Audio Tours



This is a metate from Costa Rica. As curator Matthew Robb explains, there's more here than meets the eye.

What you see here is a very complicated version of a very simple and basic object and Mesoamerican life. For millennia, people in Mesoamerica used metates for grinding corn.

Here, durable volcanic basalt rock is carved into a fearsome jaguar, an emblem of power in ancient Mesoamerica. Because this metate shows little sign of wear or use, it may have been created for the burial of a high-ranking individual.

The people who made this object, who were from ancient Costa Rica, placed an enormous amount of emphasis on ritual feasting. And this is a way in which high-ranking elites would often exchange luxury goods. It's where political agreements would be essentially settled upon. It's where marriage alliances might be established ... and defined. And in those kinds of scenarios, you'd want to use fancy painted ceramics, objects like this, much like your fine china.

Corn or maize was king in the Mezoamerican diet and also came to symbolize a powerful leader.

This is a very common aspect of a lot of iconography related to rulership. And so it's very possible to understand this object as akin to a throne in that the ruler, sitting on the metate, is akin to maize. And so these are the kinds of multiple registers of symbolism that objects like this can have.

Step6-Jaguar Metate, Costa Rica

Hits 3980
« Pot with Noble, Maya Culture, Guatemala (Temporarily not on exhibit) Highlights of The Bowers Collection (English) Songs Urn with Jaguar Effigy, Maya Culture, Highland Guatemala »