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Photographer's Note

A ballcourt goal of Chichén Itzá, Yucatán.


Mesoamerican ballgame was a sport with ritual associations played for over 3000 years by the pre-Columbian peoples of Mesoamerica. The sport had different versions in different places during the millenia, and a modern version of the game, ulama, is still played in a few places by the local indigenous population.

Pre-Columbian ballcourts have been found throughout Mesoamerica, as far south as Nicaragua, and possibly as far north as the U.S. state of Arizona. These ballcourts vary considerably in size, but all have long narrow alleys with side-walls against which the balls could bounce.

The rules of the ballgame are not known, but judging from its descendent, ulama, they were probably similar to racquetball or volleyball, where the aim is to keep the ball in play. The iconic stone ballcourt goals (see photo to right) are a late addition to the game.

In the most widespread version of the game, the players struck the ball with their hips, although some versions allowed the use of forearms, rackets, bats, or handstones. The ball was made of solid rubber and weighed up to 4 kg or more, and sizes differed greatly over time or according to the version played.

The game had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice. But it was played casually for simple recreation, including by children and perhaps even women.

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Additional Photos by Matthieu DH (matt_moi) Silver Star Critiquer/Gold Note Writer [C: 37 W: 4 N: 69] (318)
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