A rare Maya ballgame marker with a complete glyphic inscription has been found at Chichén Itzá in Mexico.
The ancient Maya ballgame, known as pelota or sometimes pok-ta-pok, played an important ritual and symbolic role in the Mesoamerican culture. The recent discovery – a large, round stone object, 32.5cm in diameter and weighing 40kg – is believed to have functioned as a marker of some sort of important event related to a ballgame at the Casa Colorada complex in Chichén Itzá. The Casa Colorada or ‘Red House’ (named after the paint found inside) had its own ballcourt, considerably smaller than the city’s famous Grand Ballcourt, but clearly still a significant space. Archaeologists from INAH found the marker during recent excavations of the complex, where it was probably once attached to the arch of an entryway.
The researchers are calling the object the ‘Disco de los Jugadores de Pelota’ or ‘Disc of the Ball Players’, as it is decorated with an image of two figures dressed in the outfits of ball players. One individual wears a feathered headdress and a sash with a flower-shaped decoration, probably a water lily. In front of his face is a scroll, representing breath or voice. The other figure wears a type of headdress known as a ‘snake turban’, which is also found in other representations at Chichén Itzá. It has been suggested that these figures may depict government officials engaged in a ritual event of some kind.
Surrounding the central image is a bas-relief band of inscriptions in the Maya script. The text consists of 18 cartouches and includes the date count ‘12 Eb 10 Cumku’, tentatively pointing to the year AD 894. The stone marker has therefore been assigned to either the Terminal Classic or Early Postclassic period (late 800s-early 900s). It is unusual to find sculptural elements with complete glyphic inscriptions at Chichén Itzá: the last discovery like this was made more than 11 years ago. The text on the ballgame marker has not yet been fully deciphered, but seems to contain dates, names, and events, and therefore has the potential to expand our knowledge of Maya culture in this period as well as our understanding of the rituals and events connected to the ballgame. Study and conservation of the object are ongoing.