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1,300-year-old Stone Panels From Belize Show Ancient Maya Ballplayers


Archeologists have recently decrypted the hieroglyphics inscribed on two that were excavated from Tipan Chen Uitz in in 2015. Believed to date from around 700 AD, the height of the Empire, the two along with explanatory hieroglyphic captions.

A combination of sporting competition and religious ceremony, the Mesoamerican ballgame was played by all major civilizations in Central America, including the Aztec, Olmec, and . Although the name for this game is unknown, indigenous communities in Mexico and continue to play a version of the game known as "ulama."

Similar to the images found on the Tipan Chen Uitz tablets, ulama players wear heavy protective belts as they attempt to keep a large, rubber ball in play. The Tipan Chen Uitz tablets, although somewhat degraded by age and apparently deliberate vandalism in antiquity, a large image of a ballplayer (approximately 1.4 meters/4.5 feet by 70 cm/28 inches).

The inscription next to the player writes "nine handspan ball," an apparent reference to the size of the ball. Archeologists believe that the game was played with large rubber balls that could weigh as much as 4kg/9 pounds. Just like modern soccer, players were forbidden to use their hands, primarily relying on their upper thighs to keep the ball in play.

The writing on the Tipan Chen Uitz tablets apparently lists the player's name or nickname, "Water Scroll Ocelot." A second, smaller tablet unearthed during the excavation also shows another ballplayer. For unknown reasons, the faces of the two players were hammered off, apparently in antiquity.

Nearly every city has a ball court located in a prime location near temples and royal residences. Roughly corresponding to the layout of a modern basketball court, the ball courts were rectangular in shape with two sloping walls running down the long axis of the court. Some ball courts have a large ring that was apparently used to score a game-winning point, but it is believed that most games were won by the team that managed to keep the ball in play the longest, similar to volleyball. On some occasions, the losing team was sacrificed to the gods, but it is believed that every ballgame was considered a religious ceremony by the .

Travelers interested in immersing themselves in Belize 's culture and history can choose from a wide array of all inclusive Belize vacation packages that include guided tours to the top sites in the country.


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