One of the most enduring puzzles vexing archaeologists is the Mesoamerican ballgame. Played for 3,000 years by several cultures until the Spanish conquest, it had deep religious significance, although archaeologists are unsure just what that means.
Two teams faced off in a rectangular stone ball court, trying to knock a solid rubber ball using everything except their hands. At the end one team (presumably the losers) were sacrificed to the gods. Why? Nobody is really sure.
Now a new piece has been added to the puzzle. Archaeologists working at the site of the ancient settlement of El Teúl in the Zacatecas region of central Mexico have uncovered the statue of a headless ballplayer. El Teúl was inhabited for 1,800 years, longer than any other major site in the area.
The statue was found in the remains of an ancient ball court. Archaeologists theorize the statue acted as a pedestal on which to put real heads. Give me that old-time religion!
No good photo is available at this time, although you can see a shot of it lying where it was found in this article. The new find looks very different from the famous stele of a decapitated ballplayer shown here from the Anthropology Museum of Xalapa, Mexico.
If you want to try to figure out just what all the ballplaying and beheading was about, you’ll have your chance in 2012 when El Teúl opens to the public. Mexico is filled with ancient sites, and history buffs will soon have another important one to visit.
[Photo courtesy Maurice Marcellin via Wikimedia Commons]