The Mayan Ball Game

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Ballplayer from Mayan vase

Ballplayer from a Mayan Vase 650-800 CE

All Mayan cities had ball courts. The court at Chichen Itza is well preserved. The Maya played a game here which was also a religious ceremony. Most ball courts had two sloping parallel walls inset with three round disks called markers or a single stone ring, at right angles to the ground. Each team attempted to throw a hard rubber ball (from a local rubber source) through a ring in the wall or touch the markers. The players were supposed to keep the ball in play using everything but their hands.

The markers or rings were positioned 20 feet above the ground, and the players could only touch the ball with their elbows, knees or hips. Scoring was difficult and usually ended the game.

The players reenacted the Mayan Creation Myth. The Hero Twins defeated the gods of the underworld in the ball game and returned to life after being sacrificed. One became the sun and the other Venus, and in their daily rising and setting reenact their descent into the underworld and their subsequent rebirth.

In the later periods, human sacrifice was involved; the captain of the losing team was decapitated as part of the acting out of the myth.

Mayan Ball Court

The ball court at Chichén Itzá. It's dimensions are 480 feet by 120 feet It was the largest of the ball courts found in Mayan cities.

Ball court

Chichén Itzá ball court

ring about 20 feet off the ground

player deflects ball with his hip


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