Vera Cruz Stone Carved Effigy Yoke

 

11211. Vera Cruz Stone Carved Effigy Yoke

Late Classic Circa 600 to 900 AD

Horseshoe shaped ritual ball game implement rendered compactly with complex iconography symbolizing duality and perhaps representing the underworld. A mask is caved bisected by another mask which is framed by the profile head of an animal to either side. Other masks with feather plumage on sides. Remains of red cinnabar. in green gray stone. Size: 16 1/2 in (41.8 cm) Length x 13-1/2 Wide x 4 inches H. + custom mount. Provenance: Ex Miura Hiroshi, Old Japanese collection.

Compare similar examples in Secrets in Stone: Yokes, Hachas and Palmas from Southern Mesoamerica by E. M. Shook & E. Marquis.
A superb example!

This classic U-shaped Mesoamerican yoke is made of dense, cool, grayish greenstone and has a light patina of reddish cinnabar that highlights the elaborate structural carvings of the faces of lords that adorn the sides of the yoke.
This mysterious stone yoke is associated with the world's earliest known ballgame courts, where two teams of Mayan athletes were pitted against one another in a brutal athletic battle, with the stakes of the ballgame being life or death.
Multiplayer games were invented by the Mayans, and these games were considered deeply sacred rituals which mirrored the cosmos and affected human survival. The games were designed and played with the Mayan's belief system in mind; the interplay between the two opposing teams represented the process of never-ending conflict between opposing forces in nature, which in itself restores and sustains balance, order and harmony in the universe.
The two teams represented a variety of opposing forces in nature - day and night, dark and light, masculine and feminine, life and death. The winners of the game were allowed to live, and the losers of the game were killed in a ritual sacrifice, their blood spilled into the ground, their life force believed to nourish the next cycle of rains, crops, and human fertility.
It was considered a deep honor for a loser of the game to be sacrificed in this manner, because of the belief that his death sustained the life, prosperity and well-being of the remaining members of the Mayan society.
While at first this idea may feel barbaric to our contemporary sensibility, it is interesting to note that we as Westerners reserve the same sense of deeply held respect for our soldiers that die in battle, and we consider their sacrifice, which we believe to sustain our life and civilization, to be a great honor.
Yokes such as this one, with the exact same shape and dimensions, are found concentrated at the all of the major sites of Mayan games, such as Chichen Itza, a major pre-Colombian site which includes a large rectangular ball court of lush green grass, surrounded by a stone amphitheater for spectators.
The prevailing theory about the yokes' purpose is that they were worn as belts by the athletes and used as a part of the game, perhaps as a surface upon which the athletes bounced the ball. The athletes may have worn wooden yokes, and the stone may be ceremonial replicas - burial sites near the ball courts have revealed bodies discovered wearing stone yokes.
This theory is based upon the discovery of stone effigy figurines of Mayan athletes that consistently depict the athletes dressed in full ceremonial gear - including these U-shaped yokes, which are always situated around the waists of the athletes. These sculpted figurines often depict the yokes with representations of leather or fabric around the body to show how the yokes are held in place around the athlete's waists.

References
Whittington, E. Michael. The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ballgame. Thames and Hudson, 2001.

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