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The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts

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The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts

Over the last few hundred years, many perplexing artifacts have been unearthed that do not fit the currently excepted theories of geology and the history of man.


The Bible tells us that God created Adam and Eve just a few thousand years ago, by some fundamentalist interpretations. Science informs us that this is mere fiction and that man is a few million years old, and that civilization just tens of thousands of years old. Could it be, however, that conventional science is just as mistaken as the Bible stories? There is a great deal of archeological evidence that the history of life on earth might be far different than what current geological and anthropological texts tell us. Consider these astonishing finds:

The Grooved Spheres
Over the last few decades, miners in South Africa have been digging up mysterious metal spheres. Origin unknown, these spheres measure approximately an inch or so in diameter, and some are etched with three parallel grooves running around the equator. Two types of spheres have been found: one is composed of a solid bluish metal with flecks of white; the other is hollowed out and filled with a spongy white substance. The kicker is that the rock in which they where found is Precambrian - and dated to 2.8 billion years old! Who made them and for what purpose is unknown.

The Dropa Stones
In 1938, an archeological expedition led by Dr. Chi Pu Tei into the Baian-Kara-Ula mountains of China made an astonishing discovery in some caves that had apparently been occupied by some ancient culture. Buried in the dust of ages on the cave floor were hundreds of stone disks. Measuring about nine inches in diameter, each had a circle cut into the center and was etched with a spiral groove, making it look for all the world like some ancient phonograph record some 10,000 to 12,000 years old. The spiral groove, it turns out, is actually composed of tiny hieroglyphics that tell the incredible story of spaceships from some distant world that crash-landed in the mountains. The ships were piloted by people who called themselves the Dropa, and the remains of whose descendents, possibly, were found in the cave.

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The Ica Stones
Beginning in the 1930s, the father of Dr. Javier Cabrera, Cultural Anthropologist for Ica, Peru, discovered many hundreds of ceremonial burial stones in the tombs of the ancient Incas. Dr. Cabrera, carrying on his father's work, has collected more than 1,100 of these andesite stones, which are estimated to be between 500 and 1,500 years old and have become known collectively as the Ica Stones. The stones bear etchings, many of which are sexually graphic (which was common to the culture), some picture idols and others depict such practices as open-heart surgery and brain transplants. The most astonishing etchings, however, clearly represent dinosaurs - brontosaurs, triceratops (see photo), stegosaurus and pterosaurs. While skeptics consider the Ica Stones a hoax, their authenticity has neither been proved or disproved.

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The Antikythera Mechanism
A perplexing artifact was recovered by sponge-divers from a shipwreck in 1900 off the coast of Antikythera, a small island that lies northwest of Crete. The divers brought up from the wreck a great many marble and and bronze statues that had apparently been the ship's cargo. Among the findings was a hunk of corroded bronze that contained some kind of mechanism composed of many gears and wheels. Writing on the case indicated that it was made in 80 B.C., and many experts at first thought it was an astrolabe, an astronomer's tool. An x-ray of the mechanism, however, revealed it to be far more complex, containing a sophisticated system of differential gears. Gearing of this complexity was not known to exist until 1575! It is still unknown who constructed this amazing instrument 2,000 years ago or how the technology was lost.

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The Baghdad Battery
Today batteries can be found in any grocery, drug, convenience and department store you come across. Well, here's a battery that's 2,000 years old! Known as the Baghdad Battery, this curiosity was found in the ruins of a Parthian village believed to date back to between 248 B.C. and 226 A.D. The device consists of a 5-1/2-inch high clay vessel inside of which was a copper cylinder held in place by asphalt, and inside of that was an oxidized iron rod. Experts who examined it concluded that the device needed only to be filled with an acid or alkaline liquid to produce an electric charge. It is believed that this ancient battery might have been used for electroplating objects with gold. If so, how was this technology lost... and the battery not rediscovered for another 1,800 years?

The Coso Artifact
While mineral hunting in the mountains of California near Olancha during the winter of 1961, Wallace Lane, Virginia Maxey and Mike Mikesell found a rock, among many others, that they thought was a geode - a good addition for their gem shop. Upon cutting it open, however, Mikesell found an object inside that seemed to be made of white porcelain. In the center was a shaft of shiny metal. Experts estimated that, if this was a geode, it should have taken about 500,000 years for this fossil-encrusted nodule to form, yet the object inside was obviously of sophisticated human manufacture. Further investigation revealed that the porcelain was surround by a hexagonal casing, and an x-ray revealed a tiny spring at one end, like a spark plug. There's a bit of controversy around this artifact, as you can imagine. Some contend that the artifact was not inside a geode at all, but encased in hardened clay. The artifact itself has been identified by experts as a 1920s-era Champion spark plug. Unfortunately, the Coso Artifact has gone missing and cannot be thoroughly examined. Is there a natural explanation for it? Or was it found, as the discoverer claimed, inside a geode? If so, how could a 1920s sparkplug get inside a 500,000-year-old rock?

Ancient Model Aircraft
There are artifacts belonging to ancient Egyptian and Central American cultures that look amazingly like modern-day aircraft. The Egyptian artifact, found in a tomb at Saqquara, Egypt in 1898, is a six-inch wooden object that strongly resembles a model airplane, with fuselage, wings and tail. Experts believe the object is so aerodynamic that it is actually able to glide. The small object discovered in Central America (shown at right), and estimated to be 1,000 years old, is made of gold and could easily be mistaken for a model of a delta-wing aircraft - or even the Space Shuttle. It even features what looks like a pilot's seat.

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Giant Stone Balls of Costa Rica
Workmen hacking and burning their way through the dense jungle of Costa Rica to clear an area for banana plantations in the 1930s stumbled upon some incredible objects: dozens of stone balls, many of which were perfectly spherical. They varied in size from as small as a tennis ball to an astonishing 8 feet in diameter and weighing 16 tons! Although the great stone balls are clearly man-made, it is unknown who made them, for what purpose and, most puzzling, how they achieved such spherical precision.

Debunking the "Mystery" of the Stone Balls

The stone balls of Costa Rica have been the object of pseudoscientific speculations since the publication of Erich von Däniken's Chariots of the Gods in 1971.  More recently, they have gained renewed attention as the result of books such as Atlantis in America: Navigators of the Ancient World, by Ivar Zapp and George Erikson (Adventures Unlimited Press, 1998), and The Atlantis Blueprint: Unlocking the Ancient Mysteries of a Long-Lost Civilization, by Colin Wilson and Rand Flem-Ath (Delacorte Press, 2001).  These authors have been featured on television, radio, magazines, and web pages, where they do an incredible disservice to the public by misrepresenting themselves and the state of actual knowledge about these objects.

Although some of these authors are often represented as having "discovered" these objects, the fact is that they have been known to scientists since they first came to light during agricultural activities by the United Fruit Company in 1940.  Archaeological investigation of the stone balls began shortly thereafter, with the first scholarly publication about them appearing in 1943.  They are hardly a new discovery, nor are they especially mysterious.  In fact, archaeological excavations undertaken at sites with stone balls in the 1950s found them to be associated with pottery and other materials typical of the Pre-Columbian cultures of southern Costa Rica.  Whatever "mystery" exists has more to do with loss of information due to the destruction of the balls and their archaeological contexts than lost continents, ancient astronauts, or transoceanic voyages.

Hundreds of stone balls have been documented in Costa Rica, ranging in size from a few centimeters to over two meters in diameter.  Almost all of them are made of granodiorite, a hard, igneous stone.  These objects are not natural in origin, unlike the stone balls in Jalisco, Mexico that were described in a 1965 National Geographic article.  Rather, they are monolithic sculptures made by human hands. 

The balls have been endangered since the moment of their discovery.  Many have been destroyed, dynamited by treasure hunters or cracked and broken by agricultural activities.  At the time of a major study undertaken in the 1950s, fifty balls were recorded as being in situ.  Today, only a handful are known to be in their original locations.

Stone Ball Photo Gallery

All Images Copyright ©2001 John W. Hoopes.  All rights reserved.

Stone Ball in Plaza at Palmar Sur, Costa Rica

Stone Ball in situ Under Cacao Trees

Author with Largest Known Ball

Archaeologist Ifigenia Quintanilla with Stone Ball in situ

Ball in Ravine Near Golfito, Costa Rica

Ball in Plaza, Palmar Sur, Costa Rica


Frequently Asked Questions

Where are the balls found?

They were originally found in the delta of the Térraba River, also known as the Sierpe, Diquís, and General River, near the towns of Palmar Sur and Palmar Norte.  Balls are known from as far north as the Estrella Valley and as far south as the mouth of the Coto Colorado River.  They have been found near Golfito and on the Isla del Caño.  Since the time of their discovery in the 1940s, these objects have been prized as lawn ornaments.  They were transported, primarily by rail, all over Costa Rica.  They are now found throughout the country.  There are two balls on display to the public in the U.S.  One is in the museum of the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C.  The other is in a courtyard near the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography, at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

How big are they?

The balls range in size from only a few centimeters to over two meters in diameter.  It has been estimated that the largest ones weigh over 16 tons (ca. 15,000 kg).

What are they made of?

Almost all of the balls are made of granodiorite, a hard, igneous stone that outcrops in the foothills of the nearby Talamanca range.  There are a few examples made of coquina, a hard material similar to limestone that is formed from shell and sand in beach deposits.  This was probably brought inland from the mouth of the Térraba-Sierpe delta.  (The background image for these pages is a photograph of the surface of a stone ball in Palmar Sur, Costa Rica.)

How many of them are there?

Samuel Lothrop recorded a total of approximately 186 balls for his 1963 publication.  However, it has been estimated that there may be several hundred of these objects, now dispersed throughout Costa Rica.  It was reported that one site near Jalaca had as many as 45 balls, but these have now been removed to other locations.

How were they made?

The balls were most likely made by reducing round boulders to a spherical shape through a combination of controlled fracture, pecking, and grinding.  The granodiorite from which they are made has been shown to exfoliate in layers when subjected to rapid changes in temperature.  The balls could have been roughed out through the application of heat (hot coals) and cold (chilled water).  When they were close to spherical in shape, they were further reduced by pecking and hammering with stones made of the same hard material.  Finally, they were ground and polished to a high luster.  This process, which was similar to that used for making polished stone axes, elaborate carved metates, and stone statues, was accomplished without the help of metal tools, laser beams, or alien life forms.

Who made them?

The balls were most likely made by the ancestors of native peoples who lived in the region at the time of the Spanish conquest.  These people spoke Chibchan languages, related to those of indigenous peoples from eastern Honduras to northern Colombia.  Their modern descendants include the Boruca, Téribe, and Guaymí.  These cultures lived in dispersed settlements, few of which were larger than about 2000 people.  These people lived off of fishing and hunting, as well as agriculture.  They cultivated maize, manioc, beans, squash, pejibaye palm, papaya, pineapple, avocado, chile peppers, cacao, and many other fruits, root crops, and medicinal plants.  They lived in houses that were typically round in shape, with foundations made of rounded river cobbles.

How old are they?

Stone balls are known from archaeological sites and buried strata hat have only pottery characteristic of the Aguas Buenas culture, whose dates range from ca. 200 BC to AD 800.  Stone balls have reportedly been found in burials with gold ornaments whose style dates from after about AD 1000.  They have also been found in strata containing sherds of Buenos Aires Polychrome, a pottery type of the Chiriquí Period that was made beginning around AD 800.  This type of pottery has reportedly been found in association with iron tools of the Colonial period, suggesting it was manufactured up until the 16th century.  So, the balls could have been made anytime during an 1800-year period.  The first balls that were made probably lasted for several generations, during which time they could have been moved and modified.

What were they used for?

Nobody knows for sure.  The balls had ceased to be made by the time of the first Spanish explorers, and remained completely forgotten until they were rediscovered in the 1940s.  Many of the balls were found to be in alignments, consisting of straight and curved lines, as well as triangles and parallelograms.  One group of four balls was found to be arranged in a line oriented to magnetic north.  This has led to speculation that they may have been arranged by people familiar with the use of magnetic compasses, or astronomical alignments.  Unfortunately, all but a few of these alignments were destroyed when the balls were moved from their original locations, so measurements made almost fifty years ago cannot be checked for accuracy.  Many of the balls, some of them in alignments, were found on top of low mounds.  This has led to speculation that they may have been kept inside of houses built on top of the mounds, which would have made it difficult to use them for making observations.  Ivar Zapp's suggestions that the alignments were navigational devices pointing to Easter Island and Stonehenge are almost certainly wrong.  Lothrop's original measurements of alignments of balls only a few meters apart were not accurate or precise enough to allow one to control for errors in plotting such long distances.  With the exception of balls located on the Isla del Caño, most of the balls are too far from the sea to have been useful to ocean-going navigators.

Why are the balls endangered?

Virtually all of the known balls have been moved from their original locations, destroying information about their archaeological contexts and possible alignments.  Many of the balls have been blown up by local treasure hunters who have believed nonsensical fables that the balls contain gold.  Balls sitting in agricultural fields have been damaged by periodic burning, which causes the once smooth surface of the balls to crack, split, and erode--a process that has contributed to the destruction of the largest known stone ball.  Balls have been rolled into gullies and ravines, or even into underwater marine locations (as at Isla del Caño).  The vast majority have been transported far from their zone of origin, separating them even further from the consciousness of the descendants of the people who made these balls.


Stone Ball Links (Good & Bad)

A dialog on ancient stone spheres

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Esferas de Piedra de Costa Rica : Un Misterio Por Resolver...

A Costa Rica 's Stone Balls photo gallery

A Possible Pre-Columbian Constellation


Floating Granite Spheres

The Floating Stone Sphere Water Fountain


Atlantis in the Americas

George Erikson: Atlantis in America

Costa Rica’s Mysterious Spheres

The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

Ancient Intervention Magazine

Costa Rica’s Neglected Stone Spheres

The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica

The Mystery of the Spheres

The mystery of the Costa-Rica’s perfect spheres

John W. Hoopes

Welcome to my personal Web page!

If you want to know more about who I am, have a look at my curriculum vitae (which needs some serious updating!)

Visit my other Web pages

Department of Anthropology, University of Kansas - A site with information about where I work.

Recent Publications

The Emergence of Social Complexity in the Chibchan World of Southern Central America and Northern Colombia, AD 300-600.  Journal of Archaeological Research, Vol. 13, No. 1, pp. 1 - 47.  SpringerLink  KU SpringerLink

  • \\ Online Bookstore*

You can find my most recent book online, either for purchase or download:

Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia (2003) (PDF version)

You can find my previous book (or review it on the Web) at!

The Emergence of Pottery: Technology and Innovation in Ancient Societies (1995)

Find other books in which I have chapters (or add your comments about them)!

The Formation of Complex Society in Southeastern Mesoamerica (1991)

Wealth and Hierarchy in the Intermediate Area (1992)

The American Southwest and Mesoamerica: Systems of Prehistoric Exchange (1993)

Precolumbian Jade: New Geological and Cultural Interpretations (1993)

Archaeology, Volcanism, and Remote Sensing in the Arenal Region, Costa Rica (1994)

Paths to Central American Prehistory (1996)

Online Articles from the SAA Bulletin

Ordeal in Chiapas: Archaeologists Survive Attack During Attempt to Rescue Maya Altar from Looters
Electronic Quipus for the 21st Century: Andean Archaeology Online
Surfing the Syllabi: Online Resources for Teaching Archaeology
Anthropology Museums Online
The Online Lab Manual: Reference Collections on the Web
Avoiding the Driest Dust that Blows: Web Site Reports
You've Got News! Archaeology Journalism on the Internet
The Law of the Bulldozer: Costa Rican Government Restricts Archaeological Impact Studies

University Courses

Please note that the links below are all for OLD course websites.  All of my current course websites are in BlackBoard, and can only be accessed via KU's BlackBoard portal.  Sorry!

Introduction to Archaeology - The original website (ca. 1996-97) for a course I've taught for several years.
A History of Anthropology - A graduate seminar I last taught in Fall 1998.
Ancient American Civilizations: Mesoamerica - A course I'm teaching this Fall.
Ancient American Civilizations: The Central Andes - A course I taught last semester (but this website is dated 7/99!)
Archaeological Myths and Realities
New Discoveries in Archaeology - Password required (sorry!)
The Ancient Maya - Password required (sorry!)
Nepal 2000: Challenge and Discovery - A course I taught five years ago with Felix Moos & Ling-Lung Chen.

Other Online Publications

One Hundred Years of Anthropology in Costa Rica - A bibliography with 1200+ entries (this has been vastly updated, but is not yet online!).
In Search of Nature: Imagining Precolumbian Landscapes of Ancient Central America - An attempt to explode some common myths about humans and their environment.
The Future of the Past: Archaeology and Anthropology on the World Wide Web - A paper presented at the Museums and the Web conference in March 1997.
AZTLAN E-Journal - An adventure in Web publishing on the theme of Precolumbian studies!


The Archaeology of Golfito/La Arqueología de Golfito - My research project in southern Costa Rica.

Other Resources

Virtual Archaeology - A growing list of virtual reality applications in archaeology.
Stone Balls of Costa Rica - A contribution to reasonable consideration of these "mysterious" objects.

My Photography

Photos from Nepal - A collection of photos from my KU Summer Study Abroad trip to Nepal in 2000.
Burning Man 2002 - A collection of photos from my trip to Black Rock City.
Burning Man 2003 - More photos from a return to the Playa.

My Genealogy Page

Information on my family history that I've assembled using Family Tree Maker software.

  • \\ Short Stories*

         Cuando Cantan los Gallos - A piece I wrote many years ago.




Impossible Fossils
Fossils, as we learned in grade school, appear in rocks that were formed many thousands of years ago. Yet there are a number of fossils that just don't make geological or historical sense. A fossil of a human handprint, for example, was found in limestone estimated to be 110 million years old. What appears to be a fossilized human finger found in the Canadian Arctic also dates back 100 to 110 million years ago. And what appears to be the fossil of a human footprint, possibly wearing a sandal, was found near Delta, Utah in a shale deposit estimated to be 300 million to 600 million years old.

Out-of-Place Metal Objects
Humans were not even around 65 million years ago, never mind people who could work metal. So then how does science explain semi-ovoid metallic tubes dug out of 65-million-year-old Cretaceous chalk in France? In 1885, a block of coal was broken open to find a metal cube obviously worked by intelligent hands. In 1912, employees at an electric plant broke apart a large chunk of coal out of which fell an iron pot! A nail was found embedded in a sandstone block from the Mesozoic Era. And there are many, many more such anomalies.

What are we to make of these finds? There are several possibilities:

  • Intelligent humans date back much, much further than we realize.
  • Other intelligent beings and civilizations existed on earth far beyond our recorded history.
  • Our dating methods are completely inaccurate, and that stone, coal and fossils form much more rapidly than we now estimate.

In any case, these examples - and there are many more - should prompt any curious and open-minded scientist to reexamine and rethink the true history of life on earth.  

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> Poll: How can these anomalous artifacts best be explained?

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