Imagine a crowd roaring as royalty take to the ball court, rubber ball in hand in a sport so spectacular, it symbolized good versus evil. The ballgame played by the Maya, Aztec and neighboring cultures is famous for its ubiquity in Mesoamerica before interloping Europeans shut it down. But many mysteries and misconceptions continue to dog people's understanding of the game.

For instance, did the game's winners or losers get sacrificed at the end of the game? And were the hoops on the ball courts treated like modern-day basketball nets?

The answer to both questions is no; the players were most likely not sacrificed, and the ball wasn't meant to go through the hoop, although it likely happened from time to time, said Christophe Helmke, an associate professor at the Institute of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies at the University of Copenhagen.

"It would have been really horrible if your best players were sacrificed all the time," said Helmke, who explained the inner workings of the game to Live Science.

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