Archaeologists: the Mayans used the ashes of their rulers to create sports balls

While some peoples embalmed and mummified their dead kings, the ancient Maya added their ashes to pelota balls. This was told by archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico, who discovered more than 400 vessels with a mixture of dust, ash, rubber and plant roots during excavations of the Temple of the Sun. All this was used for the manufacture of sports equipment.

After comparing [this find] with the written records of the Mayan site, it turned out that the cremated remains were used to make rubber balls for the ritual game of Pelot.

archaeologists of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History

Pelota is an ancient ball game that is still popular with some indigenous Central American peoples today. True, unlike their ancestors, contemporaries do not add the ashes of prominent political figures to the composition of the balls.

The use of ashes is largely based on the messages engraved on the three scoring rings that mark the boundaries of the pelota court. They were found in the same place in Tonina in southern Mexico, where excavations were carried out. According to these inscriptions, three ancient dignitaries were taken to the “Cave of the Dead”, where they underwent a 260-day “transformation” process.

The Temple of the Sun in Tonin is a large pyramid, under which, at a depth of eight meters, a long labyrinth winds with many interconnected rooms. In one of these rooms, very reminiscent of a crypt, there were human remains and balls dated approximately to the 7th-8th centuries AD.

The ancient Maya believed that the remains of rulers and prominent personalities had a special power, so they tried to use them for the benefit of the whole people.

It is amazing how the Maya imagined the transformation of the body. This helps to better understand the ancient society: for these people, the rulers were the fate that belonged to the whole people.

Juan Yadeun Angulo


Image: Rubi Rodriguez Martinez / Shutterstock

The labyrinth of the Temple of the Sun was discovered quite by accident: in 2020, the keepers of the historical complex stumbled upon a passage buried in soil and covered with a stone slab depicting a bound captive.

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