This mold-made ceramic figure depicts a bearded, mustachioed male wearing a ballgame yoke around his waist to protect him from the hard, solid rubber ball used in play. There are cylindrical ear ornaments in his ears and, beneath his arm, a batonlike object perhaps related to the local incarnation of the ballgame. The rules and manner in which the Mesoamerican ballgame was played varied among contemporary sites and evolved through time. Surviving evidence suggests human sacrifice was a frequent outcome, but the game may also have been played for other purposes, such as sport. The people of ancient Veracruz interacted with people from other Mesoamerican cultures, and this Nopiloa figure displays motifs commonly found in Maya art. Knotted ties, like those around this player's wrist and neck, in Maya pictorial language connote captured prisoners. A motif similar to the Maya mat, a symbol of rulership, appears on the flanged headdress of the ballplayer. Thirdly, like Maya figurines of this type, the body of this figure is a whistle, a musical instrument used in ritual and ceremony.
[Ancient Art of the New World, Inc., New York, until 1989]