Ancient Mesoamerican artefact with ties to ritual ball game returned to Mexico


An ornate stone yoke that may have been worn by players of ancient Mesoamerican ball games has been returned to Mexico after officials there intervened to prevent the artefact’s sale at an Austrian auction house, the Mexican government announced.

The yoke, made from sedimentary stone, is believed to have been made on the Gulf Coast during the Mesoamerican Classic period (400 CE-900 CE) in the Veracruz Central Classic style. It was recovered by the Embassy of Mexico in Austria with assistance from Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Culture, and the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) in Mexico City.

The yoke had been offered for sale at an auction house in Austria before officials intervened to suspend the sale, according to a statement from the Mexican government.

Experts believe stone yokes were meant to represent the hip protectors worn by players during Mesoamerican ritual ball games, though it’s unlikely that those with intricate designs were ever used by players during the matches. They may have served as trophies or been used as ceremonial offerings.

Mexico has pushed for the return of thousands of archaeological objects since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has made repatriation a foreign policy priority, came into office. His administration has launched the social media hashtag #MiPatrimonioNoSeVende (“My heritage is not for sale”) as part of a larger campaign for restitution.

In April, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard announced a one-tonne carved Olmec statue dating back thousands of years would be returned to Mexico after it is believed to have spent seven decades in the United States. The previous month, Italy returned 43 objects to Mexico that had been recovered by Italian police. Last December, the Netherlands returned 223 artefacts to Mexican authorities.


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