The ancient stone spheres of Costa Rica were made world-famous by the opening sequence of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when a mockup of one of the mysterious relics nearly crushed Indiana Jones. So perhaps John Hoopes is the closest thing at the University of Kansas to the movie action hero.
Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Global Indigenous Nations Studies Program, recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica where he and colleagues evaluated the stone balls for UNESCO, the United Nations cultural organization that might grant the spheres World Heritage Status…
Hoopes, who researches ancient cultures of Central and South America, is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Costa Rican spheres. He explained that although the stone spheres are very old, international interest in them is still growing.
“The earliest reports of the stones come from the late 19th century, but they weren’t really reported scientifically until the 1930s — so they’re a relatively recent discovery,” Hoopes said. “They remained unknown until the United Fruit Company began clearing land for banana plantations in southern Costa Rica.”
According to Hoopes, around 300 balls are known to exist, with the largest weighing 16 tons and measuring eight feet in diameter. Many of these are clustered in Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta region. Some remain pristine in the original places of discovery, but many others have been relocated or damaged due to erosion, fires and vandalism.
The KU researcher said that scientists believe the stones were first created around 600 A.D., with most dating to after 1,000 A.D. but before the Spanish conquest…
Speculation and pseudoscience have plagued general understanding of the stone spheres. For instance, publications have claimed that the balls are associated with the “lost” continent of Atlantis. Others have asserted that the balls are navigational aids or relics related to Stonehenge or the massive heads on Easter Island.
“Myths are really based on a lot of very rampant speculation about imaginary ancient civilizations or visits from extraterrestrials,” Hoopes said.
John Hoopes maintains a website to disseminate the realities of the stone balls – and to dispel some of the myths. As well as he can.