Ceremonial ballgame belt
Mexico, Classic Veracruz, AD 100-500
Associated with the Mesoamerican ballgame, stone objects such as this were named yugos (Spanish for 'yokes') in the nineteenth century, because of their shape.
The function of yugos has been debated for over a century. Some authors have suggested that they were worn as a belt during the Mesoamerican ballgame, which seems improbable since they weigh 20 to 30 kilos.
It is more likely that they were used in a ceremonial context, probably related to the game, or as some authors have proposed, as moulds to make leather belts which were worn around the hip as protection during the game.
The dense, non-porous, highly-polished stone provided an ideal base upon which to fashion wet leather. When dry, the belt was stuffed with soft-padding (perhaps cotton, or kapok from the ceiba tree) and then secured around the waist to cushion the impact of the heavy rubber ball.
Beyond this practical function the belt was charged with special symbolic significance. The creature depicted is a toad - a zoomorphic representation of the earth. With the belt at mid-body, the player stood in the navel of the toad at the threshold to the underworld.
The ball-court itself was a carefully circumscribed sacred space and a symbolic entrance to the spiritual world, hence the outcome of certain ball game contests which ended in sacrifice by decapitation.
These and other related stone objects, such as hachas ('axes') and palmas ('palms'), have been found throughout Mesoamerica (which includes the area from West Mexico to the western part of Honduras and El Salvador). However, the largest number come from Veracruz, some of them associated with burials.
There is evidence of the Mesoamerican ballgame over a long period. Related objects are found as far back as the Middle Preclassic period (about 1100-900 BC).