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Archaeologists say that Mayas built watchtower-style structures atop ball court to observe sky
A section of a ceremonial ball court at the temples of Chichen Itza on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Mexican archaeologist Jose Huchim Herrera says they have determined that the ancient Mayas built watchtower-style structures atop the ceremonial ball court to observe the equinoxes and solstices, and they said that the discovery adds to understanding of the many layers of ritual significance that the ball game had for the culture. AP Photo/INAH.

By: Cristina Perez-Ayala

YUCATAN.- After almost two years’ restoration and integral conservation work, the Great Ball Game of Chichen Itza, the biggest in Mesoamerica, gradually recovered its original form with the reestablishment of a small staircase in the rear part of the ball court and the five passages the Mayan had built over the principal structures, these were also used to observe the path of the sun during the equinoxes and the solstices.

The restoration of these five structures, which archaeologists have defined as passages because they were used to observe the path of the celestial bodies, has enabled archaeologists to reassert the hypothesis stating that the Great Ball Game of that archaeological site in Yucatan had an astronomic function.

The previous information was reported by archaeologist Jose Huchim Herrera, coordinator of the Integral Conservation Project of Chichen Itza, who participated in the opening session of the XVII Roman Piña Chan Symposium, developed by the National Museum of Anthropology, as a part of the academic activities of the XXIV Anthropology and History Book Fair.

The National Institute of Anthropology and History’s (INAH – Conaculta) investigator explained that these structures were possibly in a place where the game’s overmen could watch the game, that is to say these observers supervised the game to make sure the ball passed through the ring or anything else that would have to be followed during the ritual.

Huchim Herrera said existing pre Hispanic models of the Ball Game picture characters located in three places: in the extremes and in the central part of the principal structures; and sources allude to the overmen, which is why there is a great possibility that the restored architectonic elements of the Great Ball Game had this astronomical function.

The passages are over the principal structures of the Great Ball Game; three are above the west structure (two in each extreme and one in the center) and two in the east (one in the center and another in the northern extreme).

The principal structures of the ball court are two large horizontal platforms, each have a type of sidewalk where the game’s rules are embossed. These platforms contributed to make this edification (which dates back to 864 AD and measures up to 120 meters [393.6 feet] long) famous worldwide.

Archaeologist Jose Huchim commented that 25 years ago, when he was in the process of studying his career in Archaeology, he made observations with his Professor Victor Segovia, pioneer in the study of pre Hispanic astronomy. Both were certain that the passages were oriented to the equinoxes and solstices: “We saw that middle passage did have an orientation that allowed the observation of equinoxes, which is why we thought it important to restore all five of them in order to prove they were built according to the sun’s patterns.

“Last year, as a part of the integral restoration Ball Game Project, we were able to restore the five passages up to 90 percent; I again made astronomical observations and could prove that one of them marks the winter solstice, the central passages mark the equinoxes and the north passages mark the summer solstice”.

This INAH-Yucatan Center investigator recalled that to pre Hispanic Mayans the sun was one of the most important elements in their rituals, it signaled the change in seasons and the start of a pertinent time to prepare the land for corn cultivation. The ball is an analogy of the sun and the movements of the game are an analogy of the path of this celestial body.

“The path of the sun, the fact that it rises from the east, that it arrives to its zenith, and that it hides in the west at a certain moment was reproduced with the movement of the ball during the ritual game”.

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