Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Costa Rica in the early years

The best way for me to connect with ancient cultures is to examine their I hope you join me on my little journey through time:)

Much of Costa Rica's pre-Columbian art was functional. This stone metate (used to grind grain into flour), features an animalistic qualities. I like the parrot-like head - he seems so happy! It reminds me of the birds in the Tiki Room in Disneyland.  Anyways, this guy is 2500 years old, give or take, is made of volcanic rock, and is about 30" in length and stands roughly 15" high. I bet he's borne a TON of pressure over time - grinding grain is tough work...I think I'll pass on grinding my own flour this way for Costa Rica dinner night recipes...

 Costa Rica's natural deposits of gold and copper made way for early artisans to refine their metalworking techniques. They obtained the gold through panning-type means - washing river silt in wood trays. Early artisans would hammer small fragments of gold into decorative chest plates, bracelets, hair bands and discs which were decorated with geometric designs, animal forms, and representations of humans. They created the designs using a technique called repouss√©. which involves pressing on the back part of the object with a dull instrument to create the raised design on the front.  

For figurines and adornments, early artisans would use the lost-wax method of production - first molding the figure in beeswax, then covering the beeswax object with several layers of clay, which would then dry over the course of a few days. The mold would then be heated and the wax would melt and drain out of the hardened clay, leaving an hollow space in the form of the desired object. Molten metal would then be poured into the hollow space, the mold would cool, and the clay would be broken off. After a little cleaning, touch ups, and polishing, the process would be complete.

The figurine above represents a shaman dressed in costume - so a man-animal hybrid figurine, which is quite common. The mask the shaman is wearing has crocodile characteristics, and the shaman is also shown in a costume comprising a breastplate, woven belt, and elaborate headdress. PG-13 component -  It's hard to see in this tiny picture, but if you zoom in on might notice that a snake head shape has been substituted for what you'd assume would naturally be there:) Although the source I read said snakes were fertility symbols, I'm thinking this guy didn't pick up too many of the hotties in his tribe.....

There are numerous ceramic objects that have been found in Costa Rica - vessels, figurines, etc., however their seals and stamps are perhaps the least known and studied. They come in a variety of sizes and shapes - sometimes cylindrical, sometimes flat, and often featuring geometric shapes such as triangles, diamonds, circles, spirals, concentric figures, etc. They can also feature the human figure and animal forms.

Pre-Columbian tradition involved the use of graphic elements to communicate symbolic meaning often related to ritual practices. These patterns were often used in body decoration  as well as to create patterns on textiles.


  1. Favorite from your pictures is the rolly-stamp thing. Looks like fun.

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