Maya ball court, Coba, Quintana Roo, Mexico. Major building construction seems to have occurred in Coba during the middle and late Classic period (500-900).
The Native American ball game was played with a rubber ball on a masonry court, and was widely known in Central America and Mesoamerica. Its range extended over an area of 2,500,000 square kilometers, from the U.S. Southwest into the Amazon region of South America. It was played for at least 2,000 years prior to European contact.
The object of the game, as indicated by archaeological and ethnohistoric evidence, was to score a goal by propelling the ball into the ground of the opposing team’s end of the court, or through a ring or other marker along the side of the court. As in modern soccer, players could not use their hands to propel the ball, and the game in play may have resembled soccer, with considerable action.
[…] Scholars have frequently associated the game with human blood sacrifice. Much of our understanding of the myth and significance of the ball game comes from the account of the Third Creation in the Maya epic, the Popul Vuh, wherein both generations of Hero Twins, avatars of the Sun and Venus, are sacrificed by decapitation and then reborn. Numerous portrayals of the game show decapitation of a ballplayer, the same image emphasized in the Popul Vuh.
[…] Although the game had important ideological overtones, it was also no doubt a widespread form of more casual recreation, and the outcome of a game was the focus of considerable gambling action, with bets of all sizes and bettors of all social classes.
-Archaeology of Ancient Mexico and Central America: An Encyclopedia (2001).
Photos courtesy & taken by Dennis Jarvis.