Lecture 7. At Snake Mountain: Ballcourts and Pyramids at El Tajín and Chichén Itzá (AD 650 – 1000)

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Carolyn Tate

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Shaping Place in Mesoamerica

Today we focus on two relatively contemporaneous Epi-Classic cities, El Tajín in Central Veracruz and Chichén Itzá, a Maya site. “Epi” means “after.” The Epi-Classic, which dates from 650 to about 1000 AD is after the fall of Teotihuacan. After 800, the Classic Maya cities in the central lowlands also experienced a relatively swift collapse. In this era, numerous new cities emerged or came into prominence, often borrowing from Teotihuacan and the Maya their symbols of grandeur and prestige, their painting and figural styles, and even their deities. As we look at the most fabulous ballcourts in these two distinct cultures, we will see that imagery in the ballcourt tied the game to the process of creating political alliances among kingdoms, the bestowal of weapons by a city’s patron deity and subsequent warfare, decapitation sacrifice, narratives of royal accession to the throne, and to the re-enactment of primordial creation. We will also find that these highly decorated ballcourts are parts of a complex that included a significant pyramid. Furthermore, both cities constructed ballgame/pyramid complexes that gave local, physical form to a myth that involved the establishment of a patron deity’s shrine at Snake Mountain. We will also see three kinds of portable sculpture that are closely related to the ballgame. Units El Tajín, Pyramid of the Niches (650 – 850) El Tajín, South Ballcourt (650 – 950) Chichén Itzá, Great Ballcourt ( / 864) Chichén Itzá, El Castillo / Pyramid of Kukulkan (850 – 900)

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