The Stone Spheres of Isla del Caño


In the early 90s I was assigned by the Costa Rican Tourist Board to photograph a large swath of the country for their glossy tourist brochures.  The area of the country that interested me greatly was the Osa Peninsula.  Here, I had heard, were to be found amazing artifacts dotted throughout the jungle; stone spheres, perfect in design and execution, whose purpose was utterly unknown.  Theories ranged from the spheres being the result of volcanic activity – as if volcanoes would spew perfect spheres during geologically symmetrical eruptions – or they may had been the work of a lost civilization, although to what purpose these spheres may have been carved baffles the imagination.  Some of them are as big Volkswagens.

Most have been removed from in-situ.  The Spanish conquistadors, in their relentless search for riches, got the idea that if they split them apart gold nuggets would be magically embedded in their centers, so a great many of the objects were long ago destroyed.  Others have been “borrowed” by various modern locals to garnish their front lawns and so forth.

But, on the remote island of Isla del Caño, many of the spheres are still in place.  Located a few miles off the Osa Peninsula, the island was not often visited in the 1990s, and so the spheres were safe at the time.

When I hooked a ride on an outboard skiff to visit the island, the movie, “Jurassic Park” had just been released.  Visions of velociraptors flooded my imagination.  In fact, soon upon disembarking the boat – the driver declined to accompany me so I spent the day by myself in the jungle – I spotted the largest lizard I have ever seen.  It must have been five feet from head to tail.  The Costa Ricans refer to it colloquially as the “Grandma Lizard” a perfectly understandable appellation.  I decided not to make friends with it.

1) Isla del Caño – uninhabited primary growth rain forest, perfect for dinosaur experiments a la Steven Spielberg

I tramped through a variety of barely visible paths, spotting rare amphibians, venomous snakes, and all the usual rain forest denizens.  I was careful to tread lightly.  But at one juncture I decided to step off the path, such as it was, and within a couple of minutes was thoroughly lost in the jungle.  Only by walking in concentric circles was I able to regain the foot trail.  A good lesson in jungle common sense.  Never leave a path;  the forest all looks the same, even within a few feet of safe territory.

But finally, with no map to guide me, I came across a few of the famous spheres.

2) A sphere, partially buried at the foot of a tree

Scientists have measured these spheres and found that they are virtually perfect in shape and dimension.  No known culture could have had the ability to make such perfectly and mathematically precise forms.  So who sculpted them, and to what purpose?  The mystery remains.

3) Another example

The Costa Rica Tourist Board, in its wisdom, took from me as proprietary most of the images I shot of the spheres – many of which had been cracked open like nuts by persons unknown seeking that yellow metal.  Perhaps the ancients used them with primitive catapults while engaging their enemies.  We are unlikely to ever discover their real purpose.  They can also be found inland on the Osa Peninsula in a few locations, which would indicate that the people who made them had a far-reaching territory.

4) Pre-Hispanic metate for grinding corn, found in the jungle

Meanwhile, if the tourists who now visit the island on small cruise boats haven’t stolen them all, I guess it’s still possible to see the these remarkable spheres.

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