Feature Articles – Rolling Stones
Bosnia not only has pyramids: it also has a number of enigmatic stone spheres, on par with similar balls found in Costa Rica several decades ago. So far, no-one has been able to explain the Middle American balls; can the Bosnian discovery assist in revealing their purpose?
by Philip Coppens
Ancient mysteries sometimes are like London buses: they come in pairs. Hence, as soon as there was the possibility of a valley in Bosnia that had pyramids, nearby, another valley was discovered where there were enigmatic stone spheres. Media-wise, of course, all the attention has gone to the pyramids – but the stone spheres are definitely not less interesting.
Stone spheres are not unique to Bosnia; in fact, the first “enigmatic” collection of stone spheres was discovered in the delta of the River Diquis in Costa Rica in the 1930s, when the area was being cleared by United Fruit Company. The largest “stone ball” – as they are also known as – measured 2.5 metres. Since, hundreds of similar spherical stone spheres have been found. Alas, so far, no-one has been able to find an explanation for their use or significance. The highest concentration of stone spheres in Bosnia is near the town of Zavidovici, northwest of the Valley of the Pyramids (Visoko) and about 100 kilometres from the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. One stone ball has actually been moved to the local town square, where it has been repurposed as a fountain, with an explanatory panel nearby as to where, in the district, other stone balls can be found in situ.
The greatest concentration of stone spheres is found in Grab, in the immediate vicinity of Zavidovici. In a shallow valley on the outskirts of the village, tens of them – some complete, some broken – are located in a now dry creek bed.
So far, fifteen intact and twenty half stone spheres have been found here. The stones’ dimensions vary between fifty centimetres and two metres. Each is polished and though it is possible they are of natural origin, it is much more likely that they were cut, shaped, and finally polished. A nearby stone – of the same type of stone, though otherwise unchanged by man – has broken in two, showing that this type of stone is very easy to cut, but also with a very homogenous interior, meaning that any worker starting work on the creation of a sphere would not be confronted with unpleasant surprises half-way in the job. Grab Many of the stone spheres in Bosnia are made from the mineral grandiorite. At Teocak, in north-eastern Bosnia, there are eight stones made from granite. Whereas some might doubt the artificiality of the stones of Zavidovici, these granite balls have to be manmade, as nature does not produce such shapes in granite. And, as such, it is clear that the spheres of Zavidovici are equally more than likely manmade, an opinion the Egyptian geologist Dr. Aly Barakat has also arrived at.
As mentioned, Zavidovici is but one site where stone spheres have been found. Others are located in the settlement Ponikve near Vares, where there is an irregularly shaped stone sphere that is probably made from magmatic rock. In Ponikve, one stone sphere weighs about four tons. And in the village Ziokuce, near the town of Kakanj, a few spheres can be found with the same mineral composition, located near elongated stone megaliths, which according to some had magical-medicinal purposes.
The list continues: in the library of the Franciscan monastery in Kraljeva Sutjeska near Kakanj there is another small stone sphere. Near Maglaj, in the villages of Jablanica and hill Cikota, stone spheres have also been located and in Visoko itself – the town of the pyramids – a small stone sphere was equally discovered some years ago and taken home by workers from the local KTK factory, on whose grounds it was found. But, it is clear that the “capital” of the stone spheres is Grab, where we find some legends associated with these stones – stories that might shed further light onto this enigma.
One legend states that in 1936, there was an inundation. The day was dark like the night and it was pouring rain so that the brooks and rivers left their beds. It is said that it was this calamity that brought the spheres to the place where they are now located, suggesting that in origin, they were higher up the hill. Seeing they are located in the bed of a small creek, it is at least more than possible that this legend is based on fact.
However, another – more imaginative – legend relates the crash of wedding guests, saying that the place where the stones are now, is the place where wedding-guests crushed each other, stoned themselves and then became stone spheres. It is a somewhat more unlikely explanation, but it echoes legends elsewhere – for example in Carnac, France – that the megaliths were human beings turned to stone. If Bosnia is so far unable to offer an explanation as to the purpose or meaning of these stone spheres, let us look elsewhere in search of their meaning. The American author David Hatcher-Childress has labelled such objects “marbles of the gods”, specifically when discussing the stone spheres that are located in Costa Rica. The first scientific investigation of these “stone balls” was undertaken shortly after their discovery by Doris Stone, a daughter of a United Fruit Co. executive. Her report was published in 1943 in “American Antiquity”. Her report caught the attention of Dr. And Mrs. Samuel Lothrop of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University, who in 1948 came to Costa Rica, found more such spheres, and also attempted to excavate one such site, in an effort to explain these enigmatic stones. Many of the stones the Lothrops uncovered were around 2.4 metres in diameter; as at Zavidovici, one sphere, 2.1 metres high, had been removed and stood outside a commercial building in San José.
Lothrop’s findings were eventually published as “Archaeology of the Diquís Delta, Costa Rica” in 1963, but despite being a tremendous archaeological success story, no purpose or use for these balls has ever been found. Most authors contend themselves by merely stating the enigma, unable to provide further insights. So, despite what some might assume, stone spheres are not an isolated phenomenon. First: as in Bosnia, the stone balls of Costa Rica are not limited to one location. They have been uncovered in a number of locations, including the Isla del Caño, and over 300 kilometres north of the Diquis Delta in Papagayo on the Nicoya Peninsula.
But apart from Bosnia and Costa Rica, similar stones have been found at Easter Island, Peru and Mexico.
The stone sphere on Easter Isle is at the northern coastal area of the island, just north of the statue quarry at the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku. This single round stone is said to have been used by the “Masters” of the island to focus their mental powers through, as a sort of lens to levitate the statues and make them “walk” around the island. This is, of course, a highly imaginative conclusion. If we were to apply it to Bosnia, the explanation would make little sense, as in this case, it are the balls themselves that had to be moved – and apparently nothing else. The same conclusion applies to Costa Rica, where it is known that the spheres were hewn from a quarry 48 kilometres away. But it does underline that the stones’ creators went through great trouble to transport these objects, underlining that both their destination site was important – most likely sacred – and that this specific type of rock was desired, as otherwise, no doubt more local stone would have been quarried. The majority of Costa Rican stone balls are sculpted from gabbro, an intrusive igneous rock similar to granite – a rock type also used for some of the Bosnian stone spheres.
Lothrop and others since have speculated that the spheres were probably roughly shaped as they were hewn from natural blocks and then polished with smaller stones, with wet sand as an abrasive medium, to give them their polish. It has also been noted that when granodiorite is heated and then quickly cooled, a thin layer of stone comes off in flakes, a technique that might have greatly assisted in rounding the stones. But the fact that stone spheres in Bosnia and Costa Rica exist, but that both are furthermore polished, should be of some interest too. The variety of the material used is equally interesting, but at present, no-one has ever been able to conclude whether there is any special significance as to which material was used where – let alone for what purpose. In Costa Rica, the stones were often placed in groups, or in straight or curved lines – perhaps not dissimilar to the standing stones of Western Europe, which are often found in the same formations. Of course, we find that the same applies to Zavidovici (and some other Bosnian sites), where the spheres are also found in groups. Of interest therefore should be the fact that in 1981, Ivar Zapp, a Professor Archictecture at the University of Costa Rica, took his students to the site and at the end of his study, which was also based on Lothrop’s diagrams of how he found the balls in situ, he noted that two groups seemed to be arranged on either side of a straight line that pointed directly at the magnetic North Pole.
So despite some interesting correlations, so far, our exploration into Costa Rica has revealed few real answers. But the balls of Costa Rica do tell us that some were found over human graves. Despite this possible explanation, their specific purpose remains nevertheless unknown. If there was a funerary connotation, however, we should remember the stories of the dead wedding guests, which are connected with the stone spheres of Zavidovici.
Though Bosnia has the Pyramid Valley, the various stone spheres – apart from one, small sphere – are not in its immediate vicinity. They are found in several towns in Bosnia and the only general conclusion one can draw, is that they are within the catchment area of the Vinca Culture. But whether the stone balls are part of that culture, and are hence thousands of years old, is impossible to conclude, as there are no techniques to determine the date of when the stones were shaped. Indeed, the Costa Rican stones are also hard to date and are believed to have been carved between 200 BC and 1500 AD – but this doesn’t specifically narrow things down.
Finally, in Zavidovici, so far, no-one has found any large ruins or lost cities, and the same applies for the sites of the stone balls in Costa Rica, which are equally set apart from obvious signs of civilisation. That, of course, might be revealing in itself: perhaps these stone spheres somehow were meant to interact with certain features of the landscape – the spheres being the only intrusion of Mankind in what might otherwise have been a sacred location? But that is pure speculation. The “stone sphere fountain” in the square of Zavidovici The mystery of the stone spheres is not so much who made them or how. It is known that Stone Age technology was able to carve these balls, though it is equally clear that many of them – the Costa Rican examples even more so than the Bosnians – required devotion to detail. Some Costa Rican spheres are known to vary by only five centimetres in diameter, and others are even more perfect than that.
The true mystery of the stone spheres is therefore what they were used for, and what they meant. Lying as they often do near rivers, one can merely wonder whether they were somehow there as “decoration”, related to a river cult. But if that were the case, the question is why they haven’t been found in other civilisations.
One possible explanation relies solely on an interpretation of their shape: a ball. Did it symbolise an egg? Was it somehow linked with birth, or rebirth? If so, it might have held a certain meaning in the connection with the graves that are connected to some spheres, but, again, there is no universal theme connecting them with a funerary cult to draw any abiding conclusion. As such, we have no idea what these balls truly mean; they remain a veritable ancient enigma. Perhaps we need to have a crystal ball to understand these stone balls?