An archaeological discovery unearthed a Mayan scoreboard that is at least 1,000 years old and was crafted between 800 AD and 900 AD.
Mexican archaeologists uncovered a Mayan scoreboard made of stone at Chichen Itza’s Mexican Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) site earlier this week. The highly detailed circular stone measures 12.6 inches in diameter and weighs 88 pounds. The archaeological discovery features two game players standing next to a ball and hieroglyphic writing around its edge.
Archaeologists estimate the Mayan scoreboard is at least 1,000 years old and was crafted between 800 AD and 900 AD. The carved archaeological discovery depicts a soccer-like game that was a traditional practice of the Mayans and other Mesoamerican peoples. The game is believed to have had ritualistic meaning and was used to train young warriors.
ABC’s tweet about the Mayan scoreboard generated some humorous comments. A user named Scott Jensen said, “That’s got to be a slow game!” while others questioned how the archaeologists knew the disc was used for keeping score. Twitter user John Droney simply said, “Put it back,” presumably to avoid releasing any unknown curse that might result from disturbing the stone.
“In this Mayan site, it is rare to find hieroglyphic writing, let alone a complete text,” said Francisco Perez, one of the archaeologists coordinating the investigations in the Chichanchob complex. INAH researchers will prepare the stone for a more detailed study, which will include taking high-resolution images of its text and iconography. They will also prepare the archaeological discovery for conservation.
The famed Chichen Itza complex on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It is one of the main archaeological sites dedicated to discovering more about ancient Mayan civilizations. About 2 million people visit Chichen Itza every year to see its archaeological discovery collection, towering pyramids, and Mayan ballcourts.
According to Tour By Mexico, the ancient Mayans are credited with inventing the game of soccer at least 3,000 years ago. The game was played with a solid rubber ball that players kicked through a small hole in a woven net stretched between two posts. Two teams of seven players competed against each other.
The game went by several names, including Pok a Tok and Tlachtli, but most people now refer to it as Ulama. According to ancient texts, it was a major part of Mesoamerican culture and it is estimated that every ancient city had an Ulama ball court. The roughly 1,500 known ball courts looked like a capital letter “I” with perpendicular end zones at the top and bottom of the playing field, which was about the size of modern football fields.
“According to ancient texts Ulama was viewed as a battle between the sun against the moon and stars representing the principle of lightness and darkness (and possibly the battle between good and evil),” said Bryan Hill, a writer for AncientOrigins.net. “Additionally, the motion of the ball symbolized the rotation of the sun for the Aztez, Olmeca, and Mayan people.” The stone courts were rough on the players, who left the game bloodied and bruised from slamming into the walls and floor.
The archaeological discovery may help researchers understand more about the game, as iconography is a helpful tool in sorting myths from reality. Archaeologists think that, like dialects, the game’s rules varied by location. The longstanding myth that human sacrifices occurred at every game may not be entirely true.
Christophe Helmke, an associate professor at the Institute of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen, told LiveScience that captives may have been executed at certain games. “But [these sacrifices] weren’t an integral part of the game. That person would have been expedited [executed] anyway.”