The Mesoamerican Ballgame was central to the culture of pre-Columbian Central America, with Mayan kings using ah pitzlaw (he the ballplayer) as one of their royal titles. It is played with a rubber ball, which sometimes had human skulls for cores. The object of the game was to get the ball through a vertical hoop. Called many names throughout history, pitz, ulama and juego de pelota, this game has been played for 3000 years. Though usually a form of recreation, sometimes it would be played for ritual purposes, with the players of the losing side being sacrificed. [more inside]
The Aztecs at the Guggenheim. The hypercivilized, unimaginably savage Aztecs perceived the stability and very survival of the world in the view of their religion. The key belief was that certain gods, having sacrificed themselves to make human existence possible, demanded incessant repayment in kind. It seems that one of the reasons they could not resist Cortes was that they could not think outside the terms of a faith that they believed to account for all eventualities.
Aztecs at the Royal Academy. The exhibition may be over but the website can still be enjoyed.