Since the early 1400s BCE, people of this era have played one of the earliest known forms of a sport that involves two teams and a rubber ball played on a court. Based on archaeological evidence, Tlachtli (which translates in English to “ball game”) is thought to have been played by the civilizations of Mesoamerica including the Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and Toltec. The game was more than a sport to these people. It was a means of settling conflicts and maintaining social harmony, it was a very important part in the ritualistic lives of those cultures. The most fascinating aspect of this sport is what set it apart from other ritual-based events of these cultures. Based on how you played in the ball game was a matter of life and death. As seen on murals and carvings showing the ball game, the sport was linked to rituals involving human sacrifice. Shrouded in speculation and myth, the sacred game of Tlachtli remains one of the most fascinating and intriguing mysteries of the Mesoamerica civilizations. This paper will touch basis on how this sport played a part in shaping the lives of these Pre-Columbian civilizations.
Taladoire speculates that the ball game may have originated in the coastal lowlands along the Pacific Ocean (Taladoire 2001:107-108). Archaeologists discovered the oldest known ball court at the ruins of the city of Paso de la Amada which is around 3,400 years old. According to most, around 300 BCE, Tlachtli was already found throughout most of Mesoamerica. Ceramic ball player figurines have been discovered as ceremonial internments in cities such as San Lorenzo Tenochtitlán (the last site of the Olmec civilization) and areas such as the Valley of Oaxaca.
Many archeologists are indecisive on when or where the Mesoamerican ballgame began, although most agree that it originated in the cultures that lived in the rain forests where the rubber tree grows. Seeing as this is the only place the rubber tree grows, it would be no surprise if this is where the sport was born. For the Mesoamerican cultures of this area, rubber was an important material valued as sacred and ceremonial. A unique substance that is neither solid nor liquid, rubber played an important role in the everyday lives of Mesoamerican people. The most creative use of rubber was not for agriculture, construction, or warfare, but a deadly ceremonial sport.
Murals found at a dig site in Teotihuacan suggests that at one point, this sport was played with wooden sticks, but the most common played method of the game used no extra equipment; players kept the ball in play using their hips. While the game play varied from city to city, the game rules of play were basically the same throughout Mesoamerica of that era. The game was played in large stone courts and informally on fields in major Mesoamerican cities. Proof shows that Aztec games were eventually played with stone hoops where players could score points by hitting the hoop with the ball or win the game outright by getting...