Who invented the ball? No, not the football, the basketball, or any of the sort — though it’s close! Who invented the actual ball? The concept of the ball? It’s a little crazy to think about, but there was a time when the concept of the ball didn’t exist. It wasn’t until people started to pick up on the uses of balls that it started to appear as a sport.
The idea of the ball not existing as a concept is nuts, as it feels like the ball has been around since the dawn of time. If you’re interested in diving into how the concept of the ball was invented, let’s get into the timeline and evolution of the ball.
Who invented the ball?
As far as the oldest known ball in the world, a toy ball made of linen rags and some string was found in the tomb of an Egyptian child. Leave it to the Egyptians to somehow be credited as the first inventors of so many things!
The ball’s key contributors (and evolution)
- EgyptThe first ball
The very first toy ball was made of linen rags and some string. It was found in the tomb of an Egyptian child, and was dated at about 2500 BC.
- MesoamericaEvidence of courts and balls
A ball court was found in Mesoamerica and dated around 1650 BC. The oldest rubber ball found in the region was dated to about 1600 BC.
- ChinaEvidence of the ball as a team sport
As recently as 2020, balls were found in the graves of ancient horse riders in China. The balls were made of leather and filled with hair and other materials.
- GreeceThe oldest depiction of a ball game in Europe
An ancient court in Greece is known as the oldest known depiction of a ball game in Europe. It’s dated to around 500 BC.
- RomansHarpastum, the ancient Roman ball game
Taking from the Greeks, the ancient Romans developed their own game in the 5th century BC.
When was the ball invented?
The first ball was found in the tomb of an Egyptian child, dated around 2500 BC. However, there are so many different firsts in the world of balls that it’s easy to get sidetracked when it comes to when the ball was invented.
A brief history of the ball
For most people today, the ball is an integral part of society. In fact, it’s probably hard for the average person to really pinpoint when the ball was invented. When you take anything that resembles a ball, like say a rock, and you kick it, such an action already mimics many sports involving balls. It’s hard to imagine that no prehistoric human would have thought of kicking a stone, a coconut, or anything else resembling a ball. Such is the reason why it’s so hard to figure out the invention of the ball as a concept.
Fortunately, there’s no need to worry about the ball as a concept and instead try to figure out the earliest recording of bals. The earliest known recording of a ball was a small toy in a child’s tomb in Egypt, dated 2500 BC. The toy ball was made of linen rags and tied together by string. The next step is in Mesoamerica during 1600-1650 BC. Both the ancient court and the balls (rubber) were discovered. There’s a recent discovery in northern China of leather balls dating from 1189 to 911 BC, showcasing a potential sport that was played as a team.
As for the oldest depiction of a ball game in Europe, an ancient court in Greece dated 500 BC has that distinction. The Greek game episkyros originated from such things, and the Romans took the concept to create their own game, harpastum around 400 BC.
The beginning of the ball is undoubtedly the most fascinating period, as after that time the concept of the ball became commonplace and the modern era of ball games began. It’s a story that everyone knows, leading to the most popular games of today.
The ball timeline
- 2500 BCThe Egyptian tomb and toy ball
The earliest recording of the ball comes from the tomb of an Egyptian child, showcasing just how far back the concept of the ball goes.
- 1600-1650 BCThe discovery of a ball court and the rubber ball
The discovery of a ball court — and the balls used for it — were found in Mesoamerica, dated around 1600-1650 BC.
- 1189-911 BCRecent discovery of leather balls in China
The leather balls filled with hair and other soft materials were found in 2020. It reveals the evidence of a 3000-year-old sport in China involving balls.
- 500 BCEvidence of the first ball court in Europe
The first ball court in Europe was found in Greece. The ancient Greeks played a game called episkyros that focused on teamwork.
- 5th Century BCThe Romans and the harpastum
In the 5th century BC, the Romans took the Greek game episkyros and created their own spin, called the harpastum.
Where was the ball invented?
The very first ball was found in a child’s tomb in Egypt. It was made with a combination of linen rags and string.
The importance of the ball
- An ancient pastime
The concept of the ball is something that’s always been a part of both modern and ancient society. For as long as people could kick anything shaped like a ball, such as a rock, there’s always been the potential for a fun pastime.
- The progenitor of the sports everyone loves
Without the invention of the ball, you likely wouldn’t have any of the sports you and many other people enjoy to this day. From American and European football to basketball and so many others, there’s no denying that the ball is the progenitor of so many sports.
- Fun for the family no matter the situation
Ball games have always been a fantastic pastime for families all over the world. There are so many different types of balls to enjoy that it makes a great bonding activity for you and your family.
- Physical and mental wellness
Aside from being used in many different games, there’s also the exercise ball, which is utilized for physical and mental wellness.
The ball by the numbers
- 12-14The number of players needed to play episkyros, though they all only shared one ball.
- 700,000The number of rubber bands it took to create the largest rubber band ball.
- 9,032Interested in the weight of the largest rubber band ball? The ball that took 700,000 rubber bands to make weighs 9,032 lbs.
- 2The number of golf balls currently on the moon. They were both hit by astronaut Alan Shepard in 1971.
Five facts about the ball
- The earliest iterations of soccer
In the city of Lin Zi, in China, one of the earliest iterations of soccer (2300 years ago) was played as a military exercise. It’s a military sport that serves to train the troops. It was also used as a means of checking the overall physical condition of the soldiers.
- The invention of volleyball
The beloved sport of volleyball was invented back in 1895. It was called Mintonette by its creator, William G. Morgan.
- The 17 sports of the Olympics
There are 17 sports in the Olympics that use balls in one way or another. Each sports ball will have its own size and weight, and have the most quality you could possibly see in the individual sport.
- The first vulcanized soccer ball
The very first vulcanized soccer ball was created by Charles Goodyear in 1855. Before the creation of the vulcanized soccer ball, the size and shape of the ball depended on the pig’s bladder.
- The origin of the word ball
We’ve spoken about the origin of the ball, as well as its evolution over the years. The word ball comes from the Latin word ballare (to dance). Ball was also used to describe a French dancing party in the 12th century.
FAQ about the ball
- Which sport uses the heaviest and lightest balls?
The heaviest ball used in sports is known as the shot, used in Shot Put. The lightest ball in sports is the table tennis ball.
- What were sports balls made of when it was first conceived?
There are various instances of balls being used in sports, and the types of balls would vary. For example, soccer used pig’s bladders until the vulcanized rubber ball. There are balls made of leather and filled with hair, and other soft materials. There were even balls in sports known to be made of human heads!
- Why does everyone love balls in sports?
The reason why just about everyone loves balls in sports is it works so well with so many different types of competition. The Olympics has as many as 17 sports that use balls in various ways.