UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ballcourts, competitive games, and the emergence of complex society Hill, Warren D.


The processes that accompany the transition to social and political inequality have perplexed archeologists in their attempts to explain the emergence of complex society. Over the past decade, archaeological excavations in the Mazatan region of Chiapas, Mexico, has yielded new information on the processes surrounding this social and political transformation. Most recently, the earliest known ballcourt was discovered at the site of Paso de la Amada in the Mazatan region. This ballcourt predates all other known ballcourts by more than 500 years. For over 2500 years, ballcourts and the associated ballgame formed an integral part of religious, social, and political life of Mesoamerican complex societies. The tremendous success of the ballgame lies in its ability to act as a medium of social and political integration while simultaneously encouraging intense rivalry. This dissertation uses ballcourts and competitive games to address the larger question of how social and political inequality evolves. Using architectural, artifactual, and settlement pattern data, I argue that an emerging complex society was involved in the construction and use of the ballcourt at Paso de la Amada. I suggest that elites sponsored the ballcourt construction, enabling them to expand their regional networks and enhance their own social positions. I present evidence to support these claims, and review several existing models for the emergence of complex society in light of this discovery. I conclude that competitive games and gaming facilities, such as ballcourts, played a crucial role in the emergence of complex society in Mesoamerica and have significant implications for how this process is modeled.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.