EXHIBITS: The Old Ball Game

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  28 Sep 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5539, pp. 2355
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5539.2355c

Expectant fans pack the imposing stadium, ready to cheer their heroes and razz the local rivals. Sounds like almost any day in the sports-crazy United States, but the same scene played out from 3500 to 500 years ago during the ball games of ancient Mesoamerica. Learn more about the first team sport at The Mesoamerican Ballgame, an intriguing site from the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, which parallels an exhibit touring museums through 2002.

Played with a rubber ball that could weigh up to 4 kilograms and sometimes contained a human skull, the fast-paced and hazardous sport was popular among the Aztecs, Maya, Olmecs, and other Mesoamerican civilizations. The site introduces these cultures and takes you on a virtual tour of the ball court at the Mayan ruin of Copán in Honduras. Or plunge into the details of the game, such as the rituals and costumes revealed by figurines and other artwork. The losers certainly knew the agony of defeat: They were sometimes sacrificed to appease the gods.


Navigate This Article