Greater Nicoya Metates and the Art Market: A Case Study

Author(s): Alanna Radlo-Dzur

Year: 2019


This is an abstract from the "SAA 2019: General Sessions" session, at the 84th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology.

A distinctive tradition of intricately sculpted metates—commonly known as grinding stones—flourished along the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and Costa Rica circa 300-900 CE. The Greater Nicoya burials that contain carved metates often include grave goods made of precious materials such as jade and gold. As a result, these sites have been subject to looting since the 16th century when the Spanish thought of cemeteries as "mines." Interest in other types of artifacts only began to increase in the 19th century as encyclopedic museums clamored for new types of objects to fill their halls. Unfortunately, the preponderance of undocumented artifacts in collections—along with continued looting—has obscured the emergence of a new type of object. Based on archaeological examples, these Greater Nicoya metates first appear in museum collections at the turn of the 20th century, in the same moment that the earliest scientific excavations began in the region. Today, they frequently appear in auctions of Precolumbian art and are on prominent display in museums around the world. This case study describes these metates, showing how they reflect the interests and desires of collectors, particularly in the 20th-century market for "primitive" art.

Cite this Record

Greater Nicoya Metates and the Art Market: A Case Study. Alanna Radlo-Dzur. Presented at The 84th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Albuquerque, NM. 2019 ( tDAR id: 449688)

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -92.153; min lat: -4.303 ; max long: -50.977; max lat: 18.313 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 25008