Newly Discovered Mesoamerican Ball Court Offers Glimpse Into The Game’s Origins | Smart News

An Etlatongo ball player figurine unearthed on the site
J. Blomster / George Washington University.

The ball game pok-ta-pok was almost ubiquitous in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica, but today its origins remain a subject of debate among archaeologists. Although one version of the activity appears in the Mayan creation myth, many modern researchers suspect that it actually originated on the Gulf Coast. Now, however, a newly discovered pok-ta-pok court nestled in the highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico, disputes this theory.

The court, found at the Etlatongo archaeological site, dates from between 1400 and 1300 BC. Scientists progress. Used for around 175 years, the space is the second oldest Mesoamerican ball court found to date – the oldest is located in Paso de la Amada and was built around 1650 BC, reports Science Lizzie Wade of the magazine.

Etlatongo court dates from a pivotal period in the region’s history, when political and religious factions, commerce, and a clear social hierarchy were beginning to emerge.

“This is the period when what we think of [as] Mesoamerican culture begins, ”said study co-author Salazar Chávez of George Washington University Science.

Newly discovered Mesoamerican ball field offers insight into the game's origins

View of the architectural differences of the ball fields

J. Blomster / George Washington University.

Archaeologist and study co-author Jeffrey Blomster, also from George Washington University, has long made a point of excavating sites in the Mexican highlands, reports To discover Leslie Nemo of the magazine. Because the region lacks temples and complex infrastructure, other scholars have tended to downplay its potential. Blomster began digging in the highlands in the 1990s; he and Chávez started working together in Oaxaca in 2015.

Etlatongo hosted two courts: the original site and a second larger structure built on top of the first. The space was flanked by rough stone walls on which players bounced a rubber ball by hitting it with their hips. The goal was to send the ball high towards the opposing team, much like in modern volleyball. Players wore thick, padded belts to protect themselves from the ball, which could weigh up to 16 pounds but still risked fatal injuries. Behind the walls, the alley-like courtyard was lined with benches for spectators.

The Etlatongo court is 800 years older than any other court found in the highlands of central Mexico, and over 1,000 years older than any other court in Oaxaca. The finding suggests that the Highlanders who used the terrain may have contributed to the early rules and customs of the game, instead of simply acting as “social copiers” as previously believed, Chávez said. To discover.

“The discovery of a formal ball field [at Etlatongo] … Shows that some of Mexico’s early villages and highland towns played a game comparable to the most prestigious version of the sport known as ullamalitzli some three millennia later by the Aztecs, ”Boston University archaeologist David Carballo, who was not involved in the study, told Bruce Bower. Scientific news. “It could be the oldest and oldest team ball game in the world.”

Newly discovered Mesoamerican ball field offers insight into the game's origins

Aztec ullamaliztli players playing for Charles V in Spain, drawn by Christoph Weiditz in 1528.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers have found not only the courts, but the remains of a ceremony that would have marked the end of the use of the play space. (The burnt wood from these ceremonies was used to determine the age of the court. .) Archaeologists have also recovered pottery and figurines of people wearing quilted belts.

Annick Daneels, archaeologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who did not participate in the research, tells Science magazine that the pottery and figurines are of Olmec tradition, suggesting that Etlatongo’s court “might be inspired by Olmec contact”.

But Radford University archaeologist David Anderson, who was also not involved in the study, said Science that the new discovery “suggests that the ball game is an extremely old and wide tradition throughout Mesoamerica that does not originate from any group.”

Over the millennia the game has evolved, gaining political and religious importance as a replacement for war or as a rigged punishment for prisoners. The stakes could be high. Sometimes the losers were even sacrificed.

Eventually, the walls along the pitch got taller, and a hanging ring was added to increase the stake: if a player threw the ball through the opening, they would earn bonus points or instantly win the game.

As Erin Blakemore reports for National geography, Dominican priest Diego Durán witnessed the match firsthand when he stopped at an Aztec match in 1585. The winner, he wrote, “was honored as a man who had overcome many and had won a battle “.

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