Vay Kay

Hey guys, I am going to be on vacation until Thursday. I may or may not write posts. Enjoy yourselves.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Toba Catastrophe

Lets just say you wanted to prove that, in fact, Noah did save all the animals. How would you do it? Probably the most certifiable way to do this would be to analyze the mitochondrial DNA of each species (or a only a few if you’re lazy), and see whether or not the variations suggest a population bottleneck at a certain point in time. Why use mitochondrial DNA? I’m glad you asked. Consider the normal DNA in our bodies. When you are created, your DNA is a gooey mixture of the genetics of your father and your mother (a notable exception is made for the male Y chromosome). However, the DNA in your mitochondria (the energy producing organelle in your cells) are received only from your mother, meaning they remain intact. It also turns out that mitochondrial DNA mutates significantly faster than normal DNA. So, by comparing the minute changes, you can trace your lineage back to a very certain point. You can also, by sampling a population, see if they have a common female ancestor. So, one would expect that if Noah did put all those animals onto an ark, that we could not only tell that it happened, but also pinpoint, with in a certain degree of accuracy, what year it happened.

If, for example, you started with the Great Panda, things would be looking in your favor. Genetic evidence has it that the Giant Panda almost went extinct about 43,000 years ago. That’s a bit old for Noah, but its a good start. It would be even more exciting if you tried the Golden Snub Nosed Monkey, as they almost went extinct at around the same time period. Unfortunately, your luck runs out there, animals worldwide show a remarkable amount of mitichondrial genetic diversity. Well, then if Noah and his kin were the the ones to survive the flood, then we should be able to see it in the genetic register. In fact, Stanley Ambrose at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana investigated this in 1998, and found something remarkable. Genetic evidence suggests that modern humans are descended from a group of 1,000 – 10,000 individuals, dating back to 70,000 – 75,000 years ago. Yes you read that right. There is a distinct possibility that the human race was limited to a population 1/3 of Green Bay. Humans were known to be around at least 140,000 years ago, so what caused them all to die off to such a small group?

It turns out that 70 – 75,000 years ago there was a massive volcanic explosion in what is now the Toba caldera. This eruption was a category – 8 (which classifies it as being “mega – colossal”). It was 3,000 times as big as the Mt St Helens eruption, an energy release greater than a giga ton of TNT. The earth was going through an ice age at the

Uh oh.

Uh oh.

time, and this made it way, way worse. Not bad enough to kill off the human race though.

At this point in time there is an excavation in India which suggests that another pocket of humans survived through the volcanic fallout. So the Toba disaster may not be as catacolysmic as many would have you believe. In fact, evolution takes its course much faster in smaller pockets, so this bottleneck may have been crucial for the development of the modern human.  Its scary to think about, but it is a good reminder of how risky it is to be living on this planet.

Published in: on July 23, 2009 at 10:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Dutch East India Company

The phrase “too big to fail” is getting thrown around a lot these days. Its been fun and terrifying to sit on the sidelines and watch our nation’s greatest comanies implode. Bankrupcies of this magnitude are by no means limited to this century. In fact, just as the fledgeling United States was spreading her wings or some bird metaphor, the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (the Dutch name for the corporation, we’ll call it the VOC) was being taken over by the government, a move that would cripple the country with debt well into the next century. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned? Probably not, we know what we’re doing.

A bond from the VOC

A bond from the VOC

The economic climate in the late 16th century was not advantageous to the Dutch. Portugal had exclusive control over the spice trade, and had no real relations with the Dutch.  Despite this, the Portuguese were unable to cope with the rising demand for pepper in Europe. In addition, the Portuguese, due to an alliance with Spain, were technically at war with the Dutch, and were getting spanked. Many Dutch had served on Portuguese vessels, and knew the trade routes very well. So, starting in 1598, enterprising Dutch all over the Republic would slap together a fleet, sail to the East Indies, and would come back, often to profits of 400%. This was however, not without its price. The Portuguese were obviously going to defend their trade routes, and some fleets would lose half their men in a single journey. When each fleet would return, they would liquidate their holdings, and would then do it all over again.

 Within 4 years their trade volume exceeded that of Portugal’s. It didn’t take long before the central hubs of trade in the Netherlands realized that it was to their benefit to pool their rescources. It meant that they could even out the risk and pool their rescources in defending their ships. It also meant that they would have greater control over supply and demand, again evening out the market. Finally, it meant that economy of scale would work in their favor, and they could outcompete anybody else. In 1602, the Dutch government allowed a 21 year charter for the VOC, giving them a monopoly over the trade, and also gave them the authority to wage war on their behalf. The company was run by elected governors from each of the six trading hubs in the Republic, I’ll call them the G17 (standing for the Gentlemen 17, as they were known).

 The VOC proceeded to dominate, both in terms of trade, and in terms of blowing stuff up. They set up their main center in the Asia in what is now Jakarta, the current capitol of Indonesia. One major problem was that the Asians really only wanted to trade their spices for gold and silver, of which there is a notable lack in the Netherlands. They had two options: 1. Create a trade surplus with other nations so they could get gold which was lame because it meant dealing with the people they had just screwed over, and it is a giant hassle, or 2: Create a separate trade network within Asia, and using the profits from that to fund their operation. They went with 2 beacause it is an awesome idea. By 1669, they had a force of 150 merchant ships, 40 warships, 50,000 employees, and a private army of 10,000 soldiers. If you had invested with the initial charter, you would have earned an annual dividend of 40%. In fact, over the history of the corporation, you could expect an average dividend of 18%. No joke.


VOC HQ in Amsterdam.

VOC HQ in Amsterdam.

1670 presented the first major obstacle of the VOC. First off, the Japanese sealed themselves off from the Western world. This meant that the VOC could no longer count on them for silver and gold. They made do, though it was just a major shakeup. The second thing is that there was a war with England, which drove the price of pepper up, and the English tried to get in on that action. The VOC did what they always did and flooded the market with more pepper and waited it out. This worked, but they eventually ceded significant parts of their empire to other corporations. In addition, the tastes of Europe at the time were changing, and it meant that the VOC had to diversify, which meant significantly lower profit margins. The vast profits they had enjoyed due to high margin spices and silks was no longer sustainable.

This marked the beginning of the end for the VOC. There were some major shakeups in Asia, which meant that the intra-Asian trading network they had developed fell apart. It also turned out that working for the VOC was not very good for you. Ship travel at the time was not distinctly unhealthy, especially during wartime, and this lead to a high mortality rate. The bookeeping of the VOC was also decentralized. As you may recall the corporation was made up of a confederation of 6 trading hubs, who each kept their own records. Because of this, it was difficult for them to balance dividends with revenue, as the cirrency was different in each city. In the later years, they ended up paying more in dividends than they brought back in revenue, a difference which they made up by borrowing money backed by future revenue, which was slowly declining. The icing on the cake was that the English got their act together and sank nearly half the ships in the VOC’s armada.

In 1796, the Dutch government took over the VOC and tried to float it, but by the turn of the century the corporation dissolved. The holdings were mostly taken over by the English and the Danes, and the Dutch government was stuck with their debt. One of the major failings of the VOC was thei inflexibility. To be fair, they were the first to ever have to a multinational corporation; however, their only stock offering was at the conception of the corporation, and they never changed up their Modus Operundi. Their bookkeeping method didn’t change for 200 years. Imagine if we still notated our doings on paper. They were also staunchly unable to drop Jakarta as a central hub, meaning all goods flowed through that port. This became extremely inefficient in the later years. There are many analogies to our current situation, and I will not be explicit about them, but for sure, we can take this as a cautionary tale.

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 7:27 pm  Leave a Comment  
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A brief history of Jerusalem, Part I

The city of Jerusalem is always in the news. The conflict that rages through its streets does not seem to end despite the entire world calling for sanity. A lot is at stake in the city. It plays a major role in 3 of the world’s major religions. It has been at the epicenter for nearly every major geo-politcal movement in the region for nearly 3000 years. The only way that the city can be understood today is by stepping back to 1000 BCE, and following the conflict to today. Over the course of 3 posts I will show you all the events that led to the modern city of Jerusalem.

Although burial sites dating back to 4500 BCE have been found, popular thought has it that the earliest reference to the city is in Genesis 18:14, wherein the city of Salem is mentioned. The first concrete reference, however, are clay tablets dating to the mid 1300’s BC which show correspondence between the pharaoh of Egypt and the king of a kingdom based out of the city of Urasalim. It seems that he was a puppet of the kingdom of Egypt. Liberal estimates put the population of his realm at around 1,500.

The wall that David built

The wall that David built

In 1025, the tribes of Israel united to form a kingdom. At this point in time, Jerusalem was inhabited by a race of people called the Jebusites. The Isrealites tried several times unsuccessfully to invade the city. It was only when King David used some form of sneakiness (historians cannot agree on what means) to take over the walled hill city. He then built a temple at the top of the hill. A sanctuary exists at the alleged spot today. He also commenced a temple that was to house the Ark of the Covenant.

King Solomon succeeded his father Kind David, and finished the temple for the Ark. He not only built this temple to Yarweh, but shrines to many different deities. He also built a palace for himself, secured a significant water supply for the city, and significantly strengthened the fortifications. Although there are records of these things being built, there is a lack of supporting archaelogical evidence. Many sources claim that this was a time of prosperity for the city, while others say that Jerusalem could barely function as a city state.

In 935 King Solomon died, and 10 of the tribes refused to accept his son as their king. So they split from Israel, and formed the kingdom of Judah. This marks the end of what is called the First Temple Period, in reference to the Temple of Solomon. Jerusalem at this point was the only real religious shrine in the kingdom, and evidence has been found of pilgrims at this point in time.

Jerusalem remained the capital of Judah for nearly 400 years. During this time the city survived an assault by an Assyrian force that not 20 years earlier had taken out the capital of the Israeli kingdom. Not necessarily by means of force. Legend has it that an angel came down and took out the force of 185,000. Another source at the time says that the Judean kind gave a lot of gold to the invading force, convincing them to go away. Another theory is that the Assyrian troops contracted cholera. Regardless, in 597 the Babylonians invaded, and it was not pretty. A governor on behalf of Nebuchadnezzar was placed in the city, however he rebelled. This was a dumb idea. Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of the most powerful kingdom in the region, and he sent an army that captured the rebel, killed his family before his eyes, and then plucked out his eyeballs so that his families demise would be the last thing he ever saw. The Babylonians burned the temple and the city walls. A year later, a distant relative of the rebel assasinated the current king. The remaining population of Judah then fled to Egypt.

In 537 the Persian empire, under Cyrus II, took over Jerusalem and allowed the Jews to return and rebuild their temple, which was completed in 516. The walls were rebuilt and the currency of Persia was circulated throughout the former kingdom (consider my previous post on Roman Currency, to understand how important this fact is). Jerusalem remained the center of Jewish worship.

More stuff left over from the time of David

More stuff left over from the time of David

The next regime to roll through was Alexander the Great in 312, and then quickly came under the control of Ptolemy I, where they kept the some currency. Then, in 198 Jerusalem the Seleucids took over the city using a bunch of armoured horses. During this time, many Jews started to come under the influence of Greek culture, and turned their intentions towards Jerusalem. They didn’t so much care for this, and in 165 rebelled as chronicled by  Maccabeas, forming the Hasmonean empire. This was done with an alliance with the Romans. It was this rebellion that lead to the creation of the holiday Hanukkah. The Hasmonean Empire lasted for 104 years, and ended when Pompey took control. I will, however, end things here.

We can already see a number of themes emerging already. First we have already seen how the city is constantly under bombardment. However, despite this, the Jewish residents of the city have been remarkably tenacious in their beliefs, culminating in a rebellion when the Greeks tried to exert their culture. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but its a lot of the same.

Published in: on July 22, 2009 at 2:23 am  Comments (1)  
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Kowloon Walled City

Have you seen the movie Blade Runner? Or Batman Begins? Or really any movie where it is dark all the time in the streets of a dripping city? Well, that zeitgeist is based off of a real place, a walled city outiside of Hong Kong that dates back to the 10th century. It no longer exists, it was knocked down in 1993. It occupied 31,000 square yards and, at the time they decided to tear it down, had roughtly 50,000 occupants, giving the city one of the highest population densities in history. This enclave was created by the inabilities of both the British and Chinese governments to effectively negotiate.

A rare rootop view of the "Ghettopolis"

A rare rootop view of the "Ghettopolis"

The Kowloon Walled City started off as an outpost for the Song Dynasty to look for pirates and to manage the booming salt trade. There are no specific dates as to when it was first constructed, but we do know that it was tured into a fort in the mid-1800’s. In 1842, the nearby Hong Kong island was given to the British, so the Chinese used this fort as a means to check up on their British neighbors. 47 years later, the area that became Hong Kong was given to England. However, the Walled City was excluded, despite being well withing this territory, and still belonged to the Chinese. China was allowed to keep troops there, as long as they didn’t interfere with Britains rule. Britain was supposed to keep out, but a year later, in 1899, they attacked, but found a deserted city. The British abandoned the fort, and in so doing left ownership of the city to be a legal grey area. Until WWII, the city was a tourism hot spot, as the architecture was the same as in “Old China”. The population at that point was estimated to be roughtly 700, with most living in tents. In WWII, the Japanese demolished the surrounding wall to be used in the construction of a nearby airfield. It was after the Japanese departure, at the end of the war, that the modern iteration of Kowloon City begand to emerge.

Squatters moved in, and the area quickly became a criminal hotspot. Despite the terms of various treaties, Britain tried several times in 1948 to drive people out. This proved a distinctly poor choice, as any attempts at incursion were met with riots. Mainland China was having its own problems, as this was a particularly tumultuous time for the country. In fact, with the success of the People’s Revolution, thousands of refugees came to the city because of the hands off attitude of the enclave. In 1959 there was a murder in the city, and both governments responded by trying to prove that the other government was in charge. The crime was eventually forgotten.

 The city slowly came under the control of The Triad, a gang based out of Hong Kong. Despite their presence, the better part of the population was not involved in criminal activities. In fact, the Triad had little impact on the day to day lives of the residents. Many people came to the city because there were no taxes or licenses. For example, many dentists operated there because they did not want to have to deal with Hong Kong’s expensive and complicated licensing system. Many factories sprung up in the cities, and by the late ’60’s there was even a kindergarten. There was a food court (no joke, but it served dog meat) and even a temple in the heart of the city. In many ways it was a self-sufficient colony. In between 1971 and 72 the Hong Kong police launched over 3,000 raids against the Triad. Over 2,500 people were arrested, and the organized criminal element was elminiated. The city still was a center for the opium trade, and was well known for its brothels and gambling.

The KWC, circa 1980, with approx. 40k residents.

The KWC, circa 1980, with approx. 40k residents.

With the Triad out of the picture, the population exploded. Electicity was flagrantly stolen from Hong Kong’s main lines. Water was taken from a series of deep wells, and was pumped to tanks on the top of the city. The water made its way down the city through makeshift pluming. Because of this, it was always dripping, and an umbrella was almost always necessary to bring along. The citizens built their own strutures one on top of the other. No engineers or architects were present, and the city quickly became one giant superstructure. The only rules for its construction were that buildings could not exceed 14 stories, as there was an airport nearby, and electricity had to be pumped in. One of the biggest hazards of day to day life in the city was fire. Many humianitarian organizations donated flourescent bulbs to the city to keep it from burning up. Despite this organization, there was a general lack of sanitation. There was no system for getting rid of refuse. One of the reasons that there was so much upward growth was due to fact that refuse was just thrown out of the windows, and streets were made on top of previous piles of trash. Sewage flowed out of the city in canals. In fact, the common knowledge had it that if you were an ousider and you dared enter the Walled City, you would most likely exit face down in one of those canals.

Despite the rampant anarchy, by all counts the crime rate was lower in the Walled City than in either Hong Kong or the average for urban China at the time. However, the city was always in the news, and the coverage was overwhelmingly negative. In 1984, the Chinese and British governments came together to evacuate and demolish the city. Residents were offered due compensation, and in 1992, demolition was completed. Some Japanese explorers took a week to go through the city and document its interior. This seems interesting, but I can’t look at their website for more than ten seconds without getting dizzy:

Expedition Story

There is a City Park on the site now, which gives reverence to the history of the 7 acre plot of land. You can still even find pieces from the original wall, dating back to the Song Dynasty. As I mentioned earlier, the Walled City plays a very important role in our modern culture. Jackie Chan even filmed there at one point while the City was being knocked down. The film Bloodsport took place in the actual city, checkit:


Here’s another film of the city, it definitely captures how its just a wall of buildings in the middle of Hong Kong:

Kowloon Walled City

You can definitely tell where we got the mood of Blade Runner and Batman Begins. Part of me wishes it was still around today, and the other half of me is glad that it is only a memory.

Published in: on July 20, 2009 at 5:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Able Archer

It 1983, probably one of the tensest years of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. In November of that year, the US conducted wargames in conjunction with NATO. Unfortunately, due to massive intelligence failures, the Soviet Union thought that the US was about to launch a surprise nuclear attack, and were one step away from launching a retaliation. The Soviet Union, no offense, is great because it has some of the most spectacular failures the modern world has ever seen. This documentary”1983: Brink Of Apocalypse” does a very good job of breaking down the events leading to the 6 day escalation that occured during the Able Archer exercises. It was produced by the British, so they take every chance they get to whine about being left out of everything:

Published in: on July 18, 2009 at 3:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Ring of the Fisherman

The Ring of the Fisherman is an official part of the Pope’s regalia. The pope, by tradition, is viewed to be the sucessor to St. Peter, who was, by trade before Jesus-ing a fisherman. Each ring is unique. Every time a pope dies, his ring is destroyed in the presence of the highest Cardinal. This is obviously to prevent forgeries or backdating of official documents. Each new pope has his own ring cast out of gold, and it is placed on the third finger of his right hand.

The first we hear of the Ring of the Fisherman is in 1256 when Clement IV mentions it in a letter to his nephew. It was used then to seal all private correspondence, where there was a different stamp that used lead to seal public documents. This continued until the 15th century, when it was then used to seal all documents of the Pope. In 1824, the use of the ring as a seal ended. The ring, even throughout history, was more of a symbol of the Pope than a practical seal. It is still customary to kiss the ring of the Pope when you meet him.

This is Benedict XVIs ring. Kiss it.

This is Benedict XVI's ring. Kiss it.

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 5:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Roman Currency

Consider this: in terms of area, the Roman currency system at its height was more widely used the the Euro is today (this will not be the case soon). Julius Caesar turned the currency into propeganda when he put his visage on a coin. One showed his support for different emporers based off of what coins you were using. Can you imagine that today? “I can’t accept that $10 bill, I don’t support Alexander Hamilton’s views on central banking.” Regardless, I found a brief article where some guy, using contemporary prices of bread, talks about the actual purchasing power of Roman denarii. Enjoy:

Published in: on July 17, 2009 at 3:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Economy, PA

In 1703, George Rapp, persecuted because of his split with the Lutheran Church, purchased 3,000 acres of land in what is now Pennsylvania, and left Germany forever with 400 of his followers to found a town with hopes of economic and religious freedom. They would go on to build a society that, at one point, Thomas Jefferson hoped would be a model for new United States of America. The Harmonites, as they called themselves, were together for almost 100 years, but then they went the way of the rest of the new American Utopias.

The Harmonites called their first town Harmony, go figure. They pooled all of their goods, and called themselves a commonwealth, working for the common good of their religious  and economic ideals. They believed that in their lifetimes they would see the second coming of Christ, and for that reason they lived their life purely. This meant that they remained celibate, saved lots of money, and strived to maintain a high quality of life. The town of Harmony exploded, and by 1814, their numbers were at 800, there were 140 buildings in their town, and had all the modern trappings of a well to do town, without sacrificing the religious ideals that they held so dear. That year, they sold the land for 10x its original price, and moved to Indiana, where they purchased a 25,000 acre plot of land, and did the same thing all over again. Then, for the last time, in 1824, they picked up, and moved back to Pennsylvania, where they founded the town of Economy.

This is George Rapps house, very elegant.

This is George Rapp's house in Economy, very elegant.

It was here, that, by 1830, it is considered that they built the most economically successful independant society in colonial America. It had stone paved roads with drainage. Several buildings were heated with steam. Behind the great hall was a sizeable greenhouse that was put on tracks, so that it could be removed during the spring and summer. Many outside of the commune called for its dissolution by the state of Pennsylvania because their textile manufacturing was considered to be a monopoly. In addition to this they had bountiful farmlands. It was because of this success of the “manufacturer next to agriculture” that T.J. took a keen interest in the society.

They kept all of their wealth for the good of their church. It is estimated, that at its height in 1868, their great hall heald over half a million dollars in gold. They also kept an extremely high standard of living. Their city was spotted with well maintained parks, one of which had a labyrinth. At one point they had a decent orchestra. Many of their constituents

A garden in Economy

A garden in Economy

collected art. They were always on top of the latest technology, and were considered instrumental in the development of the railroad in Pennsylvania. They even donated land that would eventually become Geneva College.

Despite their wealth, there were serious problems afoot, rooted in their religious convictions. The no procreating rule really was a problem. Not only for the fact that no children were around, but because no one wanted to join their world. It so happened that in 1832 almost a third of their membership left with a man who proclaimed himself to be a prophet. Also, he would let them finally bang each other. Then George Rapp’s brother, who was considered the mastermind behind the economic efficiency of the commune, Frederick, died in 1847. As the population grew older, they hired out more and more of their work, and eventually were deep in dept. In 1906 they sold all but 6 acres to the American Bridge Company, who renamed the town Ambridge. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania bought up the final 6 acres in 1916, containing the better part of the original buildings, and the entire town is maintained in very good condition. You can still go see it today, and it is on the National Historic Register.

Published in: on July 16, 2009 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Deathsport: The Mayan ballgame

A modern player, in Aztec garb

A modern player, in Aztec garb

Imagine this, if you will, a ball game with high enough stakes that if you were the captain of the losing team, there was good chance that your head would be cut off and used for the next game. Archaeological evidence from the Post-classical period suggests that this did, in fact, happen. Many suggest that this game was a metaphor for the Mayan creation myth. to this day, people of Mayan descent still play a variation on this game, sans decapitation.

In classical Mayan, the game is known as pitz. It is played by 2 teams, on a pitch divided in half. Much of the information about the game we get from observations by Conquistadors as well as from archaelogical investigation. In the earlier days of the game, it seem that the game was very much like a game of netless volleyball. Each team would try to get the ball across the net using their hips, forearms, or really any part of your body. Sometimes in the beginning sticks were used. I will take this time to mention that the ball was made out of rubber. Like rubber from a tree.  We have not found a ball that can conclusively be said to have been used on the courts, but it is estimated that it was the size of a volleyball, but weighed 10 times as much. Modern players have permanent bruises on their hips from the game. One Spaniard mentions seeing bruises so bad they had to be lanced, and that he had seen people killed from getting hit by the ball in the head and “in the intestines”. To this day, the basic rule seems to be: don’t use your hands or your feet.

At some point, in the Post-Classical period, someone put stone rings on the sides at the halfway mark of the court. Evidence shows that a game would be won if you were to pass the ball through the stone ring, however points were lost for an attempt that ends in failure. Points were gained by a team if the ball hit the wall on the opposite end. You could also lose points by letting the ball bounce twice, or by hitting the ball out of bounds. Passing the ball through the hoop did not happen all that often. For example the hoop at Chichen Iza (the biggest ball court) is 18 feet off the ground.

Dive asshole

Dive asshole

Piltz has been played continuously for over 2700 years, and has played extremely different roles in the culture of the Mesoamericans. Evidence shows that it was played casually, and also that it was literally, a life or death struggle that was a metaphor centered around the Mayan creation myth. Lets step back for a second, and consider the role that Football plays in American culture. Kids play this game all the time when they’re young. People play this at barbeques. And if you believe the commericials, the Superbowl is the end all, be all of human physical and moral achievement. Football also has its roots in Midieval England when a ball was placed in between two towns, and, by whatever means necessary, whoever got the ball back to their town was the winner. The forward pass wasn’t even legal until 1906. But I digress, my point is, that sports, despite instant replay, are a nebulous and evolving form of interaction.

There were also various stages of dress for this game. In the beginning, people wore reinforced loinclothes so they didn’t

This is a carving of what a Pitz Player probably looked like

This is a carving of what a Pitz player probably looked like

 shatter their hips. Headresses and chest protectors were added to the repetoir later on. Some teams even wore some sort of crazy yoke. What is interesting is that ceremonial forms of almost all aspects of the game have been found. For example, there are often paintings of shamen bringing a ball with a quetzal feather to a temple. There are stone yokes all over the place, that were most likely used in preceding ceremonies. Evidence suggests that Pitz was often used to settle inter-city disputes, instead of warfare. Pitz is directly featured in their creation myth. In the end of the myth, forces of the earth and the underworld battle it out on the ballcourt for control of the human realm.

There is significant evidence, also, to show that often times the powers that be would round up some undesireables, and pit them against the best players, just so the population would see some guys getting their heads chopped off. Just like major sports events now, the movers and skakers in Mesoamerican culture would come to see the major games being played. In fact, in 1528, Cortes sent some teams to Spain to perform for Charles V. The English were mostly interested in the fact that there were brown people, and that they had bouncy balls. Honestly, I don’t know if we can imagine what it must be like to witness one of those ballgames. The English are pumped about their soccer, and the Balinese almost define their way of life when it comes to cockfighting, but we never watch a football game and go, ohman, if Jesus completes this forward pass, he totally gets all of our souls.

Published in: on July 15, 2009 at 6:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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