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HOME : Pre-Columbian Art : Pre-Columbian Masterpieces : Basalt Circular Metate with Masked Shaman Caryatids
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Basalt Circular Metate with Masked Shaman Caryatids - PF.4337
Origin: Costa Rica
Circa: 500 AD to 1000 AD
Dimensions: 16.75" (42.5cm) high x 18.5" (47.0cm) wide
Catalogue: V22
Collection: Pre-Columbian
Medium: Basalt

Location: United States
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Sometime around 500 A.D. marked the emergence of a special-purpose grinding stone (metate), made primarily for use in burial chambers. Over the years they became more elaborate and their purpose more extensive, often used to grind corn or herbs for drugs. The metate's importance grew in stature to become the most crucial ritual item; and some of them, most likely the circular variety, may have been used as sacrificial altars. This fascinating metate shows the art form at a high level- both as a ritual article and a beautiful example of the stonecutter's artistry. Perceived strictly as an aesthetic object, this metate is a paradigm of beautiful harmony, perfect balance, and elegant form. The circular top, edged in a broad meander pattern, may represent the heavens, while the lower thick ring base is the underworld. Between the two, and supporting the celestial realm, are three very impressive shamans wearing jaguar masks. Each figure is highly ornamented with ritual tattooing on the chest and legs. Those on the forearm mirror the pattern on the upper rim. These shamans are naked, wearing only three thick bracelets on each wrist. Their jaguar masks reveal exposed teeth in a formidable grin, challenging the spirits of the supernatural realm. The jaguar was regarded with awe, and used to symbolize a creature with power in both the physical and non-physical realms. Shamans were reputed to be able to turn themselves into jaguars, and may have performed in ritual ceremonies just as we see them here. To come into contact with something so powerful brings us very close to esoteric rituals long forgotten in living memory; but still alive and vital within the dynamic revolving movement of this fabulous metate. - (PF.4337)


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