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Mesoamerican Ballgame Artifact: Impact of Olmec on Mesoamerican Culture

Presently, the assessment of the historical tales and archaeological records of Mesoamerica’s pre-Columbian cultures plus those in Caribbean islands exhibits proof of identical ballgames once practiced and played in the two regions. This inference compels the instigation of a very disturbing question on whether chronological and topographical vicinity of such cultures is reflected, where the instigation of Mesoamerican ballgames occurred independently, or whether their commencement was an outcome of cultural integration. From such an argument, and basing on the Mesoamerican Ballgame as an artifact, while examining the impact of Olmec on Mesoamerican Culture, this study hypothesizes that “ Mesoamerican ballgames have played a significant part in exemplifying the Mesoamerican culture, with this trend defining the present Mesoamericans as successors of a sport-oriented culture.” Therefore, this study seeks to examine the Mesoamerican Ballgame as an artifact, while studying the impact of Olmec civilization on Mesoamerican culture. Nonetheless, by far, this paper evaluates the way in which Mesoamerican Ballgame as one of the Olmec artifact influenced the culture of the people of Mesoamerica.

From a scholarly point of view, Mesoamerican ballgame is arguably the most ancient team sport to be known in the history of human being1. The initial participants to this art included the early Pre-Columbian cultures emanating from Mesoamerica (Central America) and its existence holding for about 1000 years prior the commencement of the initial Greek Olympic Games2. This game was defined by religious rituals, loss of lives, as well as human sacrifices, typically full of brutality in most cases. The origin of Olmec has been speculated to a greater debate and research on how it has influenced the life of people of Mesoamerican. Their “negroid” features of the Olmec heads have got subjected to fascinating speculations.
The legacy of this sporting activity has survived many decades; Many of its qualities such as bloodletting and ‘colossal heads’ have led to the introduction of the Mesoamerican calendar and influences on sporting activities among the Mesoamericans. The validity of the research is noted from the analysis by the use of empirical literature review and ethnographic observation as a method of data collection. This will aptly examine how Olmec lifestyle influences that of the current Mesoamericans. The religious methods of conducting activities and management of the Olmec are similar with that of the Mesoamericans. Therefore, by far, this paper evaluates the way in which Mesoamerican Ballgame as one of the Olmec artifact influenced the culture of the people of Mesoamerican.

This study is of the hypothesis that “Mesoamerican ballgames have played a significant part in exemplifying the Mesoamerican culture, with this trend defining the present Mesoamericans as successors of a sport-oriented culture.” By engaging a review of empirical literature as well as observation ethnography, the key research question will be utilized in justifying the above hypothesis. Therefore the main research question will be on whether chronological and topographical vicinity of such cultures is reflected, where the instigation of Mesoamerican ballgames occurred independently, or whether their commencement was an outcome of cultural integration.

Review of literature
As of primeval era until the 16th century when Mesoamerica became a Spanish colony, this ballgame art was not merely a sporting activity but equally a significant component of the Mesoamerican culture practiced by the Olmec civilization, not forgetting Aztec and Mayan civilizations3. The Aztec called it the Tlachtli, while the Mayans identified it as Pok a Tok; presently it is known as Ulama by the general Mesoamericans4. This ballgame artifact acquired unthinkable action levels and violence, with dangerous and life threatening injuries being sustained by the players as they jumped onto stone courts all in the name of ensuring the ball remains in the field of play and in active nature, with only ending up being bruised and bloodied.
The most signs and recognized civilization were of the Olmec. Olmec was the major civilization in the Mesoamerican due to the progressive development5. The population of Olmec revealed sufficient flourish during the period of Mesoamerica. They laid the foundations of the Mesoamerican civilization. The first signs of Mesoamerican civilization were the ritual like bloodletting and play part in the Mesoamerican ballgame. Ballgame artifact is what actually defined the Olmec civilization. Their work has been described and considered as most striking of ancients America. Olmec civilization has been considered as the mother and sister culture of Mesoamerican; it was first raised by Alfonso Caso, Joyce Marcus. Both archeologists and researchers believe that ballgames artifact was developed within heartland of Olmec civilization, which was independent of other civilization. It Olmec’s heartland was at san Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, the Olmec domain was extending from the Tuxtlas to east regions of Chontalpa. The heartland has been used to describe the gulf lowlands where the Olmec culture started. Researchers and archeologists have been considering the striking feature that the Olmec culture was bonded with their artifacts, which accompany their civilization. Researchers and archeologists had subjected the monuments of colossal into speculation that they were once ballplayers, but of recent they have to accept that they were a representation of the rulers6.
These ballgames were associated with the player’s Ceramic figurine, with the most striking characteristics of this attire being that there were no two similar helmet-like headdresses in the field of play. The jaguar symbol that was indifferent is believed to be a representation of the Mesoamerican culture; they used the shaman during their post-match ritual to transform to the jaguar. They believe that it was living and as well dead. The colossal heads were of different size, although they bear some common features. Some characteristics in this colossal heads resemble African facial, which researchers subject it to debate , although was later rejected because of some scholars and archeologists like Miguel Covarrubias, explain the possibility that it was due to shallow space allowed on the basalt boulders7. Sometimes the top-speed motion of the ball caused serious injuries upon landing on the unprotected body parts of the players, leading to internal bleeding or even demise of the player8.
Paso de la Amada is arguably the most ancient Mesoamerican ball court, extending to Paraguay as the far south and far north to what is today known as Arizona. Its existence has been radiocarbon dated to approximately 3600 years of age9. Of the 1300 discovered Mesoamerican ball courts; the Chichen Itzá’s Classic Maya city held the largest ball court- the Great Ballcourt, whose dimensions were 315 ft (96.5 m) in length and 98 ft (30m) in width10. From a comparison point of view, the modern Ceremonial Court situated in modern Guatemala (initially known as Tikal) is roughly 16m by 5m and considerably smaller than a tennis court. Back then, the Olmec courts could be compared to the present-day football pitch while an aerial view appeared like a capital ‘I’ having double perpendicular regions at the bottom and top. The pitches were crafted of stone blocks with the play field being a rectangular court whose walls were slanted. The walls were painted and plastered, with jaguars, serpents, raptors being exhibited together with human sacrifices images to indicate a divinity connection. The figure below indicates a typical ball court.
Examining the origin of Olmec Ballgame
It is highly imperative to establish the clarity on the origin of Olmec ballgame. It is highly intricate to come up with a precise stipulation over the ancient origins of ideas. Nonetheless, a chronological evaluation of the game presence in Taino and Mayan is a certain proof that the ballgame originated from Mesoamerica. Furthermore, just as previously mentioned, the ancient discovery of ball courts was made in Chiapas, Mexico, typically the Paso de la Amada, dating back to 1400 BC12. The game itself however has been argued to date back some years earlier, with 12 rubber balls being dated back to 1,600–1,700 BC, and discovered from the Veracruz’s Olmec culture El Manatí site13. This concise overview is a clear indication that the ballgame diffusion probability is from the Mayans then to the Taino.

Examining the artifacts associated with the game
Archeologists have examined the parallels among the games played within the ancient Mesoamerican ball courts and established a number of common artifacts related to the ballgame. For instance, the “yoke” is a typical artifact related to the Mesoamerica’s ballgame; normally an equipment piece in most cases wore by the players around their legs, arms or waists14. Quite a number of yokes have been discovered from various archeological sites in Mesoamerican, with various illustrations of players wearing such artifacts being exemplified by different archeologists; probably painted on ceramics, carved on monuments, as well as being recorded. The figures below exemplify such an artifact, in various cultures.

Research Design
This paper looks into the hypothesis in a qualitative approach. A descriptive and historical research methods have been employed to provide the quantitative data used to solve the research related problem. Primarily, the researcher engaged a detailed empirical literature on the artifacts associated with Olmec Ballgame. Subsequently, the researcher considered an ethnography observation as the research design by visiting various museums, archeological sites and art galleries so as derive ethnographic data. Only observation without any questions or interviews was considered in this study. The researcher considered this technique due to reliability and accuracy of the findings. The researcher also sought to verify the accuracy of the reviewed literature without being influenced by any other human participants. The Olmec culture is analyzed together with their artifacts to determine how it has influenced the present Mesoamericans in America.
Research Method
Ethnography was a major employed method in this research. The study takes an approach to looking into people and cultures. It helps in interpreting the Olmec cultures and deeply looking on how it has influenced the Mesoamerican culture. This was purely done through observation and comprehending the culture of the Mesoamerican people. Furthermore, analyzing the archeologist’s data and other research forms the basis of research method. Data were collected from museums and online databases that documented and stored the data related to Olmec culture. Another method applied in this research is observation. Observing the art and the iconography of the Olmec artifacts provides valid data that could be used fulfill the research. Also, observing the current religion and culture of the Mexicans and all Mesoamericans and comparing it with Olmec culture.

Results and discussions
The Olmec introduced the ball-courts. The Olmec culture is noted to have introduced sports such as basketball due to their creativity. Many of the Mesoamericans are sports oriented and each year they promote sports. Colombia and Mexico have proven to be some of the countries that are contributing to better sports such as football and basketball. The religious activities of the people of Mesoamericans look similar to that of the Olmec. Most of the Mesoamerican cultures depend on the priests and legislative politicians to make religious decisions. The presence of jewelry and religious bangles with jaguar structure shows a greater relationship existing between the Olmec and Mesoamerican culture.
Creativity, Social life, and artifacts of the Olmec community have contributed to the sports sector of the Mesoamericans. Sport is one of the major activities that many Americans support and value. The introduction of ball-courts justifies the introduction of basketball in 1891 by James Naismith. It is believed that before the introduction of the basketball, Mesoamerican had a similar game where the point was to get a ball through a hoop. In many states such as Mexico, Mayan, Nahuatl, Honduras and Costa Rica, different names had been given to basketball. Pitz was named in Classical Mayan and Juego De Pelota.
In the current basketball activities, the game balls relate well with those of the Olmec. The current ball of basketball is a rubber ball and should be thrown into a hole like a “hoop” mounted on the playing court. The way the players wear and the way the game is played relates to the Olmec ballgame. Therefore, the protective masks available in Olmec artifact relates to the protective masks that each player wear when he/she is playing on the court. The Olmec culture influenced the Aztec and Maya culture. In terms of artifacts and culture, Olmec contributed much to the Mayan and Aztec communities. The presence of ball game and the court as an archeological evidence confirms the influence this culture had on the Mesoamericans. In games, unlike other communities, the Olmec and Aztec were known to allow their women and children to play and rewarded winners with jewels, honors, and clothing. In recent sports in the Mesoamerican states such as Costa Rica, Mexico, and Honduras rewards their players with gold and honors them. Also, the women of Mexico have proven to be one of the best in sports such as football and basketball. This is influence from the Olmec and Aztec way of sports life. The presence of artwork and few statues such as symbols of corn among the Olmec people provides evidence for the origin of the basketball.
The body of the Olmec defines a good structure of sports people. Their forehead and colossal structure define people who have the ability to play. Scientists show a greater relationship that exists between people body shape with sports activities. Looking at such sports, it can be defined that a greater impact of Olmec culture and artifacts exist on Mesoamericans. Therefore, with this empirically confirmed, our hypothesis can be positively justified and concluded that “Mesoamerican ballgames have played a significant part in exemplifying the Mesoamerican culture, with this trend defining the present Mesoamericans as successors of a sport-oriented culture.”

Sporting activities have been seen to extensively influence both the Olmec and the Aztec cultures and people, with the proof being evident to the sporting talents at present day. This study has equally revealed the myriad purposes for Mesoamerican ballgames, from simple to complex ceremonial customs. These ballgames facilitated sufficient connection not only for sporting activities but equally trade and communication. These games have been mentioned to depict a symbolic restoration of the “struggle between darkness and light as well as between night and day”17

Cai, Alessandro. “File:Parco Cerimoniale Indigeno di Caguana.jpg.” Accessed May 11, 2012.
Carmack, Robert M., Janine L. Gasco, and Gary H. Gossen, eds. The legacy of Mesoamerica: history and culture of a Native American civilization. Routledge, 2016.
Diehl, Richard. Death Gods, Smiling Faces and Colossal Heads: Archaeology of the Mexican Gulf Lowlands. FAMSI. Accessed March 24, 2012.
Freidel, David, and F. Kent Reilly III. “The flesh of God: Cosmology, food, and the origins of political power in ancient southeastern Mesoamerica.” In Pre-Columbian Foodways, pp. 635-680. Springer New York, 2010.
Lehman College. Taino Treasures: The Legacy of Dr. Richard L. Alegría. Lehman College Art Gallery. Accessed March 24, 2012.
Melville, Sarah Silberberg. “Naturalism and supernaturalism in ancient Mesoamerica: an analysis of Olmec iconography.” (2014).
Online, NBA.2008. “The First Basketball: The Mesoamerican Ballgame”. Nbahoopsonline.Com.
Ponciano, Ortíz C. and María del Carmen Rodríguez. Olmec Ritual Behavior at El Manatí: A Sacred Space. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. http:// studies/social/social09.pdf.
Pringle, Heather. “Lords of Creation, Lords of War.” National Geographic: Collector’s Edition: Mysteries of the Maya, August 2008, 48–49.
Salomon, Frank and Stuart B. Schwartz, eds. The Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
Scarborough, Vernon L. and David B. Wilcox, eds. The Mesoamerican Ballgame. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 1991.
Schuster, Angela M.H. “Mesoamerica’s Oldest Ballcourt.” Archaeology 51, no. 4 (July/August 1998): n.p. Accessed March 24, 2012.

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