History isn’t just learned through moldy old books…

This site at the BBC (love the Beeb!) shows one artifact that is part of their History of the World in 100 artifacts.  The artifacts are part of the British Museum’s collection, and if you can’t find your way over the pond to London (airfare is atrocious!), then the podcasts that go along with the site at the Beeb can be another way to learn about history.  Each podcast episode takes a look at one particular artifact from the collection, and discusses the history around the artifact.  I listened to the podcast about this artifact last night.  Historians have argued over the function of the artifact for years – some say that Mayan athletes wore it, others say that’s preposterous, how can they, it’s something like 50 pounds.  I don’t know – those Mayans were tough, but I think maybe not that tough.

The game sounds fun, although challenging: you can’t use your hands, feet or head to move the ball (made of rubber) and it must be kept in the air.  Most of the time, you had to move the ball around with your hips.  I’m guessing that there were many a bruised athlete after one of those games!  (According to the Beeb site, the ball could weigh anywhere from 8 to 30 pounds)

What can we learn about a society if we examine their leisure pastimes?  What do our leisure pastimes say about us?


19 comments on “History isn’t just learned through moldy old books…

  1. Alex Abedi says:

    Those Mayans had some powerful hips.
    This game reminds me of the movie El Dorado.
    In this movie they had the losers sacrificed.

    • Greg Fazio says:

      This was amazing. I dont know if anyone could sustain a 50 pond belt today! Even then they would have to hit a ball around in the air with their hips. This is hard to imagine but i’m sure it was possible. This game sounds very brutal. I would never want to play this game.

  2. Nick Adamonis says:

    i cant believe that mayans wore a 50 pound weight around there waist while playing a sport. The game sounds fun though, very original. i couldn’t see myself playing it though. hiting a 3o pound ball around with my hips with a 50 pound belt dos not sound easy but i think i would enjoy watching it

  3. Alex Martin says:

    The Mayan’s were a very interesting civilization. When i wen to Guatemala i had the pleasure of seeing one of the ball courts they would play the games at. While i ever learnt that they wore 50 lb belts while playing! It would not surprise me if the mayans used the belt as part of a sacrifice before they began playing the game as the Mayan’s were well known for their sacrifices.

  4. Patrick Hulse says:

    For the Mayans it seems that the game was more for religious or political purposes rather than just pure fun. This contrasts with how for us most games are played for fun or to win rather than solve problems…with the exception of rock, paper, scissors. Also, I think that the fact that the belt has the symbol of the underworld might signify that it was worn by the loser as they were about to be sacrificed. This could also explain why it was so heavy and uncomfortable in comparison to the leather one worn during the game.

  5. Harout Boujakjian says:

    I think that would be considered more of a brutal pounding instead of a game. It is something that can either make or break a player. The huge weight would make a player even stronger because the ball was already a tremendous weight. I’m guessing in the end, whoever got the worst beating would probably be sacrificed.

  6. Kim Cerna says:

    That reminds me of when my dad and mom would take me and my little sister to Tikal for the summer, since we go to Guatemala every year (My dad is from there). And there, the tour guide would shows us the run down courts they used to play on. It’s amazing how much they could take during those times. Well our leisure times nowadays are all about our new gadgets and technology and how much time we spend on them. This shows how advanced we have gotten so far. We learn from the game that many people could have gotten hurt if they weren’t able to endure the game. And like I learned in Pre AP the Mayans weren’t ones to hesitate on sacrificing people. So, it’s not surprising that the losers might have been served for the sun god.

  7. Caleb Feehs says:

    I think that it is really interesting to see that people could show all of the world’s history in only 100 artifacts! Thats ALOT of condesing and probably alot of work to put together such a wide variation of artifacts from all history!

  8. […] Posted on August 24, 2010 by Jessica Hodgson An addendum to my recent post about the Mesoamerican ball game.  I found this site that is interactive and a nice mix of […]

  9. Connor Ellis says:

    I I believe that we could learn so much about the leisure pastimes of some civilizations. For example the Aztec played a lot of war games were the loser would end up dying. What we could learn from this is that the Aztecs were a war centered civilization.

  10. Shadid Sayed says:

    It is very interesting to see how time was spent “outside” of developing a society. Although this brutal version of volleyball may seem like an everyday sport for the Mayans, it can also be said that the sport was held for political, and ceremonial purposes. That was probably determined from the fact that the waistband-armor seemed too heavy for actual use, and was probably used to glorify a special person or even perhaps a team (if it were considered to be a trophy).

  11. Kazi Ahmed says:

    This artifact seems like it would be quite the burden to carry around, especially during a game. It seems to me that this game may have been used as a form of punishment for those who participated in it. The BBC website states that the belt resembled a cane toad, an animal which was associated with the underworld. Whoever wore the belt may have been considered to be from the underworld, or at the very least, that the wearer deserved punishment.

  12. Ellie Kyle says:

    The way certain people and societys spend their free time can say an awful lot about them. Like Patrick said, now-a-days sports are just for the purpose of fun and staying in shape. The Mayans may have found some of the things we do ridiculous, just like we think that playing a sport mainly with your hips while having a fifty pound weight attached to yourself is a little ridiculous. If only we could tell for sure how or why the game was played we could easier identify how their values were set up. Just like you can tell these days if someone runs often they probably value their health and such!

  13. Katie Yoon says:

    Back then, people had to get creative to pass the time. They didn’t have access to things we do today, such as the internet or cars. Everybody must have been in shape, because their original versions of the sports we play today seem extremely physically taxing. You can also learn about that societies values from their pastimes. They seem like they would’ve been smart and creative people, because they had nothing to work with, but they came up with games despite that. Now, almost everything is based off of a previous idea. If you look at our pastime hobbies today, they have become much more varied, with the incredible advancements in technology. We can drive to other events, play sports, watch movies, take pictures, write stories… whatever we want to do with our free time is pretty accessible now. One can determine how advanced a society may be by looking at some of their pastimes.

  14. Elise Covas says:

    Alot can be learned based on a civilizations games or sports. Take the Mayans and this game for example! The players needed to use their team mates to pass and win the game. One man could not play this game on his own! It revolved around teamwork. The Mayans were also a civilization who created massive architectural wonders (pyramids, temples)! This building production, like the game, could not be achieved by a single man! It would have taken alot of cooporation and teamwork to create such buildings! With this knowledge we can conclude that the Mayans valued teamwork and cooperative labor.
    We could scrutinize our society in the same way. People now a days like to watch tv, excersize, play music, read, create art, relax, and so much more! All the options we have in today’s society allow us all to find something we enjoy. And that seems to be what we value/encourage- individualism! Our society supports noncomformity, and you can see that within our wide range of hobbies.
    We can learn alot about a society based on what they considered fun. We can learn their vaules, their technological advancement, and more.

  15. Christopher Alvarenga says:

    i have to admit this looks pretty cool but wearing a 50 pound belt and hitting a ball that weighs about 30 pounds . this game sounds very brutal i definitely wouldnt want to play this game mainly because if i lost i would have to be sacrificed.

  16. Hilda Otchere says:

    Wow the Mayans must of been really tough, I know I would never have a 50 pound belt around my waist and hitting a 30 pound ball, with my lazy self. I feel that when you look at a society’s leisure past times and the way they live their ife you are able to find out alot about the people, and their views on things, and the way lived their lives.

  17. Taylor Slugg says:

    I believe that a culture’s pastime can tell us so much about that culture. Not only the concept of the game itself, but how they played, what they wore (or – didn’t wear), who watched, and what happened to the losers. I was reading the piece about the ‘Ceremonial Ballgame Belt’ and thought it was really interesting how they sometimes sacrificed the losers of the game, and how the underworld symbol was found on the belt. Also, an ancient culture’s pastime can be passed on to generations and like the article said, some parts of Mexico play a form of this game. I connected this civilizations perspective of the loser to our society. The loser of a game in the U.S. is usually looked down on, and while not to the extreme of sacrifice, the concept is the same and it teaches other societies about America’s competitiveness.

  18. Milen Asmorom says:

    The Mayans wearing 50 pound belts is pretty brutal and a hard working game but it shows how much of our leisure time activities have changed. This one seemed to be brutal but more of a group cooperation activity as for leisure activities in the present day are more of “you can do it yourself”.

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