Having a Ball

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Ancient Egypt mummified its pharaohs to preserve their bodies for use in the afterlife.

The Maya civilization, meanwhile, turned the ashes of their rulers into rubber balls and used them to play sports, the Telegraph reported.

That was the conclusion of an archaeological team after discovering 400 urns containing ashes, coal, rubber and roots at the Sun Temple at the Toniná archaeological site in southern Mexico. Built between the seventh and eighth centuries CE, they believe the temple was used for cremations.

The team also came across a number of stone carvings depicting three Mayan rulers who died between 722 and 776 CE being taken to the “cave of the dead” for “transmutation.”

This transmutation actually meant the ancient rulers’ ashes were mixed with plant roots and rubber to make heavy balls used for pelota, a game that served as a sacred ritual in Mesoamerica for thousands of years.

Archaeologist Juan Yadeun Angulo also noted that the Toniná site has a well-preserved sunken ball court where the ancient Maya played the ritualistic sport.

“We have evidence they were incorporated into balls,” he said.

Pelota has been around for about 3,000 years and was considered a focal point of ancient Maya cities, symbolizing wealth and power. The rules of the game are still unknown but essentially, the goal was to keep a roughly nine-pound rubber ball in play using the hips.

Some scholars suggested that the sport would end in human sacrifice.

Still, a modern version of the game – called ulama – is still played by some indigenous communities. It doesn’t involve sacrifices.

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