The Maya Ballgame


Ring at the ballcourt of Chichén ItzáThe ballgame is one of the most famous activities of the Ancient Maya. The names that are used for this ballgame are Pok-ta-pok or Pitzil, although it is common to read about 'The Ballgame'. A Ballplayer was called Ah Pitzil.

During the Classic Period a ballcourt had the shape of an capital H or I and had slope walls that brought the ball back in the game when it was shot against a wall. Point could be earned by hitting the ball against a stone marker on the ground.

During the postclassic Period the shape of the Ballcourt changed: The slope walls were replaced by high walls with in the middle a ring. point could be earned by shooting the ball through the ring or by hitting the ring with the ball.

Ballcourt of Chichén ItzáThe rules of the ballgame are not completly clear. It is known that there were two teams that competed with eachother, the size of a team could vary. Both teams had to hit a rubber ball (or ulli) with the size of a soccerball against a stone marker or ring. A ballplayer was only allowed to use his hips (and perhaps elbows, shoulders and knees) to accomplish this. Because it was almost impossible to shoot the ball through the ring (because the ball and the ring were almost of the same size) points could be made by hitting the ring.

The ball ('ulli') was made of the rubber from the zapotetree. A hieroglyph that can be read as 'nab' was often written on such a ball. The hieroglyph was always prefaced by a number. Until now the numbers 7,9,12,13 and 14 have been found. The meaning of this hieroglyph and the numbers are not yet explained, but some think it represented the number of sacrifices that were made at the end of a ballgame.

Ballcourt at PalenqueBecause the ball was massive and thus heavy, ballplayers wore a leather protection around the hips in the shape of a capital U. These are called yugo in Spanish. Based on images on pottery we know that a player always used the same side of his hip to hit the ball. The stone yugo's that were discovered were to heavy to be actually worn. They did served as moulds to for the wet leather so that the leather could be forseen with attractive images.

After recent findings it seemed that in one version of the game, ballplayers made use of a wooden bat with on the end a stone object with wich the ball could be hit. But more convincing evidence to prove this theary is still to be found.