General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 22 Sep 2017/11 Vulture
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Professor Susan D. Gillespie

Question for March 2015

Have any ancient rubber balls been found? Asked by Chalfont St. Giles Junior School. Chosen and answered by Professor Susan D. Gillespie.

Pic 1: Ancient rubber ball from El Manatí, Veracruz
Pic 1: Ancient rubber ball from El Manatí, Veracruz (Click on image to enlarge)

Nineteen rubber balls were found at El Manatí, Veracruz, excavated by Mexican archaeologists Ponciano Ortiz and María del Carmen Rodríguez. El Manatí is located within Olmec heartland, home to the “Rubber People” as the Aztecs named the inhabitants of the Gulf coastal plain. It is near the major regional capital of San Lorenzo. El Manatí was once a spring, and Olmec peoples deposited objects in the waters as part of ritual practices. These include jadeite beads and celts, and carved wooden busts in the Olmec style, along with the rubber balls. The waterlogged environment preserved the wooden and rubber objects. They date to about 1000 BC. The (solid) rubber balls still had a faint smell of latex rubber 3000 years after being deposited.

NOTE: Professor Gillespie and her husband were in Veracruz when the first two rubber balls were being processed for curation and had the opportunity to hold and photograph them! - see pic 1

Pic 2: Pre-Hispanic solid rubber ball from southern Sinaloa; approx 20 cms (diameter), 3 kgs (weight). National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City
Pic 2: Pre-Hispanic solid rubber ball from southern Sinaloa; approx 20 cms (diameter), 3 kgs (weight). National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City (Click on image to enlarge)

Fellow Panellist Dra. Laura Filloy Nadal adds:-

The discovery of rubber artifacts is one of the most unusual events in Mesoamerican archaeology. This fact is due to the great vulnerability of this material in the face of all agents of deterioration. From the very moment of its production, a rubber object undergoes rapid structural transformations that affect its color, shape, size, and weight. In general, these processes accelerate when artifacts are placed in an archaeological context, leading to their total destruction. Nevertheless, some examples of rubber balls have been found in the last decade; Mesoamerican artifacts made of rubber known today come from contexts flooded in freshwater. We refer specifically to the discoveries made in the Sacred Cenote at Chichén Itzá, a Maya site located in the northern peninsula of Yucatán; in the spring of El Manatí, an Olmec site in southern Veracruz; and in the flooded offerings in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztecs that today lies buried under densely populated Mexico City.

Photos:-
• Pic 1: photograph by, © and courtesy of David C. Grove
• Pic 2: photo by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore.

Professor Susan D. Gillespie has answered 3 questions altogether:

Did the Aztecs work at night?

If warriors turned into butterflies in the afterlife, what did ordinary people turn into?

Have any ancient rubber balls been found?

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