This Mesoamerican frog yoke is a highly polished greestone yoke or belt worn around the waist that was worn for ceremonial rituals. The yoke dates back to 100-500 CE and represents leather yokes worn by players of the Mesoamerican ball game. The yoke was probably used for ceremonial purposes before or after the game because its heavy weight probably limited players' movements.[See Whittington 2001, 51] Various Mesoamerican cultures including the Olmecs, Mayans, and Aztecsplayed the Mesoamerican ball game which consisted of using only the hips to hit a heavy rubber ball through a stone hoop.
This stone yoke was created by Mesoamericans of the Veracruz state around 800 CE. The Mesoamerican region at this time was highly decentralized with tribes and villages dispersed througout the region. The Teotihuacan Empire of central Mexico and the Mayan Empire of the Yucatan peninsula were the largest city-states during this time period and were centers of spiritual ritual and worship.
The yoke's dimensions are (12 x 39.5 x 50) centimeters. The yoke is carved from a highly polished greenstone similar to jade. Skilled artisans carved theses objects with simple stone tools. Greenstone was plentiful in the areas but was still a prized material and was used for making various artifacts such as figurines of the Feathered Serpent god . These artifacts were traded througout the region and even used in burial ceremonies.
Local Historical Context
This yoke was most likely created by an artisan of Teotihuacan or Veracruz. During this time in history the Teotihuacan Empire was thriving along with the Mayan Empire to the East. Both of these civilizations were known to play the Mesoamerican ball game as a spiritual tribute to the gods. Mesoamerican societies at this time revolved around spiritual worship and sacrifice to the various deities that controlled the universe.
Social classes in these civilizations were highly stratified with Kings ruling over the masses. Priests, military advisors, and artisans were clearly superior to the lower classes of farmers. A superior class of skilled artisans created objects such as the yoke out of greenstone and obsidian.
The yoke was used in the ceremonial Mesoamerican ball game which involved 2-7 players who tried to hit a heavy rubber ball through a stone hoop using only their hips. The stone yoke is thought to be two heavy for use in the actual game and instead used for ceremonial purposes such as the sacrifice of players after a match. The yoke is carved with an image of a frog which represents the earth goddess called Tlaltecuhtli by the Aztecs. Mesoamericans believed giant frogs were supernatural because of toxins on the frogs skin which held hallucenogenic properties. [See Whittington 2001, 55] The yoke was worn at waist to symbolize the present world above the waist and the underworld beneath the waist. This symbolized the spiritual nature of the game in which players were often sacrificed after the game's completion. Experts believe that the stone yoke was used a mold for leather yokes used during the game. The leather would be molded after the stone yoke and filled with cotton to protect players bodies from the hard rubber ball. The rubber ball would bounce off the yokes which would cushion the ball as it bounced of players' bodies.
World Historical Significance
The Mesoamerican ball game has been a part of various civilizations in Central American including the Olmecs, Teotihuacan civilization, Mayans, and Aztecs. When Europeans arrived in the Americas they had never seen anything like the bouncing rubber ball used the during the ritual game.
According the The British Museum website : "it was a team sport, in fact it was the first team sport that we know of in world history, and it was played with rubber."
The Mesoamerican ball game may have been the first athletic game using a rubber ball in world history. Sports played in the modern era can be compared to the rubber ball game played by the Mesoamericans. The yokes used during the ball game can be compared with athletic equipment used used in present day athletic events.
Shook, Edwin M., and Elayne Marquis. Secrets in stone: yokes, hachas, and palmas from Southern Mesoamerica. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1996.
Whittington, E. Michael. The Sport of Life and Death. London: Thames and Hudson, 2001.
British Broadcasting Corporation. "BBC - A History of the World - About: Transcripts Episode 38 - Ceremonial Ballgame Belt." BBC - Homepage. http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/about/transcripts/episode38/
"Frog Yoke [Mexico, Veracruz]" The Metropolitan Museum of Art
"Maya Society" http://www.library.umaine.edu/hudson/palmer/Maya/society.asp
"Virtual Mesoamerican Archive" http://vma.uoregon.edu/inst_doprofile.lasso?&DoWhat=d&Document=306