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Ancient Maya Ball Games Connected to Celestial Events

Oct 07, 2012 02:31 PM EDT
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Archaeologists have confirmed that the ritual of a ball game during the ancient Maya civilization was indeed followed to observe astronomical events like equinoxes and solstices.

Mexican archaeologists from the government's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) reconstructed most part of the ruined structures of the Maya ball court and crumbled staircases.

They found that the watch room-style structures that is built atop a ball court  at the temples of Chichen Itza in central Mexico were used to detect astronomical functions, reported the Associated Press.

They also restored five passages that the Maya people built to observe the astronomical events like the passing of the sun's rays during equinoxes and solstices.

In fact, a team of archaeologists led by Jose Huchim, coordinator of the Chichen Itza comprehensive conservation project, confirmed the astronomical event last year.

Huchim and his team found that the course of the central passage allowed a view of the equinoxes. Hence, they tried to restore all five passages to determine if they were built in line with the sun's declination, which is the measure of the angular distance between the sun's rays and the Earth's equatorial plane.

"Last year as part of the comprehensive restoration project ball game, we returned to the five passages 90 percent of its original form, returned to make astronomical observations and I saw that one of them marks the winter solstice, while the central passages, the equinoxes, and those to the north, the summer solstice ," Huchim said in a statement from INAH.

The ball game involved the players to move the ball using their elbows, knees or hips. Once they hit the ball, it has to pass through the stone ring on the walls. The movement of the ball replicated the journey of the sun's arc, reported Associated Press.

"The sun's course, ie to leave the east, reaching the zenith and is hidden by the west, at a given time is reproduced with the movement of the ball during the practice of ritual," said Huchim.

Huchim also said that the observers of the ball game were possibly stationed through the passages to see if the ball game is played according to the rituals.

The event was an important part of the ritual for the Mayas to detect the change in seasons, to maintain a calendar and to mark periods of agriculture such as growing maize or planting corn crops.

Experts are planning to open the ancient structures to visitors once they have restored the staircase leading to them.

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