Ceremonial Metate

4th–8th century
Costa Rica
H. 20 1/8 x W. 10 in. (51.2 x 25.4 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
Accession Number:
Not on view
Even today, stone metates in the Americas are used to grind maize and other foodstuffs. Certain ancient rituals must have incorporated this activity and required special metates to be created for this purpose. The decorative quality of this metate suggests a ceremonial function. Carved in volcanic stone, this object bears a fretted edge, tripod legs covered with geometric relief and cut-outs, and, at one end, an abstract bird's-head motif, perhaps a parrot. The ornament may be related to the owner of this object or to the ritual in which the metate was used. Its function as a surface for grinding maize, a staple food of the region from which it comes, links this sculpture with the notion of fertility, a primary concern for an agricultural people. It has been suggested that the ceremonial metate, given its ritual importance, may have also served as a throne for the ruler, for whom the assurance of the fertility of his land and people would have been paramount.
[Jopseph W. Damman, Hollywood, CA, until 1955]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1955, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1956–1978