Posted by: Johan Normark | August 2, 2009

Ballcourts in the Cochuah region

Before last year’s field season only one ballcourt was known in the Cochuah region. It is located in Group B at Yo’okop in the ejido of Saban. The other major site of the region, Ichmul, lacks a known ballcourt. However, Ichmul has substantial amounts of Colonial and Caste War structures that may have obliterated several Prehispanic structures in the Great Plaza area, particularly where the three churches and the convent are located. In 2008, CRAS expanded the regional survey to the southern part of the region and three possible ballcourts were located at small sites. For the location of the following sites, check out the maps for orientation page.

The only confirmed ballcourt is still at Yo’okop (Structures N5W2-6 and N5W2-7). It is located in the southwestern part of Group B and northwest of the Central Acropolis. A partial ballcourt ring has been located, mid-slope and in the centre of the east side of N5W2-6. The two structures are parallel, aligned in north-south direction and have roughly the same dimensions: 30 x 25 x 6 m. The playing alley is between 5 and 6 m wide. The end zones were not demarcated by architecture. Both structures have later Postclassic shrines on their summits. 

Group B at Yo'okop

Group B at Yo'okop

In the ejido of San Felipe there are two possible ballcourts located at two small sites. Hopemul is located roughly 2 km south of the village of San Felipe. Structures N1W1-4 and N1E1-1 are parallel structures and their north-south arrangement and form appear ballcourt-like. These buildings are smaller than at Yo’okop and measure 20 x 15 x 2 m. There is also a round stone located at the southern end and in the middle of what could have been a playing alley. Its location makes it a possible ballcourt marker. There are no wall lines preserved (apart from three cut stones on N1W1-4), and this is probably the result of the construction style or quality. The structures consist of uncut boulders, 0.3 m in diameter and the structures lack smaller cobbles (chich). Structures S1E1-1 and N1W1-3 are aligned with the center part of the playing field and may mark the end zones of the possible ballcourt.

Hopemul

Hopemul

The other possible ballcourt in the ejido of San Felipe is located at Ramonal Quemado, 2 km east-northeast of the village of San Felipe. It is an acropolis-based site, but it does not appear to have a significant surrounding residential occupation. The ballcourt has two long parallel buildings that are aligned north-south: Structures S1W1-5 and S1W1-6. Their dimensions are 30 x 25 x 2.5 m. Like other structures at the site and at Hopemul there are no visible walls or playing surfaces. There are also mounds supporting two structures north and south of the possible playing alley. The distance between these two mounds is 50 m.

Ramonal Quemado

Ramonal Quemado

The final example consists of two parallel mounds found at the site of Gruta de Alux (or just La Gruta) 2 km east of Huay Max in the ejido of Saban. Structures S2W1-1 and S2W1-2 measure 30 x 10 x 1 m. It is much lower than the other ballcourts. There is no in situ architecture such as a wall. The mounds mainly appear to be piles of unconsolidated rubble and their dates remain unknown, similar to the situation at Hopemul and Ramonal Quemado. However, contrary to the other three ballcourts this one is not aligned in a direct north-south direction, but appears more to align with the terrain where the possible playing field points toward a small cave surrounded by a low U-shaped hillock. This is perhaps no coincidence considering the association between ballcourts and caves in mythology and both categories being seen as liminal spaces. The most interesting pattern at this site are the 12 small round structures surrounding the cave (perhaps of Postclassic date). They are fairly uniform in size, 5 m in diameter and come in pairs. The absolute chronology is unknown for the site, but the relative chronology suggests that the two round structures near the “ballcourt” are later and built of stones taken from the parallel mounds.

Gruta de Alux

Gruta de Alux

Apart from the tall ballcourt at Yo’okop, these possible ballcourts lack wall lines. Well cut stones may have been removed during the Colonial or modern periods. However, even at Prehispanic sites where we do have Colonial and modern occupancy Prehispanic wall lines are usually preserved. In any case, without smooth walls the structures just consist of rubble. Rubble does not make it feasible to bounce a ball (at least if one wants to predict the ball’s trajectory, but maybe it was the intention to make it more of a chance?). One possibility is that compacted soil may have covered the rubble. Although the southern part of the Cochuah region has more soil than to the north it is not very likely that they would have used such a valuable resource for this. Further, it is not likely that the structures are unfinished since they are spread out across a great area and the likelyhood that all were abandoned in the construction process is slim. They may simply have been shoddy constructions that had a limited use life and maybe did not function as real ballcourts, but had more “symbolic” significance (which of course all ballcourts had anyway). Maybe they were just needed for the staging of some important local event that did not need a real ballgame. Then, of course, there is the possibility that they are not ballcourts. This possibility is strongest for the one at Gruta de Alux. But if it was not a ballcourt what was it? Are the round structures that come in pairs at this site related to this structure anyway? Hopefully we know more about this after future season(s).

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