Key Ideas about this Work of Art
- One of the earliest known sports that involved the use of a ball was played by the Maya people (circa 550 to 850) and was known as “the ballgame.”
- Yokes were made of padded leather or wood and were worn at mid-body to protect the torso and direct the heavy rubber ball during the ballgames.
- Carved stone yokes like this one were used for ceremonial purposes, such as emblems or trophies.
- The yoke was carved to resemble a frog.
Players of the Ancient Mesoamerican ballgame wore wide, padded, belt-like yokes made of wood, rubber, or leather, to prevent injury from the heavy rubber ball. Compare this ballgame yoke to the ballcourt marker, which depicts a Maya ballgame player wearing a yoke. The ballgame is still played among indigenous peoples in Mexico. The object of the game is to keep the ball in the air by striking it with any part of the body, except for the hands. Heavy stone yokes (this one weighs 45 pounds) were ceremonial items. Yokes found in burial tombs indicate the status of the deceased person. This yoke is carved to look like a frog. Large eyes and a broad mouth (with a tongue sticking out) cover the front, with the front legs tucked behind. The frog’s hind legs are in a crouched position at the back end of the yoke.
tags: force, function, play, ritual, ceremony, animals
Resources for Teachers
- Explore the ancient Maya ballgame.
- View another ballgame yoke from the Art Institute of Chicago and compare its pattern and style to this one.
Resources for Young Students
- Watch an animated clip from the Disney movie, The Road to El Dorado, which depicts a toned-down version of the ancient ballgame being played.
Resources for More Mature Students
Gift of Mrs. Ann G. Nisenson