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Prehispanic Decapitated Ballgame Player Sculpture Discovered by Archaeologists in Mexico
The life-size finding took place during research work conducted for the opening to public visit of the ceremonial site in 2012. Photo: DMC, INAH. H. Montano.

MEXICO CITY.- A Prehispanic sculpture that represents a beheaded ballgame player was discovered by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) at El Teul Archaeological Zone, in Zacatecas, one of the few Mesoamerican sites continuously occupied for 18 centuries.

The life-size finding took place during research work conducted for the opening to public visit of the ceremonial site in 2012. The quarry dates from 900-1100 of the Common Era and evidence determines that the sculpture was created beheaded, maybe to serve as a pedestal for the heads of sacrificed players of the ritual ballgame.

The cylindrical sculpture with a 52 centimeter diameter is 1.97 meters high and weighs nearly a ton, and was located in the southeast area of the Ballgame court. Fragments of a similar sculpture were found in the northern extreme, so it is possible to find a pair of similar sculptures in the western side, still unexplored.

The discovery adds up to the great diversity of material found: shell and greenstone beads found in shaft tombs, ear ornaments with Teotihuacan motives, codex-style polychrome ceramics, as well as copper rattles and rings manufactured in one of the few Prehispanic foundries discovered.

According to archaeologist Peter Jimenez Betts, co director of the Cerro del Teul Archaeological Project, this richness in objects is the result from a continued occupation that the hill presented for at least 1,800 years. In contrast, great cities like Teotihuacan and Monte Alban were inhabited for 8 and 12 centuries, in that order.

In this sense, Cerro del Teul, symbol of the Zacatecas town Teul de Gonzalez Ortega, is one of the few sites in America with uninterrupted occupation from 200 BC to 1531 AD. In relation with its temporal sequence, it can only be compared with Cholula, in Puebla, and it is most probably the only site with such a long occupation in Mesoamerican western and northern regions.

Peter Jimenez and archaeologist Laura Solar, co director of the project, share the opinion of El Teul being the most important ceremonial center of Caxcan people, one of the bravest groups that fought Spanish Conquerors several times, almost defeating them in the famous Mixton War.

Caxcan occupied Cerro del Teul for less than 2 centuries (1350/1400-1531 AD). Destruction of the temple in this particular stage happened when Caxcan decided to keep using it as a ceremonial center. Tlaxcaltecas, allied with Spaniards, were in charge of burning the site to ashes, leaving scarce vestiges of the last settlement period.

“Indigenous people were taken down the hill and the town was renamed San Juan Bautista del Teul; this Christian character was implanted in places where the cult to Tlaloc, god of water, was important. Cerro del Teul is an altepetl, an elevation that contains water, where life is generated.

“We have evidence of the 16th century Caxcan occupation, as well as of the earlier shaft tomb tradition, 2 or 3 centuries before Christ. In addition, we have found in most recent excavations vestiges of intermediate periods, which points out this was one of the few sites in the Americas with constant occupation for over 18 centuries”, declared archaeologist Jimenez.

In the panorama of what today is the State of Zacatecas, Teul was occupied at least 6 centuries before La Quemada and Alta Vista ceremonial centers, sharing history with them during the Medium Classic and Epi Classic periods, from 400 to 1000 of the Common Era, being occupied 500 years after they were abandoned.

Relevance of Cerro del Teul for archaeology, continued the Zacatecas INAH Center specialist, is that “studying it will help us answer basic questions regarding the Mesoamerican standard of living, the one that would arrive to La Quemada and Alta Vista. Answers about this gradual colonization are here”.

Significance of El Teul was registered in documents such as the 16th century “Plano del Obispado de Compostela” and the work of geodesic engineer Carl de Berghes, who created an accurate map of the settlement in mid 19th century, as an assignment of governor Francisco Garcia Salinas.

To present and as part of Cerro del Teul Archaeological Project, topographical surveying of the site is being carried out using Total Station, an electro-optical device that generates a three-dimensional model that allows precise location of excavations, architectural and sculptural elements and burials.

This register helps understanding the chronology of the place; excavation work has been systematic, currently concentrating on spaces at Conjunto Oriente (Eastern Conjunct) as: Ballgame court, Dos Monticulos (Two Monticules) Square, and Patio Hundido (Sunken Yard), distributed in the middle part of the hill.

A group of inhabitants of Teul de Gonzalez Ortega have added up to the work conducting cleaning and restoration work, as well as registration of items, excavation and supervision of the Total Station, thanks to resources from PET (Temporary Employment Program).

By means of the joint effort of the federal and Zacatecas state governments, Cerro del Teul Archaeological Zone will be open to the public in 2012, to contribute to the knowledge of Prehispanic culture in Zacatecas and the integration of tourism routes.

National Institute of Anthropology and History | El Teul Archaeological Zone | Mexico | Ballgame Player Sculpture |

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