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Dinosaurs In Literature, History and Art:
Two Interesting Sets of Flying Creatures from Pre-Columbian Costa Rica....Page 64

Here are two precolumbian stone metates from Costa Rica, both featuring very curious flying creatures identified as "birds" by their galleries. Most of our interest here is on the first piece, of which, to us a more credible argument can be made that the flying creatures are pterosaurs, supposedly extinct many millions of years before these Costa Rican artists were born.

According to data quoted below, the Costa Rican's of that period did revere buzzards and vultures, a possible alternative identification. After studying hundreds of photos of those birds we can find no reason to conclude that either of these is being represented here. You may reach a different conclusion. The bills on these creatures for one thing are way too long and for another the skull is two wide. It also makes us wonder if some of the pieces that helped them reach that conclusion were in fact not actually buzzards or vultures. On the other hand, vultures and buzzards will eat snakes, as the central creature is doing--but so did pterosaurs.

For us, the pterosaur hypothesis is butressed by; the feet/toes of these flying creatures. Birds have three toes, pterosaurs five--the fifth of which points backward and is extended. The feet and legs of these creatures do match what we might expect from pterosaurs but not what we might expect from birds.

The wings of the central creature as well as the two side creatures reminds us that the pterosaur wing was also believed to attach to the legs/feet as well. We'd say pterosaur wings might appear to separate from the body like those of the central creature here more than a bird's would.

Previously, we looked at a "Mayan Pterosaur" (shown below)that is an exact head, skull and bill match for the Costa Rican flying creatures.

The eyes are especially large--perhaps larger than a birds eyes might be. Of course, we're certainly not experts and are no smarter than anyone else. What do you think?

With respect to the second stone metate, it could be an insect, could be a pterosaur or a mythological creature. The wings sit on the shoulder in a pterosaur-like manner. Pteranodon, is one type of pterosaur with a prong/crest sticking out of its head like these creatures have--except that their prongs typically extend from the backs of their heads rather than from the front.

Precolumbian Costa Rica

"According to popular belief, when Columbus and subsequent Spanish Conquistadores first arrived on Costa Rican shores they were met by a diminutive indigenous population of only around 25,000 people. Due to a lack of precious metals or stone, and no substantial indigenous workforce to exploit, these Spanish settlers were forced to till the land alone, becoming independent subsistence farmers rather than feudal lords or latifundistas, as in other parts of Central and South America, and thus there developed a “rural, classless democracy of peace-loving, white farmers who greatly valued freedom and family.”

Costa Rican stone metate, A.D. 1-500, 15 1/4 inches long.
Museum sale item. Click and drag photo to resize.

Until very recently this served as the generally accepted version of colonial history, becoming part of a ‘national ideology’, the unifying myth of the nation, what historian Theodore Creedman has described as ‘leyenda blanca’ or white legend.

Over the last few years archeological discoveries and research have led historians and sociologists to discredit and rewrite this ‘myth’, suggesting that it not only underplays the cruel treatment and exploitation of indigenous peoples, but also ignores the diverse cultural influences within the region, ‘over-exaggerating the whiteness of Costa Ricans’ and denying existing class differentiation and unequal division of wealth and power.

Precolumbian Costa Rican art.
Click and drag photo to resize.

It is now thought that on the eve of conquest, in 1502, there were actually as many as 400,000-500,000 people living in the area that is Costa Rica, dispersed throughout the region in distinct cultural groups that show influences from both Mesoamerican and South American civilizations.

Archeologists have found evidence of hundreds of residential sites and thousands of artifacts that attest to the movement, migration and interaction of peoples throughout the surrounding areas and to important agricultural, social and stylistic divisions that correspond to these ethnic and cultural differences.

There is little evidence to indicate when exactly the region was first inhabited.

It is estimated that large waves of primitive people first reached the North American Continent between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago, probably migrating from Asia, particularly Mongolia and Siberia to settle in the North West.

Gradually, over many thousands of years, these people traveled southwards, eventually reaching Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost tip of Argentina, adapting to the varied climates and environments they encountered.

Evidence of occupation in Costa Rica dates back to about 12,000BC. Remnants of rudimentary tools, particularly spearheads, attest to the influence of both North American and South American civilizations in the region, suggesting that early settlers arrived not only from the North but also from Andean America, revealing the intermingling of the two distinct cultures even at this early stage.

Precolumbian, Costa Rican flying creature compared to
pterodactylus and a Cameroon pterosaur" from the 17th century.
Click and drag photo to resize.

These first inhabitants of Costa Rica were nomadic hunter-gatherers, moving in small bands across a land dominated by tropical forest, hunting animals for the most part now extinct, as well as fishing and gathering fruit, nuts, grains and eggs, moving as food supplies became scarce or exhausted.

As these early peoples began to gain knowledge of plant species, to explore their potential uses in food consumption, medicines, fibers and construction materials, and to gradually select species for cultivation, a rudimentary form of agriculture was established.

This in turn laid the foundations for a more sedentary existence, with more permanent settlements. The transition into agricultural production happened primarily between 4000 and 1000BC, with evidence of permanent settlements found in the area from about 2500BC onwards.

As experience and expertise, and consequentially, food supplies, increased, so populations grew, settlements became more complex and sophisticated and agriculture intensified. At this point the existence of an important social and agricultural divide, reflecting ethnic differences became evident, marking the region as the approximate boundary between Mesoamerica and Andean America.

Precolumbian, Costa Rican flying creature from
center of piece. Click and drag photo to resize.

Tribes living in the northwestern and central areas of the region showed Mesoamerican influence, growing grains, particularly maize and beans, crops typical of the semi-arid zones of Mexico, while contact with South America was evident among the semi-nomadic tribes of the southern Pacific and Caribbean, where slash and burn cultivation of yucca and other tubers, and pejibaye, a kind of palm nut, all common to South American regions was prevalent. The chewing of coca leaves, an Andean custom was also common.

Tools and instruments of labor developed according to these agricultural advances and geographical and ethnic differences. In the drier areas of Guanacaste and Nicoya ceramic vessels for storing water and grains have been found, along with elaborately carved metates – stones for grinding corn- all showing stylistic influences originating from Mesoamerican cultures, while artifacts found in the Caribbean regions show workmanship and decorative styles similar to those of the Andean cultures.

Precolumbian, Costa Rican flying creatures compared
with the "Mayan Pterosaur" and pterosaur skull.
If this is a pterosaur representation
then its a type with a wider skull.
Click and drag photo to resize.

The technique of ceramic modeling itself is thought to have originated in Colombia or Venezuela and traveled up into Central and North America, again reinforcing the idea that Pre-Columbian peoples across the continents did not live in isolation but had regular contact and exchange through trade, migration and conquest.

Population growth and the increasing complexity of settlements allowed for a diversification of production into crafts as artisans began to fashion objects beyond those necessary for survival.

In recent decades archeologists have found thousands of intricately worked artifacts throughout the country; jewelry, decorative ceramics, elaborately carved stone and jade figures, gold and silver work and woven textiles again show marked stylistic and technical differences corresponding to cultural movement and exchange.

The use of materials not sourced in Costa Rica confirmed the existence of huge mercantile circuits throughout the region; Guatemala was probably the principal source of jade, while gold and silver are thought to have been imported from South America.

As methods of production developed and diversified, social relations and political organization also changed. Specialized roles became necessary, resulting in a more complex division of labor, and the essentially egalitarian nature of the hunter-gatherer band, and the early tribal settlements gave way to a strictly stratified social and political hierarchy and exploitative labor relations.

"Pre-Columbian Art / Ceremonial Basalt Metate
Origin: Costa Rica
Circa: 700 AD to 1000 AD
Dimensions: 18.25" (46.4cm) high x 25.5" (64.8cm) depth
Barakat Gallery

Medium: Basalt. This unique type of carved stone metate was the most important ritual object of its time in Costa Rica. It served as a very special burial object for wealthy, high status members of society.

In everyday life the metate as a utilitarian grinding stone had the power to transform seeds and kernels into flour. When placed in the tomb, the metate symbolized for the deceased the assurance of another type of transformational rebirth, the beginning of a new life.

This stunning metate, artistically carved to include the dramatic images of a monkey and three birds, displays still other symbols of extreme importance.

To the Ancient Costa Ricans the monkey was a highly revered animal for it was believed that the monkey was a former warrior, with all the respected traits of a warrior. Birds were also highly respected, for avian creatures had the enviable ability to live in two worlds, that of the land and of the sky.

Here we see a carved monkey caught in suspended motion as he swings from the bottom bar of the metate, his arms gracefully clinging to the metate supports. The monkeys uplifted tail ads yet another element of animation to the overall effect.

Perched on the metates tripod legs, we also observe the striking images of three avian creatures, perhaps parrots. Claws cling to the metate legs while dual carved protrusions from each bird’s head dramatically curve to join each leg of the metate, echoing the curves of the monkey’s fluid arms and tail.

The exuberant and spirited imagery in this metate immediately engages us in a most compelling experience, as we begin to sense and understand the primal sensibilities that are inherent in man and beast alike."..Barakat Gallery

At the head of this hierarchy was the figure of the ‘cacique’ or warrior chieftain, a position normally inherited through matrilineal succession and enhanced by claims to supernatural and religious powers.

The cacique governed with a Council of Elders, a kind of indigenous nobility, made up of priests, commercial leaders, warriors, and of course the shaman, who fulfilled various functions as the main intermediary between the supernatural realm and that of everyday reality.

This nobility held immense power, distributing and disseminating wealth, power and knowledge, consolidating their privileged positions to exploit their inferiors and gain access to riches and slaves. The lower strata of society, the great majority, were made up of artisans and peasants, and below them, slaves and prisoners of war.

Over the years the villages and their populations grew, beginning to subdivide, giving rise to further village units linked by origin and kinship ties. These groups of villages then united to become networks or confederations known as ‘cacicazgos’ or chieftainships.

Each cacicazgo marked out a specific territory and was ruled over by one cacique. These early political associations operated primarily as a basis for commerce and warfare, and were part of a hierarchy of regional power organized according to size of population and territory.

Beyond this, cacicazgos could integrate themselves into larger political and military units known as señorios. A señorio was a kind of fiefdom, covering a vast territory and population, ruled over by a lord who held an almost mythical and limitless power, while caciques maintained power over each individual cacicazgo.

The system of cacicazgos and señorios flourished in the 750 years prior to conquest. Influenced by the advanced agricultural and architectural techniques and knowledge of astronomy found in both Inca and Mayan (later Aztec) civilizations, farming made significant advances, natural fertilizers were discovered and sophisticated systems of irrigation were employed; while artesian skills were developed to construct bridges, roads and temples in the principal settlements.

While no monumental ceremonial centers, like those found at Tikal or Chichen-Itza, have been found in Costa Rica - probably due to the country’s much smaller population – recent excavations have revealed that Pre-Columbian civilizations in the region were far more advanced than had previously been believed".

Source of background information on Pre-Columbian History

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