Ancient statue of decapitated ballplayer discovered in Mexico

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]

Ancient Egyptian tomb discovered

A priest’s tomb that’s more than 4,000 years old has been discovered near the pyramids of Giza, Egypt. Egyptian archaeologists say the tomb belonged to a priest named Rwd-ka from the Fifth Dynasty (2494-2345 BC), a time in the Old Kingdom when religion was undergoing major changes, including the elevation in importance of the sun god Ra, and the development of the Pyramid Texts, which later developed into the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Rwd-ka would have been at the forefront of these changes, since one of his duties was to say prayers for the dead pharaohs.

Not much is known about Rwd-ka. His tomb contains rich carvings of countryside scenes as well as the priest and his wife before a table of offerings to the gods, perhaps similar to the scene above from a tomb at Saqqara.

The discovery was part of ongoing excavations in the area and just the latest in a string of recent successes for Egyptologists.

[Photo courtesy the Egypt Archive]


Ancient Egyptian tombs discovered

Two painted tombs have been discovered at the ancient Egyptian necropolis of Saqqara, twenty miles south of Cairo.

The rock-hewn tombs belong to a royal official named Shendwa and his son Khonsu. Both men lived in the Sixth Dynasty (2345-2181 BC) of the Old Kingdom. The pharaohs of this dynasty are buried at or near Saqqara. The pyramid of Pepi II is shown here, although it isn’t in the best of condition.

The find comes just a month after the tomb of a royal scribe was discovered at Saqqara and brings further attention to an important archaeological site many tourists miss. Saqqara is home to the oldest pyramid built of dressed stone–the Step Pyramid of Djoser constructed from 2667 to 2648 BC. Earlier pyramids made of brick are known from Mesopotamia and can now be found in modern Iraq and Syria.

Image courtesy Jon Bodsworth via
Egypt Archive. Check out the site for some amazing photos of some of Saqqara’s painted tombs.

Rock Art in Malawi is a World Heritage Site

One of the latest UNESCO World Heritage sites is in Malawi. Chongoni Rock Art, found clustered in 127 different locations in the granite hills of Malawi’s central plateau, are images painted onto rock. They’ve been here for a long time-a very long time. The folks who painted them may date back to the late Stone Age when folks were hunter-gatherers. The Chewa ethnic group in Malawi whose ancestry goes back to the Iron Age is also responsible for some of the art. The Chewa, an agriculturally-based ethnic group that lives in Malawi today, were still painting on the rocks until the early 20th century. They continue to tie their ceremonies and rituals to the paintings. Because the practice of creating rock art is not common among agriculturally-based people, the existence of this work is interesting in itself. As another interesting note, most of the art is connected to symbolism that depicts women. Yeah! I like that.

One of the reasons Chongoni Rock Art is deemed a World Heritage site is that this is the largest concentration of rock art in Central Africa.