Mayan Astronomy

When Orion appeared through a designated hole or the sun shone directly on a specific spot, it meant spring was near. The pyramid of El Taj n in Mexico, for example, is made up of 365 niches, one for each day of the year. A niche here is the equivalent of a box in one of our calendars.

Smaller calendars were sculpted into stone and gold. It is no wonder then that artists were highly regarded and given special status in Mayan society. Without artists there would be no calendars, no way to tell time, bad crops and eventually famine. For the Maya, astronomy was enmeshed into one thick fabric with art, agriculture and religion.

The Dresden Codex – the Book of Mayan Astronomy

The advanced Mayan culture developed thanks to a complex synthesis of different culture streams arising from the home agricultural base, influenced by cultural values coming from regions lying out of the territory of Mayan settlement. Its forming falls to the so-called early phase of the initial period placed between 1500 800 BC. It was spread step-by-step to the regions of Guatemala, south-eastern Mexico, Belize, Salvador and north-western Honduras. The construction of beautiful and splendid cathedral cities, fine arts of sculpture and painting, use of their own hieroglyphic script, success in astronomy, existence of the literature and the development of handicraft and trade were the outer expression of this cultural-economic rise.

The results of Mayan observations and calculations of astronomical phenomena are concentrated in the Dresden Codex. It is a band of paper 3.5 meter long set up into 39 sheets making up 78 pages 8.5 x 20.5 cm. The paper was obtained from the bark of wild-growing species of fig tree. It is supposed that it originates from Yucatan as a latter transcription of an elder original. It contains calendrical data, written in the Mayan dating system, concerning astronomical data and the sky mechanics, and tables of multiple integers that are to be used for calculations of planetary movement ephemerids and tropical years, next to the hieroglyphic texts and numerous depicturings of the Mayan gods and ritual scenes.

The data contained in the Dresden Codex were studied by many researchers who suspected they contain astronomical data. M.Meinshausen (1913), C.E.Guthe (1921) and H.Spinden (1930) were the first who had been interested in the eclipses tables. E.Foerstemann has drawn our attention to Venus visibility ephemerides tables; he also issued the Dresden Codex with a commentary in 1892. The analysis of these ephemerides has been made by J.E.Teeple (1926). R.W.Wilson believed that some of the data could concern the observations of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (1924). The above-mentioned researchers, and lots of others, worked with the calculation coefficients of 584,283 or 584,285 days accordingly to Goodman-Martinez-Thompson when converting the Mayan dates into the Christian dating system, or tried to calculate their own coefficient. For this reason their conclusions were very diverse.

One of the most important problems during the studies of various Mayan culture phenomena had been the problem of correlating the Mayan to our Christian dating system. In present times we are used to correlate the Mayan dates with the Christian ones using the Goodman-Mart nez-Thompson correlation. Accordingly to it, a stable coefficient of 584,283 or 584,285 days is added to the Mayan dates expressing the counts of days which have passed from a particular day to the date of a certain event. The Mayan date is converted into a Julian day number and the latter finally to the corresponding day, month and year of the Julian calendar used in modern astronomy.

Working with the Mayan data of the Dresden Codex we found that the Goodman-Mart nez-Thompson correlation is unusable, even for the dates evidently concerning certain astronomical phenomena, such as the observations of Venus visibility, or Sun and Moon eclipses. We have obtained a new coefficient of 622,261 days for the conversion of the Mayan dates to our dating system by a complete analysis of the mutual relations between the time intervals of all the Mayan dates in the Dresden Codex and 400 inscriptions from the cathedral cities. Using the so called B hm correlation coefficient we were successful in proving that all data contained in the Dresden Codex are concerning astronomical phenomena.

The Mayan astronomical observations were carried out by simple measuring methods. It is therefore necessary to examine them statistically while respecting unavoidable accuracy scatter. It applies first of all to the sky phenomena calculated to the past and the future during several centuries recorded in the Dresden Codex. The dated astronomical observations are concerning following:

1.The observations of Venus visibility, when it had appeared for the first time after its conjunction with the Sun as a morning star in the sky shortly before the sunrise, or after its upper conjunction, when it had appeared in the sky as an evening star shortly after the sunset.

2.The observations of Mercury visibility. Its trajectory creates an eccentric ellipse. Thanks to this eccentricity the synodic circulations of the planet lasts from 104 to 132 days. The average length of the synodic circulation is 115.877484 days.

The considerable proximity of the planet to the Sun makes its glow suppressed by dazzling sunshine.

For that reason, the Mayan astronomers could have observed it only when the planet gets to the greatest angle distance during its circulation around the Sun, so called elongation. It is the western elongation, when Mercury rises over the horizon shortly before sunrise and the eastern elongation, when it is briefly visible over the western horizon right after sunset.

The maximal angle distances are as a rule moving between 18 to 23 degrees.

The maximal elongation of 27 degrees and 49 minutes happens when this elongation visible from the Earth runs during the epihelium, that means the greatest distance between Mercury and the Sun (Mercury gets there once for its sidereal circulation on its eccentric trajectory).

The sidereal circulation is the real time of circulation of any planet around the Sun and it makes in this case 87.9693 days.

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