Ancient Mayan Ball Courts

Over 6,000 ball courts have been unearthed so far in Mexico. All the courts have pretty much the same structure. They usually have two parallel walls on the sides of the field. By 800 CE, stone circles or hoops had been added, attached to the side walls at the centre of the court.

Ball Game

The ball was very hard to get through the hoop. Because of this, when a player successfully got the ball game through a hoop, the spectators would have to give him their clothing and jewellery. As a result, once the ball went through the hoop the spectators would run away to avoid giving the player a reward.

The rubbery ball (about 50 cm in diameter and weighing more than a kilo) was resilient and bouncy, yet hard enough to severely injure a player. The players had to keep the ball in the air, but touching the ball with the hands or feet was not allowed- instead they had to use hips, body, legs or arms to knock the ball in different directions and bounce it off each other.

Ancient Mayan Ball Game

Ball Game Equipments

Ballplayers wore protective equipment during the game to prevent bodily damage by the hard rubber ball that sometimes weighed up to 20 lbs. To protect ribs and the torso players would wear a yoke of leather or wood around their waists. Stone hachas were sometimes attached to the front of the yoke after the game for ceremonial purposes.

The winners of the game were treated as heroes and given a great feast. The penalty for losing a game was sometimes unusually harsh: death. The leader of the team who lost the game was sometimes killed.

Ancient Mayan Ball Game equipment

The oldest ball court yet discovered was built around 1400 BC at Paso de la Amada along the Pacific Ocean. The earliest known rubber balls are even older and were found at an Olmec sacrificial bog. The ballgame was played within a large stone structure consisting of a long narrow playing field flanked by two walls. Over 1300 ball courts of varying sizes have been found in Mesoamerica, all with this same shape.

Ancient Mayan Sacred Ball Court

The sacred Ball Court was the site of a brutal Mayan sport. The field, approximately the size of a football field, is bordered by two imposing walls 26 feet tall. Seven combatants on each team tried to get a small rubber ball to go through a small stone hoop 23 feet above the ground supposedly without using their hands or feet to touch the ball.

Unlike the well-documented Aztec ballgame, the Maya one is mentioned only twice in the early colonial Yucatan sources. First, Diego de Landa briefly notes a kind of ballgame played in the youths' houses. A second mention, now of Maya origin, comes from the Dresden codex.

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