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    Covered Vessel in the Form of a Ballplayer, Guatemala, Teotihuacan Culture (600 AD)

    At the de Young

    Since ancient times, a ritual ballgame has been played throughout Mexico and Central America for religious, economic and territorial reasons. This hollow vessel depicts an athlete reclining on his left side with his right arm raised. The specific meaning of the hand gesture is unknown. He appears to be wearing a rough-textured protective garment, perhaps fashioned of fur. There is a gauntlet on his left arm and a protective girdle that pads a U-shaped yoke around the waist. A mask of Tlaloc (the rain god) forms a protective kneepad. The body of the figure bears vestiges of ritual body paint, rendered in striped and triangular patterns on the face, arms, chest and back.

    The face, head and body of the figure were created by a press-mold technique, but the legs and arms were formed by coil construction. The individual facial features and textured costume details were applied with special tools. White paint was applied to the eyes, teeth, padded areas and neck ornaments. The facial features and arresting stance seem particularly dramatic. The intense face may even be a portrait. The ear lobes of the figure are pierced, as is the back of the head. These perforations likely held costume elements or decorations, such as an elaborate civic headdress or possibly plugs of hair.

    The flat, circular lid on the figure’s upper hip is actually a separate piece that lifts off. It is tempting to think that a specific ballplayer may have been commemorated here and that the vessel may have been a kind of game trophy. Perhaps it was used to hold precious materials, such as cacao beans or ritual offerings.

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