Documenting the passed | ‘Cane ball’ trapped on celluloid

An ancient clay figure of ball player, discovered near Veracruz. (Copyright © Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, Cologne)

The Mystic Ball, however, does not represent the only World Cup–timed celebration of a football forebear. On Friday, the cultural program of the World Cup, in Hamburg, begins hosting reenactments of the ancient Mayan ball game of pok ta pok. The intent is to reconstruct a match as it might have been contested in ancient Mesoamerican cities such as Chichen Itzá, complete with ritualistic features and recognized pok ta pok competitors from Mexico.

The sport, similar to the Aztecs’ tlachtli and dated to as early as 1400 BCE, involves propelling a rubber ball with lower arms, shoulders or backsides (not the head or feet) through a raised ring. In addition to Hamburg, curiosity seekers in Dresden, Mainz, Bremen and Berlin will be able to attend performances.

Trying to make its own link to football’s beginnings, the German Patent Office must look to more recent history in its exhibit “FuíŸball und Technik.” While acknowledging Great Britain with creation in 1886 and 1887 of the inflatable ball and pump, the Germans take credit for the black-and-white hexagonal pattern that has become the recognized ball design of film and clip art. It was also a German patent that conceived a radio transmitter to determine a ball’s exact position. Alas, the system was not perfected in time for this World Cup.


We thank “Desde la Tribuna” for guiding us to the material on Mystic Ball.

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