Bouncey Gods: Mesoamericans invented rubber balls

Rubber Soul: Aztec God Xiuhtecuhtli playing with his rubber balls. Note the awesome sneakers. Click for larger view.

New research from MIT indicates that pre-Columbian peoples, including the Aztecs, Olmecs and Maya, were advanced rubber chemists.

By processing the sap from local rubber trees and fine-tuning it with other ingredients, an extraordinary variety of rubber materials were created.

For the soles of their sandals, they made a strong, wear-resistant rubber. For the balls used in their famous religious games, they processed it for maximum bounciness. And for rubber bands and adhesives used for ornamental wear, they produced rubber optimized for resilience and strength.

An Aztec football pitch.

It turns out that rubber production was much more advanced in Mesoamerican times than was previously thought, and the rest of civilisation’s budding football teams had to be content with kicking pig bladders around until the rubber renaissance of Charles Goodyear’s vulcanisation process in 1839.

We are busy checking our archives for Rubber Gods. Rubber balls and other bouncey items from antiquity have already been found. Now the search is on for a genuine pair of Aztec sneakers with rubber souls.

Original story from MIT here.


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