Mesoamerican Ceremonial Ball Playing

If anyone has ever seen the Disney movie "El Dorado," they have a good indication of how the ancient Mesoamerican ball game was played. The players went into a walled field or pit with stone rings attached up high on each wall. Using a rubber ball, they would kick, hit, and bump the ball into the rings to score. In the children's movie, the main characters had some fun and provided a few laughs. In the genuine Olmec and later Aztec and Mayan cultures, the ceremonial ball game was deadly serious.

In fact, it may have been one of the ways that the next priests were chosen. The basis of this belief comes from ancient religious stories themselves. The tale tells of some noisy brothers who were brought to the underworld and forced to play the game against deities as punishment. When one eventually lost, he was summoned back from the underworld.

Later Aztec tales supported this hypothesis. The ball game using a unique rubber ball was used to determine the accuracy of prophecies and predictions. A game lost apparently showed that the ruler would succumb to the European invaders. This all came much later than the first Olmec representations of the game, however. They shared the same ideas as they had one or more courts or playing fields in the main cities.