Pre-Columbian, Central America, Costa Rica, Atlantic Watershed region, ca. 1st to 5th century CE. An enormous flying panel ceremonial metate, expertly carved from a single piece of volcanic stone with refined dimensions and intricately shaped zoomorphic embellishments. The flat metate face is slightly recessed and surrounded by a thick border decorated with incised frets, and the metate itself is supported by three thick conical legs. An abstract bat figure is shown centered on the underside with sinuous wings and a massive nose and stands atop the back of an abstract mammal, perhaps a jaguar. The curved handles projecting from each leg represent snakes with their heads collared near the bases by the down-facing beaks of stylized toucans perched atop the serpentine bodies. A wonderful and elegant example of early Costa Rican artistry! Size: 23.25" L x 20.25" W x 13.25" H (59.1 cm x 51.4 cm x 33.7 cm).
This ceremonial metate carved from volcanic stone represents one of the most unusual traditions of the ancient Americas. While some metates were used as grinding slabs, others showing more intricate designs like this example were intended for ritualistic ceremonies and as burial offerings. It has also been suggested that some metates were actually used as thrones for rulers to sit on. The iconographic/decorative program of this metate suggests a ceremonial function. The ornament may be related to the owner the piece or the ritual in which the metate was used.
According to several scholars, in the Pre-Columbian world, the graceful soaring flight of birds inspired the ancients to see them as metaphors for the sun. Furthermore, given their ability to fly to impressive heights and make dramatic dives, these birds also were believed to communicate with the celestial gods. Jaguar imagery also symbolized power and might throughout the Pre-Columbian world; hence, warriors, rulers, hunters, and shamans alike associated themselves with this king of beasts, the largest and most powerful feline in the New World. Given this symbolism, the iconography on this ceremonial metate would have been particularly fitting for an elite leader of ancient Costa Rica. Such powers and abilities were not only adopted by shamans, but also appropriated by the elite ruling class.
For a stylistically-similar example featuring primarily jaguars, please see The Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 1986.200: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/314952
A stylistically-similar example of a somewhat larger size hammered for $30,000 at Sotheby's, New York "African, Oceanic and Pre-Columbian Art" auction (May 7, 2016, lot 106): http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2016/african-oceanic-pre-columbian-art-n09502/lot.106.html
Provenance: private Hawaii, USA collection; exhibited at the Everson Art Museum, Syracuse, New York, USA
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Repaired from multiple large pieces with resurfacing and adhesive residue along break lines. Minor abrasions to top, legs, and carved animals, with softening to some finer details, and light encrustations within some recessed areas. Light earthen deposits throughout.