Christine Chen

Pok-A-Tok: A Mayan Ball Game

Christine Chen

In my recently found passion for pre-Colombian cultures, I went to visit Chichén Itzá, a world famous site of Mayan ruins in Yucatán, Mexico. The site hosts one of the largest surviving stone courts where the Maya once competed in a ball game sport called Pok-A-Tok, derived from the Yucatec Mayan word pokolpok.


The court at Chichén Itzá measures 551 feet long and 230 feet wide—about twice the size of an American football field— with surrounding walls that are 26 feet high. Teams of two to three players competed by using their padded elbows, arms, knees, thighs and shoulders—but no hands—to bounce a solid rubber ball through an inverted stone hoop in the center of the wall. The ball, ranging from the size of a softball to a soccer ball, could weigh up to 20 pounds.


Can you imagine how challenging it must have been to throw a 20-pound rubber ball through a 20-foot-high hoop without using your hands? According to my guide in Chichén Itzá, the feat proved so difficult that modern men were unable to replicate the game in the stone court!

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