It was already known that the ancient Central American cultures played ball. It was believed that this sport only started in the lowlands of its geography. Even Mayans and Aztecs are believed to have played these games. One of its derivations is allegedly a form of modern basketball, which is still disputed. What I didn't know, and now I do, is that the ballgame is 3,500 years old, at least.
Playing with the ball
So is. The ball game is an icon of the ancient cultures settled in the highlands of Mesoamerica. And it is since much earlier than previously thought. The history of the sport will have to be reexamined.
Anthropologists have long known that Mesoamericans played ball on special courts for it. Approximately 2,300 ball courts have been identified. The area covers a wide swath of what is now Central America and parts of Mexico. Some evidence even suggests that both the Mayans and the Aztecs played the game.
The game was supposed to evolve in the lowlands, and then take it to the heights. In this new effort, researchers at George Washington University found a ball court in the highlands. It was built long before any other found to date in those locations. Which suggests that it was played there much earlier than previously thought.
Ceramic figures: merchandising
The researchers published the results in Science Advances. They discovered the ball court in the mountains of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico. And the investigations date it back to approximately 3,400 years ago. Their finding challenges widespread beliefs that the ballgame was played exclusively in the lowlands during its formative years. There is additional evidence of the lowlands as the origin of the sport. The rubber used to make the balls came from Castilla Elastica, a species of tree that grows only in the lowlands. The oldest ball court in the lowlands is located in Chiapas, another Mexican state in southern Mexico. It dates from approximately 1,560 a. C.
The recently discovered ball court was discovered at the Etlatongo excavation site in Oaxaca, where researchers also discovered ceramic figures from the same period. They represent ball players in action. The ball court was found located below another ball court. The first players had evidently retired from the previous court and covered it with a new one.
The researchers suggest that the history of the sport will have to be reexamined. They point out that it now seems likely that the game evolved with influences from both highlanders and lowland dwellers. What is clear is that the ball game is 3,500 years old, and continues to fascinate us, in its different modern versions.