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Did the Mayans use remains of their rulers in their ball game?

According to a new hypothesis, the ashes were used to make rubber balls, used in the tlachtli court, a ritual sport of pre-Columbian peoples .

A group of scientists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) has found in the archaeological zone of Toniná, in Chipas (Mexico) an antechamber where the Mayans transformed the remains of their rulers into ashes during a long ritual process, according to the hypothesis of Juan Yadeun Angulo, a researcher of the organism.

The archaeologists suggest in the study that the ashes were used to make rubber balls used on the field of the ‘tlachtli’ ball game, a ritual sport of pre-Columbian peoples. It is believed that its practice symbolized the cult of fertility and that the movement of the ball across the field represented the movement of the sun or the moon. This game used to solve internal and external conflicts, as a substitute for war and armed confrontations.

For the first time, this new hypothesis was expressed in the year 2020, when archaeologists found an entrance to the pre-Hispanic crypt in the Temple of the Sun with vaults and secret rooms built as a labyrinth , dating from between the 7th and 8th centuries AD In this pyramidal structure, very important in the archaeological zone of the Ocosingo Valley, approximately 400 vessels with organic material were found , like ashes, carbon, rubber and roots.

According to the new theory, the corpses were confined in the “cave of death“, eight meters deep, where they remained 260 days according to a ritual calendar to be cremated. The sulfur from the ashes was used for “the vulcanization of the rubber”, with which they made the balls for the ball game, the archaeologists explain.

The INAH reported that the remains recently found in the antechamber of the Temple belong to at least two leaders of the ancient Mayan kingdom of Po’p. This town competed with Palenque, one of the most powerful cities of the Maya Classic Period, seat of one of the most notable dynasties.

According to Yaduen, the Maya believed that their rulers preserved after their death a “living force” in some parts of the body, related to certain deities, reason why which only partially cremated them. It is likely that the remains served as funerary bundles, relics that were carefully kept, while said living force “stimulated the people” in May, says the researcher.

Furthermore, the team of experts located another independent access in the Temple of about 80 x 80 centimeters. This second tomb was probably used to place the remains of ancient rulers, although in this case there are no traces of cremations or other rituals due to the possible looting of the tomb between the 19th and 20th centuries.

The researchers believe that these discoveries can shed light on the Mesoamerican worldview, the Mayan religion and the ritual of transformation, “fundamental to understand this ancient society“, emphasizes Yaduen.


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