Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Mesoamerica's Oldest Ballcourt Volume 51 Number 4, July/August 1998
by Angela M.H. Schuster

The remains of a 3,400-year-old earthen ballcourt have been found at the Early Formative period site of Paso de la Amada in the Soconusco region of Chiapas, Mexico. Dated to 1400 B.C., the ballcourt is the oldest known in Mesoamerica by some 500 years. Discovered by Warren Hill and Michael Blake of the University of British Columbia, it is 260 feet long and comprises two parallel mounds flanking a 26-foot-wide playing field. Benches eight feet deep and one foot tall, built into each of the mounds, run the length of the mounds. According to Hill, such architectural features are unique to ballcourts and changed little over the course of the ballgame's development. The court's location amid high-status residences suggests that it was reserved for elite members of society. Unlike later ballcourts, however, it was not apparently built in association with a civic ceremonial complex.

Until the discovery of the Paso de la Amada ballcourt, the earliest known were those from the Middle Preclassic (ca. 900-400 B.C.) sites of Finca Acapulco, El Vergel, and San Mateo, on the right bank of Grijalva River in southern Chiapas. Waterlogged latex balls found at the Olmec site of El Manatí and representations of ballplayers painted on ceramics from San Lorenzo, however, attest that the ballgame was well established by the mid-thirteenth century B.C.

© 1998 by the Archaeological Institute of America