Friday, March 23, 2018
Cantona Part 2 of 4: The ancient city's unique Ball Game Clusters
The Ball Court complex
Olmecs (1500 BC - 400 BC) have been called Mesoamerica's "Mother of Civilizations" because so much of pre-hispanic culture originated with them, including the ball game. Their homeland was the Gulf Coast, where the rubber was gathered to make the balls. From there, the game migrated, probably along Olmec trade routes. Eventually, versions of it came to be played as far south as Honduras and as far north as Arizona in the US. One version, called ulama is still played in Sinaloa, in modern Mexico. The balls of the ancient game varied from about the size of a grapefruit to that of a soccer ball (like the one above). Some ancient relief carvings and murals depict players using balls as big or bigger than a beach ball, but this was probably the result of artistic exaggeration. The balls were quite heavy and players had to wear thick, leather armor around their mid-sections and on their heads to avoid injury, or even death, if struck by a ball.
Xochicalco and other cities that were Cantona's Epi-Classic Era contemporaries (650 AD - 900 AD), stone rings were mounted on the walls on either side at the mid-point of the court. One way of scoring involved passing the ball through the ring. However, no such rings are evident in the courts at Cantona, so the rules apparently differed from place to place, and may have evolved over time. The games were not simple entertainment, but were deeply religious in nature and steeped in ritual. The court here is closely aligned with the equinox, an astronomical event which was used, along with the solstice, to schedule planting and harvesting. However, that was by no means the only ritual function associated with the game.
sacrifice of children was a common offering to Tlaloc, the rain god. Their tears were believed to be a pure representation of rain. In addition, the child's necklace was jade and the Nahuatl word for jade is chalchihuite, which can also mean "drop of precious water".
The Second Plaza
Main Plaza and Pyramid
This completes Part 2 of my Cantona series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, that you will leave any thoughts or questions in the Comments section below, or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim