A metate or metlatl is a type of quern, a ground
stone tool used for processing grain and seeds.
In traditional Mesoamerican culture, metates
were typically used to grind lime-treated maize
and other organic materials during food
Carved stone ceremonial metates represent one
of the most unusual and complex traditions of
pre-Columbian artifacts from Costa Rica. They
come in many different forms, and their
morphological variations correspond to different
regions and time periods. They can be
rectangular, circular, flat, or curved, with or
without rims and between three and four legs.
Some exhibit signs of use-wear while others
show no signs of wear and appear to have been
made specifically for use as burial goods.
Metates discovered without their grinding stones
suggest that the carved metate as a mortuary
object had a deeper symbolic meaning than just
the processing of food. The metate’s basic
mechanical purpose is a platform on which
(primarily) maize is ground into flour. This
transformation of grain to flour has symbolic
implications relating to life, death and rebirth.
Given their role as a burial good, it seems that
metate held a strong meaning for human life,
death and the hope for a rebirth or
transformation of some kind.
Some examples are known as effigy-headed
metate, which feature an animal’s head at one
end, with the metate itself making up the body of
the creature. Animals typically depicted are
jaguar, crocodile or birds.
The three most popular iconographic elements of
ceremonial metate seem to be saurian, bird, and
jaguar creatures. Monkeys are also common. A
unique feature of ceremonial metate is the lack
of human figures, with disembodied heads being
the sole exception.