Senior Thesis Abstract (Baron)


Sport, Community, and the Ballgame at Yalbac, Belize

Joanne Baron

Sub-field: Archaeology

Advisor: Robert Sharer, Archaeologist, Department of Anthropology

The Maya ballgame, widely attested through archaeological and historical sources, was a popular activity among the southern lowland polities of the Late Preclassic and Classic periods (ca. 300 B.C.-A.D. 900). Traditional interpretations of this game have seen it as a highly ritualized event, carried out to re-enact certain mythological cycles dealing with life, death, warfare, and agricultural fertility. These interpretations, however, often exclude the possibility that the game also functioned as a sport or was similar to athletic events from other societies, both past and present. Such events are universally metaphorical for conflict, and are widely popular when played between opposing communities. Archaeological evidence from ball courts in northern Belize, including the site of Yalbac, indicates that communities in this area were actively engaged in inter-community ballgame competition. This suggests that the Maya ballgame, like sporting events in other parts of the world, functioned as a means of reinforcing community identity.

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