GLOSSARY

ALLOY – An alloy is a mixture of two or more metals.  Copper, silver, and gold were the three primary metals used in the ancient metalworking traditions of Peru and Columbia.  Copper strengthens and toughens silver and gold, an important quality in working sheet metal by hammering (Lechtman in Boone 1996:36).  A mixture of two metals at a lower temperature than either metal alone, an important quality in shaping the metal by casting it into a mold.

BALL GAME – The tradition of playing games with a rubber ball was ancient and widespread in Mexico and Central America.  Rubber balls probably developed along the Gulf Coast, possibly as early as 1000 B.C.  The game could be played as an informal sport, as it is today in some parts of northwestern Mexico, or as a royal ritual.  More formal ballgames are associated with the I-shaped ballcourts found at many archaeological sites.  The ballcourts consist of an alley formed by two parallel structures.  A clearly defined zone across each end gives the ballcourt the shape of a capital letter I.

 

The ballgame was played by two teams, each with two to three members.  The rules of play required the players to hit the ball with the hip, thigh, or upper arm.  Hands could touch the ball only when putting it into play.  Scoring is not well understood, but points were probably scored by aiming the ball at a ring or at markers set in the alley or in the end zones.  Beyond the solid rubber ball, equipment varied but could include a U-shaped waist or hip protector and padding for wrists and knees.

 

The ballgame was rich in meaning.  It could be seen as a metaphor for the movements of the sun, moon, and Venus and as a metaphor for life, death, and regeneration.  It could also serve as a public reenactment of warfare and human sacrifice.  (Miller and Taube 1993: 42-44)

 

CAMELID FIBER – The term camelid fiber identifies yarn spun from the hair of three animals native to the Central Andres – the llama, the alpaca, and the vicuña.  Compared with cotton, the other fiber commonly used in ancient Andean textiles, camelid fiber is long smooth, and lustrous, and it can be dyed easily using natural dyes.  Camelid fiber made possible the vibrant colors that distinguish ancient Andean textiles.

 

CINNABAR - Cinnabar is a naturally occurring mineral ore.  It has a bright, lasting red color and was used to coat ritual objects both in Mesoamerica (especially by the Olmec and Maya cultures) and in the Andes (by the Sicán culture).  In Mesoamerica, hematite (iron ore) was used in simalr ways.  Although the meaning of cinnabar in the Andes is uncertain, among the Olmec and Maya cultures it seems to have been associated with life force and blood.  (Miller and Taube 1993: 62; Caredo Muro and Shimada 1985: 67)

 

JADE/JADEITE – The word jade is a general term that refers both to nephrite, the traditional jade of China, and to jadeite, the only jade in Mesoamerica.  Jadeite was the most precious stone in Mesoamerica, perhaps its predominantly green color was associated with water, sky, vegetation, and life itself.  The Olmecs were the first Mesoamerican people to find and work Jadeite.  They valued other stones that were green in color, such as serpentine, which is softer and not as rare as jadeite, and stones that have not been specifically identified and are called simply “greenstones.”  (Miller and Taube 1993:101-102)

 

MAYA/MAYAN – In current scholarship, the word Maya (without an “n”) is the preferred term for Maya people, Maya culture, and Maya art.  The word Maya can be used as a noun or as an adjective.  The word Mayan (with an “n”) is used only for Mayan languages.