Jaguar effigy metate

Greater Nicoya
Late Period IV
A.D. 300–700

Object Place: Costa Rica or Nicaragua, Greater Nicoya region


Overall: 36.8 x 86.4 x 35.6 cm (14 1/2 x 34 x 14 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique


On View

Ancient South America Gallery (Gallery LG33)





Metate (grinding stone) with three open-work supports and an open-work jaguar head whose ears are carved in the form of crocodiles. The sculptural style is associated with the Greater Nicoya region of northwestern Costa Rica and sourthern Nicaragua, characterized by delicate, open-work carving and finely incised details. These distinctive metates were used as ceremonial seats, funerary biers, and as grinding surfaces for tobacco and other hallucinogenic plants used during religious rites. The jaguar (or puma) may have been a lineage or clan symbol as also was the crocodile according to .16th-century Spanish sources.

This “metate,” or ceremonial seat, is an excellent example of a rare sculptural style characterized by delicate, openwork carving and finely incised details. The sixteenth-century Spanish observed similar objects used as biers for the embalmed bodies of important individuals and as grinding stones for tobacco and other hallucinogenic plants. They described the jaguar or puma image as a lineage or clan symbol.


Private collection by 1968; May 16, 2008, sold at Sotheby's, New York, sale N08444, lot 3, to MFA.

Credit Line

Museum purchase with funds donated by Jeremy and Hanne Grantham and Timothy Phillips