Posted by: Johan Normark | May 25, 2010

Rubber processing in Mesoamerica – an example of assemblage formation

One of the most characteristic buildings in Mesoamerica is the ballcourt. This building basically consists of two parallel structures with a narrow alley in between. Rubber balls were bounced against these structures in a ritual game that differed throughout Mesoamerica. Now, rubber was not just used for creating balls, it was also used to create soles for sandals, ornaments, and attaching blades to shafts. Although rubber balls have been found in archaeological contexts (the oldest one being 3,600 years old), rubber-soled sandals are only known from early Spanish accounts.

The various uses of rubber needed to enhance various properties of rubber. Through a system of chemical processing people could fine-tune rubber for their intended use. For the ballgame assemblage the bounciness of balls was desired, for sandals wear-resistance of rubber was desired and for attaching blades and ornaments resilience and strength of rubber was desired according to Dorothy Hosler and Michael Tarkanian who have experimented with rubber processing. These potentials in rubber were actualized through various proportions of latex from rubber trees and juice from morning-glory vines which were cooked together.

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