The Mesoamerican Ballgame: An Interactive Website

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I just spent over an hour at a great website I found.  It is www.ballgame.org and it was the companion website to an exhibit that toured from September 2001 through December 2002.  The exhibit was called The Sport of Life and Death: The Mesoamerican Ball Game.

The website is engaging and well laid out.  The common theme is the ancient ball game played in Mesoamerica for over 3000 years.  There is information on various cultures:  the Olmec, the people of Western Mexico, the city of Teotihuacan, the Maya, the ancient people of Veracruz, the Toltecs, the Huastecs, and the Aztecs.  There are four major parts to the website, including information on the now defunct exhibit.

The first part is called Explore the Mesoamerican World.  When you enter this section there is an interactive timeline that illustrates the rise and fall of several civilizations.  The map is loaded with information on the culture, artwork, ballgames and archeological sites where the ballgame was played. Information can be accessed by clicking on the map, on the time line dates, or on the menu to the left of the map.  The civilizations mentioned above are included and there is also a segment on the Spanish Conquest.

The second part of the site is called Explore the Ball Game.  This section is divided into information about the Ball, the Uniform, the Ball Court and the Game.

The page about the ball has four components: artwork depicting an offering of a rubber ball by a priest (click on it for illustration), a slide show on how the rubber balls were made (from tree to molding), an interactive game that offers interesting facts about rubber and the balls, and a series of first hand accounts written by Europeans who witnessed the game when they came to the New World.

The Uniform page is illustrated with statues and also has a menu to explain each element. The Parade of Players has a wide assortment of clay figures of ball players and spectators that are clearly labeled with arrows.  The Mascots are various animal carvings worn by the players or used to decorate the ball courts – each figure is labeled with interesting pieces of information about the uniform, the players, and animal symbolism. The Locker Room shows more stone replicas of ball player equipment with explanations.  After learning about the parts of the uniform, one can then dress a player for a game.  Watch out – the “hacha” was tricky to place…

The Court page has five interactive parts.  First, there is video panorama of the Mayan ball court at Copan (Honduras).  Click on “Listen to an Aztec Song” and there is a three-part musical rendition of the Matlatzincayotl, which was an ancient song honoring Xochipilli – the patron god of the ball game.  There is an interactive diagram of a ball court with explanations that appear when you move your cursor over parts of the illustration. Finally, there is a gallery of artwork from ball courts, with explanations and symbols clearly pointed out and explained.  In another link to historical art,  there is a cylindrical vase that tells a story.

The Game page has a video clip re-enacting a ball game from the National Geographic Special called “Lost Kingdoms of the Maya”. There are links to click on that ask “Did Women Play?”, “What Happened to the Losers?”, “The First Dream Team” compares ancient sports with those played today, and there is a depiction of the Mayan glyph for ball player.  My favorite link is “Explore this Artwork” which explains how the creation story of Popol Vuh – the Hero Twins is contained within the design on a plate. Be sure to click on the diagram and line drawing to get the full effect.

Experience the Game is a section in two parts: Watch the Game (or Be a Fan) is a narrative interpreting an elaborate clay model of a ball court with players and spectators. You can also click on the links for close ups of the model.  It is interesting, once you get used to the idea that no actual game will be played in the segment.  The final activity: Play the Game (Be a Player) is a great trivia game.  Players who answer correctly win a point for their team.  It can be played more than once – maybe three times before the questions begin repeating themselves.  These questions might also be transcribed for a quiz.

If you click on the Classroom Connections link at the bottom, there are four art projects with instructions: Make a paper face mask, Create a clay effigy vessel, Craft a headdress and costumes from paper, and Mold clay ballgame figures.  In fact, if you click on the different instruction links, there are charts and diagrams that can be printed out – information that I didn’t see anywhere else in the site.  These included a Cosmic Diagram, Story of Popol Vuh, Animal Imagery, a Pronunciation Guide, a Glossary of Terms related to the Mesoamerican Ballgame, and other printables.

This is a very rich website that should be suitable for upper elementary to adult learners (I liked it and learned a lot!).

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