The Olmecs started it, the Maya tweaked it, and the Aztecs nailed it. The Mesoamerican Ballgame, played with a solid rubber ball — weighing at around 10 pounds — and teams of one to four people, makes a regular appearance throughout Pre-Columbian history.
The losers were not sacrificed—at least not all the time. If that were the case, the Maya civilization would have decimated itself fairly quickly. The winners of the war also won the ball game , after which the losers were then sacrificed, either by decapitation or removal of the heart.
They hit the ball with their upper arms, thighs or hips. The rubber balls they used were of varying weight and size, from the size of a softball to a soccer ball . Solid rubber balls were heavy—up to eight or nine pounds—and could cause serious injury or even death. Games were won mostly by points.
Scholars have suggested a number of potential reasons for the downfall of Maya civilization in the southern lowlands, including overpopulation, environmental degradation, warfare, shifting trade routes and extended drought. It’s likely that a complex combination of factors was behind the collapse.
Blood was viewed as a potent source of nourishment for the Maya deities, and the sacrifice of a living creature was a powerful blood offering. By extension, the sacrifice of a human life was the ultimate offering of blood to the gods, and the most important Maya rituals culminated in human sacrifice .
Although much of the Maya life was spent doing hard work, they did enjoy entertainment as well. A lot of their entertainment was centered around religious ceremonies. They played music, danced, and played games such as the Maya ball game.
Pok-A-Tok was a ball game played by the ancient Maya well over 1000 years ago in what’s now Cancun and Riviera Maya. And there’s evidence that the Toltecs and Aztecs played variations of the game , too, as there are stadiums (for lack of a better term) dotted throughout Mexico.
Many scholars now believe that Aztec human sacrifice was performed in honor of the gods. Most scholars of Pre-Columbian civilization see human sacrifice among the Aztecs as a part of the long cultural tradition of human sacrifice in Mesoamerica.
The designation Maya comes from the ancient Yucatan city of Mayapan, the last capital of a Mayan Kingdom in the Post-Classic Period. The Maya people refer to themselves by ethnicity and language bonds such as Quiche in the south or Yucatec in the north (though there are many others).
Read more: 7 of Mexico’s best ruins, and how you can see them. Tulum , Mexico. Tulum , Mexico. Copan, Honduras. Copan, Honduras. Tikal, Guatemala. Tikal, Guatemala. Xunantunich, Belize. Xunantunich, Belize. Palenque, Mexico. Palenque, Mexico.
Mysterious Decline of the Maya One by one, the Classic cities in the southern lowlands were abandoned, and by A.D. 900, Maya civilization in that region had collapsed. The reason for this mysterious decline is unknown, though scholars have developed several competing theories.
Civilizations like the Olmec, Maya, Aztec and Inca all built pyramids to house their deities, as well as to bury their kings. In many of their great city-states, temple- pyramids formed the center of public life and were the site of holy rituals, including human sacrifice.