Flying Panel Metate

Date: 1st–5th century

Geography: Costa Rica

Culture: Atlantic Watershed

Medium: Stone

Dimensions: H.10 x W. 15 x D. 24 in. (25.4 x 38.1 x 61 cm)

Classification: Stone-Implements

Credit Line: Gift of Fine Art of Ancient Lands Inc., in memory of John R. Ogle, 1986

Accession Number: 1986.200


Metates, tablelike objects of stone used in ancient Mesoamerica for the grinding of foodstuffs such as corn, underwent particular elaboration in Central America, where they took on special meanings as well as unusual sculptural forms. These new meanings are thought to be based on the original function of the metate as a tool: like the transformation of the workaday celt into a special ornament, the grinding table became a ritual object. In the Atlantic Watershed region, the source of the present example, the metate's three supporting legs were embellished with complex carvings of a wide range of imagery. On the underside of this metate, which is carved entirely from one piece of volcanic stone, five beady-eyed and snarling felines are worked into the legs. A tour de force of stone carving, metates of this type—called "flying-panel metates"—have been discovered in burials associated with jade objects.