The Practice of Play in the Sport of Life and Death: Exploring Regional Variation in Ballgame Material Culture and Ideology

Author(s): Marijke Stoll

Year: 2015


There is little argument that the Mesoamerican ballgame was a ritualized and politicized communal sport with great geographical breadth and incredible time-depth. It is also commonly accepted that the ballgame, as a cultural institution, was intimately linked to a political, elite-centered ideology based on cosmology, sacrifice, and agriculture, related to sociocultural themes of conflict, competition, and the resolution or negotiation of both. This interpretation of the ballgame as ritual practice, however, has remained stagnant over the past several decades. Moreover, it disregards local and regional variation across time in both ballgame symbolism and ideology, leaving unexplored the significance that these differences and similarities entailed for Mesoamerican intra- and intercommunity social networks. In this paper, I address these issues by applying a practice-oriented approach to a regional investigation of ballgame material culture, including those objects and symbols associated with game performance and related activities. Importantly for the study of ritual and religion in the past, practice theory enables the exploration of the recursive relationship between materiality and ideology. Using this perspective, I will demonstrate how the specific ballgame practices that produced these regionalized material remains trace back to complementary, competing, and even overlapping ballgame ideologies.

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Cite this Record

The Practice of Play in the Sport of Life and Death: Exploring Regional Variation in Ballgame Material Culture and Ideology. Marijke Stoll. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396471)


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min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;