Pre-Columbian, Mexico and northern Central America, Maya Territories, early Post-Classic, ca. 900 to 1200 CE. An incredible disc-shaped limestone ball court marker, its upper face decorated with a dramatic motif. Carved in relief, it features a large skull with an open mouth. Its protruding tongue, composed of elaborate geometric elements, forms an outer border around the skull. Dark red pigment is still visible in the lower profile areas of the marker; when first made, it would have been painted bright colors. Size: 11.75" W (29.8 cm); 14.25" H (36.2 cm) on included custom stand.
Maya ballcourt markers reinforced important mythological and symbolic concepts, with markers found at sites like Copan and La Esperanza (Chinkultic) depicting important stories that explained the purpose of the ball game - at least as far as archaeologists are able to interpret, with some mysteries still remaining. The skull form here may reference the taking of trophy heads as part of the ritual of human sacrifice. Indeed, trophy heads were a near-universal constant in Mesoamerican imagery for millennia, although by the Classic Maya period it seems more likely that the taking of actual trophy heads had (mostly) been replaced by the ball from the ballgame (as in the Popol Vuh, where a decapitated head is used instead of a rubber ball).
Provenance: private Lexington, Kentucky, USA collection, acquired in 2016; ex-private American collection, acquired at auction in 2014; ex-Los Angeles County Museum, California, USA, #8697; accompanied by Art Loss Register certificate #8708(22).AR
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