Ball games were a fundamental part of Mesoamerican culture because they provided opportunities for secular and communal gatherings. These games were religious rituals, rife with mystical meanings, and could reenact important events. Ball games were excuses to feast and could bring glory or death to its participants.
Archaeologists have discovered over 1500 ball courts in sites ranging from Mesoamerica to the American Southwest (the oldest of which is Paso de la Amada, some time near the end of Archaic Period). Further evidence of the prevalence of this game can be seen in sites where courts are not present through other archaeological evidence (e.g. the stone figurines at El Opeña). These games are represented in figurines and statues (e.g. the helmets partitioned helmets of the Olmec head monuments). Some statues give us important information about the game (e.g. yugos, leather protectors whose use we discovered through the stone).
While there are innumerable differences in the way this game is played, the most well known version involves seven verses seven competition. A rubber ball, pretty much standard in all versions of the game, is bounced using hips in order that it land in the opposing team’s field of play – some versions of the game involve hard to hit hoops.
It will be our goal over the next semester to explore the similarities and differences between the Aztec game Talchtli and the Mayan game Ulama in the ways they were played and their meanings in their own individual cultures.
Evans, Susan Toby. Ancient Mexico & Central America: Archaeology and Culture History. [New York]: Thames & Hudson, 2008. Print.
Blümchen G: The Maya Ball Game. Cardiology 2009;113:231-235 (DOI: 10.1159/000203640)