Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Origins of the Mesoamerican ballgame: Earliest ballcourt from the highlands found at Etlatongo, Oaxaca, Mexico

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Science Advances  13 Mar 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 11, eaay6964
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay6964


The ballgame represents one of the most enduring and iconic features of ancient Mesoamerican civilization, yet its origins and evolution remain poorly understood, primarily associated with the Gulf Coast and southern Pacific coastal lowlands. While one early ballcourt dates to 1650 BCE from the Chiapas lowlands, ballcourts have remained undocumented in the Mesoamerican highlands until a millennium later, suggesting less involvement by highland civilizations in the ballgame’s evolution. We provide new data from the southern highlands of Mexico, from the Early Formative period (1500–1000 BCE), that necessitate revising previous paradigms. Along with ballplayer imagery, we recently excavated the earliest highland Mesoamerican ballcourt, dating to 1374 BCE, at the site of Etlatongo, in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca. We conclude that Early Formative highland villagers played an important role in the origins of the formal Mesoamerican ballgame, which later evolved into a crucial component of subsequent states.

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