum of the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. The other is in a courtyard near the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The balls range in size from only a few centimeters to over two meters in diameter. It has been estimated that the largest ones weigh over 16 tons (ca. 15,000 kg). Almost all of the balls are made of granodiorite, a hard, igneous stone that outcrops in the foothills of the nearby Talamanca range. There are a few examples made of coquina, a hard material similar to limestone that is formed from shell and sand in beach deposits.
This was probably brought inland from the mouth of the Térraba-Sierpe delta. (The background image for these pages is a photograph of the surface of a stone ball in Palmar Sur, Costa Rica.) Samuel Lothrop recorded a total of approximately 186 balls for his 1963 publication. However, it has been estimated that there may be several hundred of these objects, now dispersed throughout Costa Rica. It was reported that one site near Jalaca had as many as 45 balls, but these have now been removed to other locations.
The balls were most likely made by reducing round boulders to a spherical shape through a combination of controlled fracture, pecking, and grinding. The granodiorite from which they are made has been shown to exfoliate in layers when subjected to rapid changes in temperature. The balls could have been roughed out through the application of heat (hot coals) and cold (chilled water).
When they were close to spherical, they were further reduced by pecking and hammering with stones made of the same hard material. Finally, they were ground and polished to a high luster. This process, which was similar to that used for making polished stone axes, elaborate carved metates, and stone statues, was accomplished without the help of metal tools, laser beams, or alien life forms.
The Legend Debunked
The balls were most likely made by the ancestors of native peoples who lived in the region at the time of the Spanish conquest. These people spoke Chibchan languages, related to those of indigenous peoples from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia. Their modern descendants include the Boruca, Téribe, and Guaymí. These cultures lived in dispersed settlements, a few of which were larger than about 2000 people. These people lived off of fishing and hunting, as well as agriculture.
They cultivated maize, manioc, beans, squash, pejibaye palm, papaya, pineapple, avocado, chili peppers, cacao, and many other fruits, root crops, and medicinal plants. They lived in houses that were typically round in shape, with foundations made of rounded river cobbles.
Stone balls are known from archaeological sites and buried strata hat have only pottery characteristic of the Aguas Buenas culture, whose dates range from ca. 200 BC to AD 800. Stone balls have reportedly been found in burials with gold ornaments whose style dates from after about AD 1000. They have also been found in strata containing shreds of Buenos Aires Polychrome, a pottery type of the Chiriquí Period that was made beginning around AD 800.
This type of pottery has reportedly been found in association with iron tools of the Colonial period, suggesting it was manufactured up until the 16th century. So, the balls could have been made any time during 1800 years. The first balls that were made probably lasted for several generations, during which time they could have been moved and modified.
When she's not at her desk absorbing all the latest news and producing fresh content for her audience Carmina loves to spend time at coffe shops and dancing at local music festivals.