An ancient granite statue representing a decapitated Mesoamerican ball player has been discovered at the pre-Hispanic site of Piedra Labrada, southeast of the Mexican state of Guerrero during repair work to a water pipe line.

The 5-foot-4 inch tall sculpture dates to at least 1,000 years ago and portrays a bow-legged individual with his arms crossed.

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“We can say it is a ball player because of the attributes that this statue has,” Juan Pablo Sereno Uribe, an archaeologist at the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), told Discovery News.

“A helmet is carved on the head, while the waist features a yugo. This is like a belt but stronger to protect this part of the body during the ball game,” Sereno Uribe said.

Extending for about 1.24 square miles, Piedra Labrada has so far revealed 50 buildings, five ball game courts and more than 20 sculptures of various sizes depicting anthropomorphic figures, snake heads and snails.

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The pre-Columbian ball player was unearthed in the biggest ball game platform, an “I” shaped court about 131 feet long.

“In three of the courts we found sculptures of snake heads. No other court had a ball player statue,” Sereno Uribe said.

Little is known of the game played at the courts.

“The only thing we know, is that they used a very heavy ball made with rubber, and they threw the ball to each other from one side to the other of the court,” Sereno Uribe said.

“In some games they were supposed to hit the ball only with the wrist, which explains the protective yoke carved in the sculpture,” he added.

The statue might have been carved by the Mixtec indigeno people around 600 A.D. It was found in two pieces, the head sliced at the neck, as if it had been decapitated.

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Mesoamericans painted sculptures and objects in red and then “killed” them by breaking them in pieces. They were used as offerings for the “end of the calendar cycle” rituals and then buried.

According to Sereno Uribe, the discovery of the decapitated ball player along with he existence of large ball courts related to temples and plazas, show that Piedra Labrada was a city with great ritualistic importance.

He added that further investigation and research is needed.

“Investigation into the city’s architectural and artistic heritage is just about to begin,” Sereno Uuribe said.

Images: Credit: INAH