Ceremonial Metate

Date: 10th–11th century

Geography: Costa Rica

Culture: Atlantic Watershed

Medium: Stone

Dimensions: H. 9 x Diam.14 3/4 in. (22.9 x 37.5 cm)

Classification: Stone-Implements

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969

Accession Number: 1978.412.94


Decorated metates carved of volcanic stone originated in the utilitarian forms that were used for grinding foodstuffs, primarily corn, in Precolumbian America. Central American examples, such as this metate, were so extensively embellished that ritual offering table use is presumed. Some authorities believe they had connections to rulership and may have functioned as thrones. Six human-feline or monkey figures on a circular base here support the tablelike plate. Their teeth are ferociously bared and fists clenched. Facing outward, they aggressively protect the space circumscribed by their bodies. Each figure's tail buttresses the elbow of its neighbor, creating a fluid movement from one body to the next and weaving a barrier of defense. Two of them break from the pattern and have a fist to the mouth rather than extending upward. The expressiveness of the figures and visual complexity serve to give the work its artistic import.