Stone Yoke/Mexican Ballgame Belt, c. 300-1200 AD
Granite
12 (height) x 39.5 (width) cm
Veracruz, Mexico

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Originating in Ancient Mexico, Ulama, the oldest known ballgame in the Americas, was considered both athletic event and ceremonial ritual. Its cultural and political significance is evidenced by the central location and significant size of its playing courts throughout numerous ancient cities. The game utilized a solid rubber ball, and although its exact rules are ambiguous, catching the ball with hands was forbidden. The player’s body was used to block the ball, making protective gear an absolute necessity. A belt, of cloth or leather, was worn around the hips to shield the torso and deflect the ball.
Made in Veracruz between 300 and 1,200 AD, Stone Yoke is one of several stone representations of this type. Far too heavy and cumbersome for use in an actual ball game, these symbolic objects served a ceremonial function among the elite, connoting enormous prestige and authority. In this example, the polished granite has been carved into the abstracted form of the Bufo Marinus, a giant toad known for secreting toxins from its skin and glands, and associated in Mesoamerican culture with the underworld and creation myths. Living both in water and on land, the fierce amphibian symbolized the power of the wearer as well as the struggle between life and death.

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