Prehistoric Stone Balls--a Mystery

Hundreds dot the Costa Rican jungle, as baffling as the monuments of Stonehenge.

Lothrops dig

Left: The Lothrops found stone balls in one of the first places they dug. These two had been silted over among boulders; right: Some of the balls, like the one shown here, rested on stone plaforms, showing they werre in their original positions.

Even so, it was a difficult job. We took five circumferences on each of the first two balls. Sometimes I would climb on top of the sphere, sometimes lie on the ground, and occasionally I tried to stand on my head. When the measurements all turned out to vary less than an inch, I decided we had done an awful lot of work for nothing; but Sam seemed pleased. And Armando, one of our workmen, a youth of 22 who was wildly enthusiastic about everything American, said “Okay.” He had mastered two other English phrases: “What’s cooking?” and “Nuts to you,” neither of which he understood.

It was hard to believe that the stone balls could have been manufactured without some mechanical aid, but no instruments of any kind were found to give us a clue.

If the conquering Spaniards ever witnessed the process, which seems unlikely, they made no record of it. As there were no stone quarries in the neighborhood, we asked Armando, who had a life-long knowledge of the surrounding country, whether he had ever seen one.

“Never,” he answered. “There are none anywhere near here.”

“You’re sure?” Sam insisted.

“Sure,” said Armando, and added, “Nuts to you.”

This time, by pure chance, he had picked the right phrase.

Others we asked agreed that there were no quarries within miles, and we ourselves conducted a fruitless search. The balls must therefore have been manufactured at some remote spot, as the rough blocks could never have been moved any distance. The largest ones must have weighed a great many tons.

It is hard enough to imagine how the Indians managed to roll the finished spheres through overgrown jungle and to the tops of adjacent mountains, where some of them have been found.

“In fact, it’s impossible,” I said to Sam. “I believe they are some sort of cosmic phenomenon like meteors. Maybe they dropped from the sky.”

“If so, it’s lucky they didn’t hit anyone,” said Sam without a smile.

“But seriously,” I insisted, “even Man Mountain Dean couldn’t have transported one of these enormous things on dry land. And as for crossing the rivers. . . . ”

Sam interrupted my eloquence and put me in my scientific place. “The Indians undoubtedly built rafts for carrying them over the rivers in the rainy season when the water was deep.”

“But why was it so important to get them here?” I asked. “And why did the Indians bother to make them? It must have taken a man a lifetime just to turn out one, and what could he do with it when it was finished?”

And so, not having done very well with our first problem, we found ourselves up against our second.

The stone balls were obviously of great importance to the people who made them, though they could have had no practical purpose. I spent my time trying to think of every possible use to which they might have been put, even entertaining the notion of games for the kiddies or bowling contests. Some did weigh only a couple of pounds, but most of them would have required an army of men just to set them in place.

“I have come to the conclusion,” I finally pontificated, “that the balls had no useful purpose.” Which of course Sam had known all along.

“Could they have been for decoration?” I asked.

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