Mesoamerican ballgame

Great Ball Court at Chichn Itz
Great Ball Court at Chichn Itz
Missing image
A Ball Court Goal, Chichn Itz
Missing image
Ball court marker, from the Maya site of Chinkultic. Dated to 591.

The Mesoamerican ballgame was a sport with ritual associations played for over 3000 years by the peoples of Mesoamerica in Pre-Columbian times, and in a few places continues to be played by the local Amerind inhabitants.

As might be expected with a game played over so long a timespan in several different nations, details of the games varied over time and place, so the Mesoamerican ballgame might be more accurately seen as a family of related games. Some versions were played between two individuals, others between 2 teams of players.

The games shared the characteristics of being played with a hard rubber ball in a sunken or walled linear court, sometimes with perpendiculars at the ends.

Across Mesoamerica, ball courts were built and used for many generations, and their shapes and sizes do vary. Some sites had multiple ball courts, but others had only one. In some parts of Mesoamerica ballcourts are found in most or all sizable ruins, while in other parts they are less common.

The game was called tlachtli by the Aztec and tlaxtli by neighboring central Mexican peoples, ulama in Sinaloa (where it continues to be played), and poc-ta-tok was a Yucatec Maya name for the game.

Ancient cities with particularly fine ballcourts in good states of preservation include Copn, Iximche, Monte Albn, Uxmal, and Zaculeu; the grandest ancient ballcourt of all is at Chichen Itza, measuring 166 by 68 metres.

While the game was played casually for simple recreation, including by children for play, the game also had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames would be held as ritual events. The game between competing teams of players could symbolize the battles between the gods in the sky and the lords of the underworld. The ball could symbolize the sun. In some of these ritual games, the leader of the losing team would be decapitated as a human sacrifice. His skull would then be used as the core around which a new rubber ball would be made. A second interpretation is given by guides at Chichen Itza, who assert that the prize for the winning team was to be deified by losing their heads, suposedly at the hands of the losing team. The Popul Vuh, what is often called "The Maya Bible", has long sections relating stories of the ritual ballgames between the Maya Hero Twins and the demonic Lords of the Xibalba.

Ball players and the ballgame are a common theme in Mesoamerican art.

See also


  • Whittington E. Michael (Ed.) (2001). The Sport of Life and Death - The Mesoamerican Ballgame. Mint Museum of Art: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500051089.
  • Scarborough, Vernon L. and Wilcox, David R. (Eds.) (1991). The Mesoamerican Ballgame. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.da:Mesoamerikansk boldspil

de:Mesoamerikanisches Ballspiel he:טלאצ'טלי nl:Meso-Amerikaans balspel pl:Pelota zh:中美洲蹴球


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