Palma with Skeletal Figure

Date: 7th–10th century

Geography: Mexico, Mesoamerica, Veracruz, Nautla region (?)

Culture: Veracruz

Medium: Stone, pigment

Dimensions: H. 18 7/8 x W. 7 x D. 4 3/4 in. (47.9 x 17.8 x 12.1 cm)

Classification: Stone-Sculpture

Credit Line: The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1963

Accession Number: 1978.412.16


The ballgame, one of the elements that unites and defines Mesoamerican cultures, may have originated on the Gulf Coast of Veracruz. This notion is supported by the ubiquitous presence of ballcourts, including at least seventeen at El Tajín, the frequent depiction of ballplayers in the region, and the elaborate nature of Gulf Coast ballplayer accoutrements. In Veracruz, the yoke and hacha pair is joined by a third element of protective attire, the palma. The palma rests atop the yoke and extends up the front of the ballplayer's chest to protect the major organs from the impact of the hard rubber ball used in the ballgame. In contrast to the less weighty palmas used in play, stone palmas, perhaps ritual objects or prized trophies, vary from the unadorned to the heavily ornamented. The front surface of this palma is carved with an exuberant relief pattern of scrolls surrounding and partially covering the contorted anthropomorphic figure splayed out across the surface. The skeletal face of the figure protrudes significantly from the surface of the object. Given the brutality of the ballgame and the apparent resulting sacrifice, the scrolls are thought to symbolize blood.