A metate or metlatl (or mealing stone) is a type or variety of quern, a ground stone tool used for processing grain and seeds. In traditional Mesoamerican culture, metates were typically used by women who would grind lime-treated maize and other organic materials during food preparation (e.g., making tortillas). Similar artifacts are found all over the world,[1] including China.[2]

Metate mano corn NPS
Metate, mano and corn, all circa 12th century AD, from Chaco Canyon, USA
MV mano & metate
Mano, metate and bowl of corn. Museum display of Ancestral Pueblo artifacts at Mesa Verde National Park.

Formation and morphology

While varying in specific morphology, metates adhere to a common shape. They typically consist of large stones with a smooth depression or bowl worn into the upper surface. The bowl is formed by the continual and long-term grinding of materials using a smooth hand-held stone (known as a mano). This action consists of a horizontal grinding motion that differs from the vertical crushing motion used in a mortar and pestle. The depth of the bowl varies, though they are typically not deeper than those of a mortar; deeper metate bowls indicate either a longer period of use or greater degree of activity (i.e., economic specialization). The specific angles of the metate body allow for a proficient method of turning grains into flour.[3]

Another type of metate called a grinding slab may also be found among boulder or exposed bedrock outcroppings. The upper face of the stone is used for grinding materials, such as acorns, that results in the smoothing of the stone's face and the creation of pocked dimples (see image).

Ceremonial metates of Costa Rica

A Costa Rican metate with bird iconography at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

Carved, volcanic-stone ceremonial metates represent one of the most unusual and complex traditions of pre-Columbian artifacts from Costa Rica. They come in many different forms, and morphological variation corresponds to different regions and time periods. They can be rectangular, circular, flat, or curved. They may or may not have rims and between three and four legs. Some exhibits show signs of use-wear while others show no signs of wear and appear to have been made specifically for use as burial goods. Some examples characterized as metate might have actually been a type of throne for sitting on – not a metate at all.

Some examples are known as effigy-headed metate, which feature an animal’s head at one end, with the metate itself making up the body of the creature. Animals typically depicted are jaguar, crocodile or birds. The most complex type of ceremonial metate is the class referred to as “flying-panel” metate. This style comes from the Atlantic watershed region, including the City of Guayabo and represents a high level of craftsmanship and complexity. Carved from a single piece of stone, these metates typically contain multiple figures, both underneath the plate and on the legs. Trophy heads, birds, jaguar, monkey and saurian figures are the most common themes. The “flying panel” metate is believed to be the precursor to free standing sculptural figures more common later in the Atlantic watershed region.

Temporal and regional variation

Metate and mano

The earliest traditions of stone sculpture in Costa Rica, including ceremonial metate, began in late Period IV (A.D. 1–500). Metate from the Nicoya/Guanacaste region have longitudinally curved and rimless plates. Those from the Atlantic Watershed have a plate that is horizontally flat and rimmed. Both are associated with mortuary goods, suggesting differential social status existed within these communities. The three main types of Costa Rican stone sculpture at this time—tripod-metate, mace heads and jade “axe-god” pendants—peaked and declined in use during Period V (A.D. 500–1000).

Stone sculpture was never popular again in the Nicoya/Guanacaste region, but in the Atlantic Watershed (such as from Guayabo) by Period VI (A.D. 1000–1500), freestanding figural sculpture and new forms of ceremonial metate came into use. These new metate types might be rectangular with four legs like the jaguar effigy-head examples or might be round in shape with a pedestal base. These latter types often have carved human heads (or just suggestive notches) around the rim implying a relationship with ritual trophy-head taking. This particular form of metate seems to have been influenced by the stone sculptures of the Panamanian site of Barriles.

At the site of Las Huacas, fifteen metates were excavated from sixteen graves. None of these metates had manos (grinding stones), suggesting that the carved metate as a mortuary object had a deeper symbolic meaning than just the processing of foodstuffs. The metate’s basic mechanical purpose is a platform on which (primarily) maize is ground into flour. This transformation of grain to flour has symbolic implications relating to life, death and rebirth. It is still not clear if maize was a main source of sustenance, and it is entirely possible that maize was reserved for making chicha (beer), for use in ritual feasting activities. Given their role as a burial good, it seems that metate held a strong meaning for human life, death and the hope for a rebirth or transformation of some kind.


The three most popular iconographic elements of ceremonial metate seem to be saurian, bird, and jaguar creatures. Monkeys are also common. A unique feature of ceremonial metate is the lack of human figures. Disembodied heads are the sole exception. While human figures become the main subject of the free standing sculptures, which depict nude females or male warriors with trophy heads and bound male captives, these do not seem to have been depicted on metate. Flying-panel metates often have anthropomorphic figures, but these always have animal (often crocodile) heads.

In both the Nicoya and Atlantic-Watershed regions, metates are often made with saurian (specifically crocodile, alligator, or caiman) imagery. It is thought that the saurian represents the surface of the earth, which relates to agricultural fertility.[4] One of the oldest and most prominent themes in Chibcha art is that of the Crocodile god. Depicted as an anthropomorphic being with a crocodile head, he has been carved into fly-panel metates, sometimes shown standing on a double-headed saurian and other times on a jaguar. As a symbol, the double-headed Saurian has the longest use and distribution of any iconographic element in the Isthmo-Columbian area.

Costa Rica flying-panel metates date to the 1st and 7th centuries. However, certain features of the Crocodile god depicted on flying-panel metates show him with unnatural U-shaped elbows and long, narrow fingers, as seen on crocodile gods made in gold that date to the 10th–16th centuries. These stylistic forms make sense for use in the small gold ornaments made with the lost-wax technique, but seem strange for use in carved stone. Perhaps these metates date much later than previously thought, and were inspired by the depictions in gold.[5]

Birds with long, curving beaks that seem to represent vultures, toucans or maybe hummingbirds are another popular theme. First found in Costa Rica on Pavas and El Bosque-phase pottery, these are a common element in flying-panel metates, sometimes depicted with or pecking at human heads.


Metate fcm

Use of a Mexican metate

Indian Metate

Use of a metate in India

Huerfano Butte Arizona Bedrock Metate

Native American bedrock metate at Huerfano Butte, Arizona

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Discussion on the Origins of Grinding Tools, Mortar and Pestle". Archived from the original on 7 April 2005. Retrieved 23 March 2018.
  3. ^ Laudan, Rachel (2013). Cuisine and Empire. University of California Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-520-26645-2.
  4. ^ Graham 1981:119.
  5. ^ Quilter and Hoopes 2003:73-75.
  • Graham, M.M. (1981). Traditions of Costa Rican Stone Sculpture. In Between Continents/Between Seas: Precolumbian Art of Costa Rica, pp. 113–134. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York.
  • Lange, F.W. (1996). Paths to Central American Prehistory. University Press of Colorado. Niwot, Colorado.
  • Quilter, J. & Hoopes, J. (2003). Gold and Power in Ancient Costa Rica, Panama and Columbia. Dumbarton Oaks. Washington D.C.
  • Snarskis, M.J. (1981). The Archaeology of Costa Rica. In Between Continents/Between Seas: Precolumbian Art of Costa Rica, pp. 15–84. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York.
  • Stone, D. (1977). Precolumbian Man in Costa Rica. Peabody Museum Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Aztec cuisine

Aztec cuisine is the cuisine of the former Aztec Empire and the Nahua peoples of the Valley of Mexico prior to European contact in 1519.

The most important staple was corn (maize), a crop that was so important to Aztec society that it played a central part in their mythology. Just like wheat in much of Europe or rice in most of East Asia, it was the food without which a meal was not a meal. It came in varieties that differed in color, texture, size and prestige, and was eaten as corn tortillas, tamales or ātōlli, maize gruel. The other constants of Aztec food were salt and chili peppers and the basic definition of Aztec fasting was to abstain from these two flavors.

The other major foods were beans and New World varieties of the grains amaranth (or pigweed), and chia. The combination of maize and these basic foods would have provided the average Aztec a very well-rounded diet without any significant deficiencies in vitamins or minerals. The cooking of maize grains in alkaline solutions, a process called nixtamalization, significantly raised the nutritional value of the common staple.

Water, maize gruels and pulque (iztāc octli), the fermented juice of the century plant (maguey in Spanish), were the most common drinks, and there were many different fermented alcoholic beverages made from honey, cacti and various fruits. The elite took pride in not drinking pulque, a drink of commoners, and preferred drinks made from cacao, among the most prestigious luxuries available. Favored by rulers, warriors and nobles, they were flavored with chili peppers, honey and a seemingly endless list of spices and herbs.

The Aztec diet included a variety of fish and wild game: various fowl, pocket gophers, green iguanas, axolotls (a type of water salamander), a type of crayfish called an acocil, and a great variety of insects, larvae and insect eggs. They also domesticated turkeys, duck and dogs as food and at times ate meat from larger wild animals such as deer, but none of these were a major part of their diet. They ate various mushrooms and fungi, including the parasitic corn smut, which grows on ears of corn. Squash (also known as Cucurbita) was very popular and came in many different varieties. Squash seeds, fresh, dried or roasted, were especially popular. Tomatoes, though different from the varieties common today, were often mixed with chili in sauces or as filling for tamales.

Eating in Aztec culture could take on a sacred meaning, especially as evidenced in ritual cannibalism. The act of eating another human was deeply connected to the Aztec mythology, in which gods needed to consume the sacrificed flesh and blood of humans to sustain themselves, and the world. One way to look at this is that since human flesh was a food of the gods, it was sacred, and consuming sacred food could sanctify an individual and bring him or her closer to the gods. Further, certain warriors, in their afterlife, were believed to have been turned into butterflies and hummingbirds with the ability to fly back to the realm of the living to feed on nectar. From this, the importance the Aztecs ascribed to the act of eating is clear.

Bare Island projectile point

The Bare Island projectile point is a stone projectile point of prehistoric indigenous peoples of North America. It was named by Fred Kinsey in 1959 for examples recovered at the Kent-Halley site on Bare Island in Pennsylvania.


Barriles (known also as Sitio Barriles or by the designation BU-24), is one of the most famous archaeological sites in Panama. It is located in the highlands of the Chiriquí Province of Western Panama at 1200 meters above sea level. It is several kilometers west of the modern town of Volcán. This places the site in the Gran Chiriquí culture area (encompassing Western Panama and much of Southern Costa Rica, parts of the even broader Intermediate Area or Isthmo-Colombian Area). The site was originally named for several small stone barrels found in the area, although these have also been found elsewhere in the Río Chiriquí Viejo valley and in Costa Rica. This area has a cool, spring-like climate with a pronounced rainy season between May and November, and a dry but windy season the rest of the year. The region lies on the western flanks of Volcán Barú, a dormant volcano and the highest mountain in Panama.

Like El Caño in Central Panama or Panamá Viejo in Panama City, Barriles is one of the few archaeological sites in Panama regularly accessible to the public. The northwestern portion of the site is accessible to the public through the Landau finca (which is a private property), who have a variety of artifacts on display in their yard, in the walls of a fake excavation block, and in a small private museum. Not all of the artifacts on display were found on-site. The family offers guided tours of the collections and their gardens in both Spanish and English. Donations are greatly appreciated.

The site is believed to have once been a socioceremonial center with a substantial residential population between 500-1000 individuals. It contains a small mound which was once associated with a row of 14 statues. Ten of these depicted solitary individuals, while four included one individual- often chubbier, taller, wearing a conical hat and ornaments- riding atop the shoulders of a naked man, though some of these individuals also wore conical hats. Many scholars have interpreted these double individual statues as evidence for the existence of higher and lower status social groups within Barriles. A large metate (grinding stone) whose border was adorned by tiny stone heads has also been interpreted as evidence for violence or human sacrifice in the past. Many of the statues and the metate are on currently display in the Museo Antropológico Reina Torres de Araúz in Panama City.

Bedrock mortar

A bedrock mortar (BRM) is an anthropogenic circular depression in a rock outcrop or naturally occurring slab, used by people in the past for grinding of grain, acorns or other food products. There are often a cluster of a considerable number of such holes in proximity indicating that people gathered in groups to conduct food grinding in prehistoric cultures. Correspondingly the alternative name gossip stone is sometimes applied, indicating the social context of the food grinding activity. Typical dimensions of the circular indentations are approximately 12 centimeters in diameter by 10 centimeters deep, although a considerable range of depths of the cavities have been documented . The bedrock mortar has been identified in a number of world regions, but has been particularly intensely documented in the Americas. An alternative term for the bedrock mortar site is bedrock milling station.

Celt (tool)

In archaeology, a celt is a long, thin, prehistoric, stone or bronze tool similar to an adze, a hoe or axe-like tool.


Clemole or tlemole is a traditional dish in Mexican cuisine. It is a soup where meat, vegetables and strong flavor elements are combined. When beef or poultry meat is fried and boiled in a stock pot, then green beans, corn chunks and pumpkin pieces are added. Chili peppers are roasted, soaked in hot water and ground on a metate with a little garlic, cloves and black pepper. This is fried in oil or lard with a few onion slices, making a sauce that is added to the broth, which should not be too thick .

Cumberland point

A Cumberland point is a lithic projectile point, attached to a spear and used as a hunting tool. These sturdy points were intended for use as thrusting weapons and employed by various mid-Paleo-Indians (c. 11,000 BP) in the Southeastern US in the killing of large game mammals.

Devils Garden (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

The Devils Garden of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in south central Utah, United States, is a protected area featuring hoodoos, natural arches and other sandstone formations. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) designated the name Devils Garden—without an apostrophe according to USGS naming conventions—on December 31, 1979. The area is also known as the Devils Garden Outstanding Natural Area within the National Landscape Conservation System.The formations in the Devils Garden were created, and continue to be shaped, by various weathering and erosional processes. These natural processes have been shaping sandstone layers formed more than 166 million years ago during the Jurassic period's Middle epoch.The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers the Devils Garden and the entire GSENM which is the first national monument assigned to the BLM.

Grinding slab

In archaeology, a grinding slab is a ground stone artifact generally used to grind plant materials into usable size, though some slabs were used to shape other ground stone artifacts. Some grinding stones are portable; others are not and, in fact, may be part of a stone outcropping.

Grinding slabs used for plant processing typically acted as a coarse surface against which plant materials were ground using a portable hand stone, or mano ("hand" in Spanish). Variant grinding slabs are referred to as metates or querns, and have a ground-out bowl. Like all ground stone artifacts, grinding slabs are made of large-grained materials such as granite, basalt, or similar tool stones.

Huaquechula (municipality)

Huaquechula Municipality is a municipality in Puebla in south-eastern Mexico.

Mano (stone)

A mano (Spanish for hand) is a ground stone tool used with a metate to process or grind food by hand.


Pachola is a type of prepared meat in Mexican cuisine. It consists of a flattened and spiced ground beef patty made using a metate (grinding stone). The beef is mixed with ground ancho chili, cumin, garlic and bread, and fried in oil. Pacholas are sometimes grilled.

Pesse canoe

The Pesse canoe is believed to be the world's oldest known boat, and certainly the oldest known canoe. Carbon dating indicates that the boat was constructed during the early mesolithic period between 8040 BCE and 7510 BCE. It is now in the Drents Museum in Assen, Netherlands.


A petate [peˈtate] is a bedroll used in Central America and Mexico. Its name comes from the Náhuatl word petlatl [ˈpet͡ɬat͡ɬ]. The petate is woven from the fibers of the Palm of petate (Leucothrinax morrisii). The Royal Spanish Academy defines it as a bed. Generally petates are woven in quadrangular forms, though not to any exact dimensions.


Piki is a bread made from blue corn meal used in Hopi cuisine.

Pinaleño Mountains

The Pinaleño Mountains (in Yavapai: Walkame – "pine mountains" or in Western Apache: Dził Nnilchí' Diyiléé - ″pine-burdened mountain″), are a remote mountain range in southeastern Arizona, near Safford (Ichʼįʼ Nahiłtį́į́), Arizona. The mountains have over 7,000 feet (2,100 m) of vertical relief, more than any other range in the state. The mountains are surrounded by the Sonoran-Chihuahuan Desert. Subalpine forests cover the higher elevations. According to The Nature Conservancy, they traverse five ecological communities and contain "the highest diversity of habitats of any mountain range in North America." The highest point is Mount Graham (Western Apache: Dził Nchaa Sí'an - ″Big Seated Mountain″) at 10,720 feet (3,267 m). Locals often refer to the whole mountain range as "Mount Graham", in which case the peak is referred to as "High Peak". The mountains cover 300 square miles (780 km2) and are part of the Coronado National Forest, Safford ranger district.

The Pinaleño/Pinal Band (Spanish term: ″Pinery People″, Western Apache: Tiis Ebah Nnee - ″Cottonwoods Gray in the Rocks People″) of the San Carlos Apache (Tsékʼáádn - ″Metate People″), one of the subgroups of the Western Apache people and their kin and close allies, the Hwaalkamvepaya/Walkamepa Band ("Pine Mountains People") of the Guwevkabaya/Kwevkepaya ("Southern People"), one of the three Yavapai regional groupings were either named after the Pinaleño Mountains or the mountains were named after them (both people used this range as primary source for pine nuts, which have long been a staple food for many Native American tribes).

The mountains are a Madrean sky island range that is typical of southern Arizona, specifically south-central Arizona, and especially the complete southeastern quadrant of Arizona, from Tucson, and Globe to Nogales, Douglas, and the Chiricahuas. Sky island ranges are mountains isolated by desert valleys. The deserts, as well as differences in elevation, prevent flora and fauna from traveling to or from nearby ecosystems. As a result, the mountain ecosystems are isolated, and distinct sub-species can develop. This is similar to what Charles Darwin discovered with species he collected from different islands in the Galápagos, a discovery that played a major role in his theory of natural selection. The Mount Graham red squirrel is an isolated population of red squirrels and possibly a sub-species as well.

Safford and Willcox, Arizona are the nearest towns to the Pinaleños.

Plano point

In archeology, Plano point is flaked stone projectile points and tools created by the various Plano cultures of the North American Great Plains between 9000 BC and 6000 BC for hunting, and possibly to kill other humans.

They are bifacially worked and have been divided into numerous sub-groups based on variations in size, shape and function including Alberta points, Cody points, Frederick points, Eden points and Scottsbluff points. Plano points do not include the hollowing or 'fluting' found in Clovis and Folsom points.


In archeology, a racloir, also known as racloirs sur talon (French for scraper on the platform), is a certain type of flint tool made by prehistoric peoples.

It is a type of side scraper distinctive of Mousterian assemblages. It is created from a flint flake and looks like a large scraper. As well as being used for scraping hides and bark, it may also have been used as a knife. Racloirs are most associated with the Neanderthal Mousterian industry. These racloirs are retouched along the ridge between the striking platform and the dorsal face. They have shaped edges and are modified by abrupt flaking from the dorsal face.

Tool stone

In archaeology, a tool stone is a type of stone that is used to manufacture stone tools,

or stones used as the raw material for tools.Generally speaking, tools that require a sharp edge are made using cryptocrystalline materials that fracture in an easily controlled conchoidal manner.

Cryptocrystalline tool stones include flint and chert, which are fine-grained sedimentary materials; rhyolite and felsite, which are igneous flowstones; and obsidian, a form of natural glass created by igneous processes. These materials fracture in a predictable fashion, and are easily resharpened. For more information on this subject, see lithic reduction.

Large-grained materials, such as basalt, granite, and sandstone, may also be used as tool stones, but for a very different purpose: they are ideal for ground stone artifacts. Whereas cryptocrystalline materials are most useful for killing and processing animals, large-grained materials are usually used for processing plant matter. Their rough faces often make excellent surfaces for grinding plant seeds. With much effort, some large-grained stones may be ground down into awls, adzes, and axes.

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