Image of a scientist holding an ancient circular artifact

This ancient stone weighs about 88 pounds.


Play Ball!

Last spring, archaeologists were digging in Mexico. They were in an ancient city called Chichén Itzá (chee-CHEN eet-SAH) when they spotted an unusual object. Researchers brushed off the dirt covering the disc. They discovered writings and drawings etched into the circular stone. 

Experts think the heavy disc was used about 1,200 years ago in one of the oldest sports in the world. The stone is also the latest look at the lives of a powerful ancient civilization.

Ahead of Their Time

The Maya lived in an area known as Mesoamerica. The region stretched from what is now Mexico to Central America. The Maya civilization likely began around 1500 B.C.

The Maya were ahead of their time. They had a strong understanding of math, science, and writing. They built cities, roads, and farms.

Jim McMahon/Mapman®

Maya Mysteries

The Maya also excelled in sports and games. One was a ball game called pok-ta-pok (see “An Ancient Game,” below). Experts think the recently uncovered stone was used as a marker on a pok-ta-pok court.

“There are 13 known courts at Chichén Itzá,” explains archaeologist David Friedel. “So the game must have been important to leaders of the city.”

But exactly why this game was played remains a mystery. A form of ancient writing called hieroglyphics appears on the stone. Few items with this type of writing have ever been found at this site. Historians are working hard to crack the code.  

The Maya Empire began to crumble about 1,100 years ago. But archaeologists believe there are still more secrets of the Maya just waiting to be found.