3,400-year-old Mesoamerican ball court sheds light on origins of the game
March 27, 2020 at 2:26 PM - Views: 7 #293514
The site suggests highland communities played a role in developing the game.
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KIONA N. SMITH – 3/25/2020, 9:23 AM
Millennia ago, a stone court would have hosted teams of players wearing belts and loincloths using their hips to knock a hard rubber ball toward goals at either end of the court. The ball game, which re-enacted a creation story recorded in the Maya religious text Popul Vuh, was a major part of political, religious, and social life for the Maya and the Aztec, and for the Olmec before them. But archaeologists don’t yet know much about where people first started playing the game or how it became a cultural phenomenon that spread across the area that now includes Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Layers of ball courts
The ball court—a stone-floored alley about 50 meters (165 feet) long, bounded by steep stone walls and earthen mounds—once occupied a place of honor in the heart of the ancient city. But sometime between 1174 and 1102 BCE, the people of Etlatongo dismantled parts of the court and ritually “terminated” its life. That ceremony left burned bits of plant, mingled with broken Olmec-style pottery, animal bones, shells, and a few human bones (which may or may not have come from a later cemetery) scattered on the carved bedrock floor of the court and atop the earthen mounds that ran the length of its sides.
But beneath that 12th century BCE ball court lay another, even older one, dating to 1374 BCE. That’s roughly when (as far as archaeologists can tell from the available evidence) the formal version of the game—the one played on elaborate stone courts for crowds of wealthy, high-ranking spectators in major urban centers—was still being developed. Archaeologists Jeffrey Blomster and Victor Salazar were surprised to find a ball court so old in the mountainous highlands of Mexico instead of the Olmec-dominated tropical lowlands, where archaeologists have assumed the game got started.
The oldest known Mesoamerican ball court, which dates to 1650 BCE and has a floor of compacted earth rather than stone, is at Paso de la Amada in Chiapas, on the Pacific coast of Mexico just northwest of Guatemala. Until now, it looked like people didn’t start building formal stone ball courts in the Mexican highlands until almost a thousand years later. By then, the game had been fully developed and exported all over Mesoamerica—or so it was widely thought.
March 27, 2020 at 2:50 PM #293523
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A mountain site in Mexico suggests an ancient ball game didn’t originate in coastal lowlands
Partial ballplayer figurines such as this (shown from the front and side) were unearthed at a mountain site in southern Mexico that also contained a ball court from around 3,400 years ago.
J. BLOMSTER AND V. SALAZAR CHÁVEZ/SCIENCE ADVANCES 2020
By Bruce Bower
MARCH 13, 2020 AT 2:00 PM
A roughly 3,400-year-old ball court in the mountains of southern Mexico has scored surprising insights into a game that later played a big role in Maya and Aztec societies.
Excavations at a site called Etlatongo revealed the ancient ball court — the second oldest found to date. The discovery shows that, at a time when societies in Mexico and Central America were growing larger and more politically complex, population centers in the mountains contributed to ball court design, and possibly to early rules of the game, researchers report March 13 in Science Advances.
Until now, most evidence pointed to coastal settlements in southern Mexico’s Gulf and Pacific lowlands as the developers of a ball game that assumed ritual and political importance throughout the region.
“Multiple regions and societies were involved in developing a blueprint for the ball court used in a formal ball game across Mesoamerica,” says anthropological archaeologist Jeffrey Blomster of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Mesoamerica was an ancient cultural region running from central Mexico through much of Central America.
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