Ancient decapitated ball game statue found in Mexico
2013-05-24 0:00

From: The History Blog

Villagers installing a water pipe a few weeks ago in the town of Piedra Labrada in the southwestern Mexico near the Guatemalan border unearthed a granite stele depicting a player of the Mesoamerican ball game. The figure is 5’4″ high including the head which archaeologists believe was deliberately severed from the body during a ball game ritual. He’s a bow-legged fellow with his arm crossed over his chest. He is accessorized with a helmet, a yoke around his waist and round stones, possibly the precious greenstones known as chalchihuites, hanging from his ears.

The statue was discovered in the north section of the town on the grounds of the biggest ball game pitch, an L-shaped court about 130 feet long. There are five ball courts in Piedra Labrada. Around twenty sculptures of snake heads, shells and anthropomorphic figures were found in three of them, but this is the first sculpture found in the north field and the only one that depicts a ball player.

The Mesoamerican ball game was not simply a sport. The basic game fielded two teams who sought to put a rubber ball through a stone circle by bouncing it off their hips, but it was also an immensely important religious ritual with a number of ceremonial functions. Among these rites was a ritual marking the end of a calendar cycle during which sculptures were painted red and then ceremonially “killed” by having their heads struck off. The decapitated statues would then be buried around the court.

The age of the stele is hard to pinpoint because Piedra Labrada has not been thoroughly excavated. Since the recent digs began a year and a half ago, archaeologists have been mapping the site. The pre-Hispanic town is 1.24 square miles in area. In addition to the five ball fields, almost 50 medium-sized buildings (10-16 feet high) have been identified as well as public plazas and sculptures. The sculptures that have been found thus far appear to be Mixtec (an indigenous ethnic group who have a documented history going back to 940 A.D.) in design, and their placement in the ancient town is in keeping with Epiclassic characteristics which could turn the clock all the way back to 600 A.D.


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