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Ancient Ball Player

Ancient Ball Player Statue Found in Mexico

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Workers repairing an old water pipe line made a surprising discovery when they stumbled upon a 1,000 year-old granite statue representing a Mesoamerican ball player at a pre-Hispanic site at Piedra Labrada, southeast of Guerrero, Mexico.  The 5 foot 4 inch tall ancient sculpture portrays a bow-legged ball player who is wearing a helmet and a yugo (strong belt) around the waist which was used to protect this part of the body during the ball game. 

The Mesoamerican ball game is the oldest known organised team sport in human history and is thought to have originated earlier than 1400 BC with the pre-Columbian people of Ancient Mexico and Central America.  Cities, ceremonies, and daily life revolved around the sport, which was treated as more than just a competition. It was a complex ritual based on religious beliefs and the outcome of this game affected the lives of everyone playing and watching.

The rules of the ballgame are unknown but it is thought to have been similar to racquetball, where the aim is to keep the ball in play by striking a ball with their hips, forearms or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed as much as four kilograms.

“In some games they were supposed to hit the ball only with the wrist, which explains the protective yoke carved in the sculpture,” said Pablo Sereno Uribe, an archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

The statue, which might have been carved by the Mixtec indigeno people around 600 A.D., was found in two pieces, the head sliced at the neck, as if it had been decapitated. This may have been done intentionally as part of a ceremony in which statues were ‘killed’ by breaking them into pieces and then made as offerings.

According to Sereno Uribe, the discovery of the ball player along with the existence of large ball courts related to temples and plazas and more than 20 sculptures depicting anthropomorphic figures, show that Piedra Labrada was a city with great ritualistic importance.

By April Holloway

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