|Well preserved ball court at Tonina, near Ocosingo, Chiapas|
On the January tour of the state of Chiapas, Mexico, our group of nine explored the ruins of five Mayan sites: Tonina, Palenque, Yaxchilan, Bonampak, and Chinkultik. Each one has a ball court, roughly the same size and design. Our guides ranged from terrific (at Palenque) to so bad I fired him after 15 minutes (Chinkultik). That guy was nothing more than a local worker on break hoping to pick up a few bucks by pretending to know something.
Most of the ruins have little signage in Spanish, almost none in English, and the bulk of what you can find out about the site is either within the on-site museum, if there is one, or from people who present themselves as guides. Most of them do not speak English. Our guide in Palenque was not only a fluent English speaker, he had interesting ways of presenting the material to make the memory of it stick and to prompt more questions. He gave the best explanation of how the Mayan world fell apart around the year 900 AD that I've ever heard. It included political, religious, and environmental problems, the most pressing of which were overpopulation (resulting in environmental degradation and starvation) and consequent lack of control by the governors. Royalty were considered Gods, and were well educated in poetry, art, politics, religion, literature and astronomy, but they couldn't seem to get a handle on the problems besetting the city-states. Sound familiar? Unfortunately our guide didn't seem to know a lot about the ball game.
|The "goal-post" is a sculpture of|
a captive, about to be
I will never look at a ballcourt the same way again. In fact, the way the "crack" runs down the middle, steeply rising on both sides, and the way it breaks at the ends to form a T shape is just how you might imagine a pierced turtle shell to break open.
See if you think the same way. Here are some photos of the very well-preserved court at Tonina.
|Closeup of the sides of the center section with the "goals".|
|The goal post, in the form of a captive|
|The small pyramid where the players were|
ultimately decapitated, in line with the
|Center court viewed from one side.|
|Some modern Mayans hanging around the ball court|
|Members of the tour group heading down from the|
highest pyramid in the Tonina group.