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Ceramic Balls

Submitted by mccaffer on Fri, 03/07/2008 - 2:01pm

Another ceramic artifact class found in abundance at Postclassic Cholula was ceramic balls. These were usually small, averaging about 1.4 cm in diameter (Wolfman 1968:15). They were made of baked clay, and were roughly spherical in shape, as if they were quickly rolled between the palms of the potter who produced them.

Ethnohistoric documents indicate that they may have functioned as blow-gun pellets for hunting birds and other small game (Sahagún 1950-1982, Book 8:30). Another possible function might be as gaming pieces, such as marbles or markers for patolli.

Archaeological discussion of ceramic balls is rare, with minimal description. They were found as grave goods in the ceremonial center of Cholula (López A., Lagunas R. and Serrano S. 1976: Appendix 2), especially in association with children's burials. The relationship between balls and children may be useful in interpreting age distinctions in the archaeological record. Curiously, an adult female (Individual #68A) was found with the greatest number of clay balls (n=12). This contrasts with the dominant gender ideology of males as hunters/warriors and serves as a caution against facile acceptance of gender stereotypes.

The greatest research potential of ceramic balls relates to their use in hunting. The spatial distribution of balls should be associated with the context of their use. As projectiles of low value, it is doubtful that they would have been retrieved on a regular basis, and were probably left in the same location where they were used. Since they were usually intact, however, they might have been picked up expediently for re-use. If balls were used for hunting by adult males, then they should occur in extra-mural areas. On the other hand, if they were used by children, perhaps for hunting small animals that might live in the house compound (e.g., lizards, mice, birds, etc.), they would occur within the household context. Balls found within the house itself might also be the result of curation, or may relate to a secondary function as toys.

The spatial distribution of ceramic balls is presented in Figure 159. In the upper levels, the most obvious concentration is in Trench 1, in association with the remains of the stone compound wall. In other units the distribution is fairly uniform. In the occupation levels, the greatest concentration occurred in the trash midden, perhaps as the result of secondary refuse disposal of objects swept up with other household trash. There is a slight tendency for balls to be less common within the structure, as opposed to the porch areas. Other minor concentrations occur to the south of the structure, in association with the extension of the structure wall which may have been in disrepair during the final occupation phase.

The spatial patterning of ceramic balls reinforces the impression that this was a ubiquitous artifact class at UA-1. The high number of balls in the trash deposit indicates the low value of the objects. That balls were present in both extra-mural areas in the upper levels and in association with occupational contexts suggests that they may have been used both outside and inside of the house compound. The highest concentrations were associated with decaying walls, where they were possibly fired at small animals living in the rubble, and where it would have been difficult to retrieve the projectiles.


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