Archeo-Astronomy Group Project

Spring 2004


Astronomy Group Project

Krissy Garland and Jen Watson

             The Ancient Chinese were some of the earliest astronomers.  Long before Ptolemy and Kepler argued over the models of the universe, the Ancient Chinese were observing the motion of the universe as it appeared to them.  Ever since the 24th century BCE, the Chinese have kept “the longest continuous observations of the sky” (Ancient Chinese Astronomy 1).  The Chinese have been the first to record important astronomical events.  In 2000 BCE, they first recorded a solar eclipse.  An event such as a solar eclipse frightened the Chinese as they viewed it as “the sky bringing despair to earth” (Ancient Chinese Astronomy 4).  At the moment of the eclipse they would perform rituals such as sacrifices, music, and the presentation of banners to beg the sky for mercy (Ancient Chinese Astronomy 4).  They also noted the presence of Halley’s comet, the movements of the stars, and could differentiate between stars and planets.  Although the Chinese did not study what they saw, they viewed the happenings of the universe as important enough to track carefully. 

            Chinese cosmology focused on the possible shape of Earth and the Heavens.  According to the Chinese, Earth was divided into 9 continents. Heaven was a round body divided into 9 levels each guarded by a different animal.   The Chinese believed that Heaven was ruled by the Emperor of Heaven, who resided in the highest level of the Heavens called The Palace of Purple Tenuity, located in Ursa Major.  The center of Heaven was the North Pole and polar star, viewed as an important geological feature as this was the point closest to Heaven   (Hilbert 2-3). The number nine in Chinese thought was incredibly important.  The number nine was associated with “perfect yang and highest completeness” (Hilbert 4).  The Chinese extended the number nine to many different aspects of their theory of the universe.  To the Chinese, harmony and balance were two qualities at the center of how they ordered their world. The two primary astronomical figures were the Emperor and the Imperial Astronomer.  The Emperor was the “foundation of the celestial balance” (Hilbert 5).  The role of the Emperor is defined in a Confucian concept called the Mandate of Heaven.  This relationship created a celestial link in the Emperor, which provided harmony between Heaven and Earth and a balance of power between the people and their Emperor.  The other important figure, the Imperial Astronomer, was mainly concerned with the calendar. Through observations, he made predictions of the future which aided the Emperor (Hilbert 6). 

            The Chinese ordered their sky into 283 constellations, which they divided into larger groups called mansions.  These constellations were focused on the natural not the supernatural, common to the Greeks and Babylonians.  Some examples of Chinese constellations are the Plough and the Ox (Ancient Chinese Astronomy 3). 

Example of Chinese Constellations from : http://www.starlab.com/slcylmyth.html

The Chinese organized their interpretations into a lunar calendar, important due to agricultural significance.  This lunar calendar was based on the mansion in which the moon appeared during various times (Hilbert 2). 

            Although they were not equipped with up to date technologies, the Chinese still managed to make several important observations of the universe.  It is interesting to see the major cultural differences in their interpretation of celestial events from the main Western mode of thinking. 

Works Cited

Ancient ChineseAstronomy. http://www.cas.muohio.edu/~devriepl/phy211/AncientAstronomies/chinese.htm.  Accessed March 1, 2004.

Hilbert, Sue Lin.  Ancient Chinese Cosmology. http://www.astronomy.pomona.edu/archeo/china/as-china.html. Accessed March 1, 2004.

 


Kara Yetter

Tasha Eid

Nikole Maus

Astronomy Group Project #1

3/5/04

Astronomy of the Pawnee Indians

 

The Skidi Band of the Pawnee Native Americans originally inhabited Nebraska.  The Pawnee are known to be some of the best early star watchers.  The reason for their avid interest in the heavens is because their whole life centered around the movement of the stars.  Unlike many ancient civilizations, the Pawnee did not have a calendar, they relied on the positions of the stars to tell them when certain events were supposed to take place. 

But the Pawnee did not only use the stars as a timekeeper, they also structured their whole social system off of the stars.  They believed that they were born of the stars and have an elaborate legend explaining how the universe was created and in the end the Morning Star, Mars (Male), and the Evening Star, Venus (Female), had a daughter and from her the human race was born.  This story was more than a legend to the Pawnee who believed that the stars were gods that “interacted with humans.”  The most important star gods are “The Red Morning Star Warrior” which is believed to be Mars, and the “White Star Woman” which is believed to be Venus.   The second highest star gods supported the heavens and were located at NW, NE, SW, and SE.  The third most important of the star gods were the sun, moon, and the gods of the four directions (N, S, E, W).  The Pawnee had shrines and sacrificial rituals in honor of the Gods of the sky. 

Another way the Pawnee incorporated the stars in to their life could be observed just by looking at the structure of their villages.  Villages were laid out in the pattern of the most important stars, and house’s doors all faced east to the rising sun, and each house had four posts representing the four important directions.  In each of these households a sacred bundle could be found, these bundles were believed to be gifts from the star gods and contained star charts.  These star charts were made of leather with one side of the chart a reddish-brown and the other side a brownish-yellow and the stars were represented in four-pointed figures.  The milky way was found in the center of the chart symbolizing the division between summer and winter.  This chart is depicted below.

 Pawnee Star Chart

(http://physics.unr.edu/grad/welser/astro/american.html)

  

Bibliography

Antequino, J.J. and Felix Rivera. “Astronomy and Cosmology of the Plains Indians”  http://www.astronomy.pomona.edu/archeo/plains/plains.html (3/3/04). “Space

 “North American Indian Astronomy” http://physics.unr.edu/grad/welser/astro/american.html (3/3/04).

 Talk: Pawnee Sky Observations” http://hoa.aavso.org/spacetalk.htm (3/3/04).

 “The Skidi Band of the Pawnee Tribe” University Corporation for Atmospheric Research: 2000-2004. http://www.windows.ucar.edu (3/3/04).

 

 


Lee Worel

Steve Jensen

Britanee Pelikan

Indian Astronomy

Indian astronomy dates back to about four thousand years ago.  Most of what we know comes from Vedas, which are Sanskrit sacred books. Written sometime around 2000 B.C. the Veda speaks of astronomy in a text called the Rig Veda.  The Indians believed the earth to be a shell supported by elephants to represent strength and believed a tortoise was supporting them, representing infinite slowness (http://www.physics.unr.edu/grad/welser/astro/indian.html). 

The Indians today call the science of astronomy, Khagola- shastra due to the famous 5th century astronomer, Aryabhatta, who studied at the observatory, Khagola at the University of Nalanda.  It is believed that his Image from 'Ancient India's Contribution to Astronomy', see link belowfindings noted calculations of the areas of triangles, the volumes of spheres, ideas about eclipses, as well as the sun being the source of moonlight.  Aryabhatta thought up the facts 1000 years before Copernicus and Galileo.  He used his findings to create the Panchanga (the Hindu calendar).  It is believed that the Indians knew that the Sun was just another star, but that it was much more closer than the other distant stars.  An old Sanskrit Sloka (couplet), which is as follows:

"Sarva Dishanaam, Suryaha, Suryaha, Suryah,"

Meaning there are suns in all directions.  "The early Hindu astrologers are said to have used the magnet, in fixing the North and East, in laying foundations, and other religious ceremonies. The Hindu compass was an iron fish that floated in a vessel of oil and pointed to the North. The fact of this older Hindu compass seems placed beyond doubt by the Sanskrit word Maccha Yantra, or fish machine, which Molesworth gives as a name for the mariner's compass" (http://india.coolatlanta.com/GreatPages/sudheer/ship.html).

 

Another contribution to astronomy by the Indians was the theory that the earth was a sphere.  The astronomer, Aryabhatta was the first to advocate the earth’s spherical shape in the 5th century.  Brahmagupta, an astronomer, was able to make an estimate of the circumference of the earth in the 7th century.  He estimated it at about 5000 yojanas, which one yojana is equivalent to 7.2kms.  We calculate the earth’s circumference at 36,000kms, which is remarkably close to the estimate given by Brahmagupta. (http://www.physics.unr.edu/grad/welser/astro/indian.html). 

These astronomers presented the theory of heliocentricity as well as the concept of gravity within their culture.  Because of their writings, which were later translated in the 13th century into Latin, westerners were able to make advances in their astronomy studies.  Unfortunately, the credit only dates to Copernicus and Galileo however let it be known that the ancient Indians were the predecessors of ancient astronomy.

 


Loren Hansen

Josh Hauser

Travis Lennox

 The Chinese based their calendar on the science of astronomy.  Chinese astronomical records can be found as far back as recorded history of China.  The basis for subsequent astronomy can be traced back to the Han dynasty, circa 200 BCE.  At that time, astronomy was denoted as a field of research, of which varied theories and arguments were subject to debate.  At this point astronomy was already run by governmental bureaucracy, with the aim of providing the Emperor insight into the order of the heavens.  Their ability to predict the order of the heavens translated into an ability to maintain order on Earth.  It was crucial then that the Emperor be able to predict occurrences in the night-sky, including unusual events like comets and meteor showers, and supernovas, which were observed first by the Chinese in the 14th century BC.  Also, the Chinese were the first to discover modern sunspots in 154 AD. 

Joseph Needham, in his survey of Chinese science before the fifteenth century asserts that there is little disparity between the scientific knowledge of China and the West.  Chinese inventions contributed to the renaissance, which would eventually pull the Western science’s achievement ahead of the Chinese. 

In one of the Chinese systems for predicting the heavens, the Triple Concordance system, there was a 135 month period for the prediction of lunar eclipses.  Although it was accurate, reliance on simple periodicities could not lead to the prediction of other various phenomena.  There was no physical hypothesis for why the heavens acted in their manners recorded, it was just a series of observations. 

 

Ancient Chinese astronomers divided the sky into three Enclosures, twenty-eight Mansions and four Images/Symbols/Quadrantal Xiu. Seven Mansions form one Image. The Four Images are the Azure Dragon, the Vermilion Bird, the White Tiger and the Murky Tortoise.

The three Enclosures are Purple Forbidden Enclosure, Supreme Palace Enclosure and Heavenly Market Enclosure. The following is angular measurements of 28 mansions recorded in one manuscript from caves of Dunhuang.
 

Mansion (Xiu)

 Angular Distance apart on Red Path 
(Equator, ancient Chinese unit, degree)

 Angular Distance from Pole 
(ancient Chinese unit, degree)

Horn

12

91.5

Neck

9

89

Root

15

94

Room

5

108

Heart

5

108.5

Tail

18

120

 Winnowing-basket 

11

118

Dipper

26.25

116

Ox

8

106

Girl

12

106

Emptiness

10

104

Rooftop

17

90

Encampment

16

85

Wall

9

86

Legs

16

70

Bond

12

80

Stomach

14

72

Hairy head

11

74

Net

16

78

Turtle beak

2

84

Three stars

9

94

Well

33

70

Ghosts

4

68

Willow

15

77

Star

7

97

Extended net

18

97

Wings

18

99

Chariot

17

98

According to historical books, at least one Armillary Sphere at the Ancient Observatory is graduated in ancient Chinese unit of angles (degree, Du,  ), 365.25 degrees to the circumference, to match the year length. It was convenience to set a circumference of 365.25 degrees for astronomical calculation and prediction, because ancient astronomers used to believe that the sun moved among the stars (mansions) and returned to the same star (mansion) after 365.25 days, and the sun moved along the equator at constant speed.

 


Andy Brown    

Paul Heupel

Sean Kampshoff

Reed Peterson

Paul Kienberger

Ancient Chinese Astronomy

Like many ancient cultures, ancient Chinese peoples studied the stars and tried to understand what they observed.  There were several theories as to the role of the stars and celestial objects, including the Gai Tian theory which included a dome-shaped model of the heavens, and the Hun Tian theory that believed the universe to be like an egg with the earth serving as a yolk.  Eventually these basic ideas led to later advances in astronomical thinking. 

            Unique to ancient Chinese culture was the calendar that maintained the equinoxes as the middle of the seasons, not the beginnings.  Not surprisingly however, the months of this calendar system were based around the phases of the moon.  As far back as 4th century B.C., the Chinese calendar included 365.25 days—a figure that is still used today.  Because it was so closely related to constantly changing observational data, the calendar system in ancient China went through many improvements.  The handling of the calendar and its changes was so important to the culture that a political official called the Imperial Astronomer was put in charge of the task. 

            Constellations were also important to the ancient Chinese as they were used to measure time.  Depending on the season, the people of this civilization would know the approximate hour by noticing which direction the plough (big dipper) was pointing.  Rather than numerous constellations such as the Roman model, the Chinese constellation system revolved around four central animal figures: the Green Dragon, the Red Sparrow, the White Tiger and the Black Tortoise.  Each of these constellation systems also corresponded with a cardinal direction.

            The ancient Chinese made several contributions to astronomy.  Surviving documents reveal that they were the first to record sun spots and supernovas, and some of the oldest and most complete star maps have been attributed to this culture.         

 

 Depiction of the Crab Nebula


                                                                                                Michelle Weber

                                                                                                            Amy Welshons

                                                                                                            Erich Ziegler

                                                                                                            Christian Okoh

Astronomy of the Ancient Mayans

 

The Mayan people were fascinated with the heavens. In their beliefs, four jaguars, called bacabs, held up the sky.  Each jaguar was a different color and represented the cardinal directions and each corner of the Earth: east-red, north-white, west-black, south-yellow.  They honored gods of the sun and moon, and Venus was the object of greatest interest.  They could predict the motions of Venus, and eclipses of the Sun using their calendars and own observations.                                                                                                                         http://www.crystalinks.com/mayanastronomy.html

Maya calendar
            The priests of the Mayan culture were revered because of their knowledge of the sky and the earth.  The priests developed calendars using astronomical observations that were among the most precise of their time.  The sun-year, the solar and lunar eclipses, the rising and sinking of Venus, and the movements of the stars, constellations, and the planets were observed with only the aid of a forked stick and were documented in their calendars.

 

 
http://home.arcor.de/latinamerica/Mayas4_en.html         http://www.civilization.ca/civil/maya/images/mayre07b.gif

 


Text Box: This main street of Teotihuacan was aligned to the Pleiades. The layout of their cities helped travelers to orient themselves. http://physics.unr.edu/grad/welser/astro/mayan.html
   
The Mayans even had a god that represented the position of the sun when it passed over their latitudes. All of their cities were built south of this latitude, 23-1/3 degrees north, in order to observe the Sun passing directly overhead twice a year through their latitudes.  The architecture of the cities was oriented according to important celestial events.  Many buildings were aligned with bright stars, such as Capella and Sirius, Venus, or with the position of the Sun, and designed especially for viewing important events.

 

 

 

This is a Mayan representation of chi’ibal kin.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/nam/maya/cbc/img/fig09.jpg

 

 
Eclipses were regarded with fear and awe.  They could predict eclipses with great precision; they did not, however, understand why and how they occurred.  They called eclipses chi’ibal kin, or “to eat the sun.”  The Mayans recorded their predictions and observations of eclipses and other astronomical events in an almanac call the Dresden Codex.                                                                           

 

 

 

 

Although western astronomers often overlook the Mayan celestial observations, Mayan accomplishments in this field are very accurate and impressive. Astronomy greatly affected Mayan art, religion, and agriculture as it was an important part of their everyday life.

http://www.tikalpark.com/mathema.htm

 

 


Jen Edlund and Meghan Kane

North American Indian Astronomy

            North American Indian groups have developed rich and elaborate methods for interpreting astronomy.  Through elaborate calendars and lore, these tribes were able to make predictions, follow seasonal patterns and interpret the celestial activity, in order to guide their lives.  American Indian tribes, in particular the Lakota Sioux, have created an organized and unique interpretation of the sky, which harmonizes nature and humanity.

            Native American tribes share a oneness with all life, and the cosmos is no exception.  All living things, including the sun, moon and stars are interrelated.  All things in turn move and work together to create the universe of life.  The belief is also that the supernatural, of the sky and the natural, of the earth often come together.  The sky is a source of life, in itself. 

            Most Native American thinkers regard the sky as a source of stability and motion; these are the principles and traits of which to live by.  Originally, they were able to determine the four directions by intricate observations of the movements of the sun, earth and moon.  Rich cultural beliefs stem from the mythological lore that was created within the night sky.  Each tribe would interpret the myths and use them to mediate between the earth and the sky.  Most of the myths would create a moral code or standard for which to live by and honor.  Within the Sioux tribe, a myth demonstrating proper behavior is found within Orion and is represented as a chief losing his hand due to selfish actions. Another aspect of Lakota Sioux mythology is the use of the Big Dipper as representation for the seven council fires. 

            Ceremonial rituals and beliefs also stem from the changing of seasons and observations that took place around the yearly calendar.  Each tribe places different emphasis on the observations made surrounding the calendar.  As tribal nations lived off the land, it was necessary to place focus on the yearly path of the sun.  They would monitor the suns place on the horizon, in order to determine when to plant and harvest the crops. Other tribes would use seasonal positions of certain stars to determine planting times. Further, the calendar created was used to determine the days to hold ceremonies.  Some tribes, later on incorporated features on architectural structures to determine the seasons, according to the suns placement. 

            The changing and rotation of the moon plays particular importance in myth and calendar making.  Some tribes associated the rotation of the moon with a woman’s menstrual cycle, as the woman is seen as a significant figure in mythology. However, the yearly rotation of the sun caused difficulty in achieving harmony so most tribes add a month to the calendar every three years. 

 


MAYA ASTRONOMY

By:  Tyler Vrieze, Karl Spilseth, & Adam Skordahl

 

The Maya people used astronomy in their daily lives just as we today use astronomy every day weather we know it or not.  Take, for example, one day.  We consider a day the amount of time it takes for the earth to make one complete spin on its axis.  The Maya people also used the Sun for various different rituals and reasons such as this.  They followed the Sun year round and also traced out its path on the horizon.  At Chichen Itza, the principle Maya city, during sunset a sun serpent rises up the side of the stairway of the pyramid called El Castillo on the day of spring and autumn equinox.  This goes to show us that the ancient Mayan’s noted the solstices as well as the equinoxes when the Sun appeared to rise either due east or due west. Ecliptic observations were also a major event in Maya astronomical observation.  

 

 

The Mayans not only studied and watched the Sun, they also followed the moon and Venus.  It has been proven from ancient Maya inscriptions that the moon was included as part of their calendar.  Their lunar count was either 29 or 30 days.  They would alternate these two numbers every time the moon completed a cycle.  Maya civilization included eclipse predictions based on watching the moon that can be found in the Dresden Codex.  The planet of Venus played an important role in the culture and history of the Mayan people.  Wars were started at certain times based on the location of Venus and even Jupiter in the sky.  Human sacrifices took place in Maya culture based on the Superior Conjunction, meaning Venus was at its dimmest magnitude. 

 

 

            The Maya also built their temples, graves, and sacred places in accordance with the planets and the sun.  They not only built their venues in accordance with the sky, they also would wear symbols of the heavens and make jewelry that represented what they would observe.  This has been proven from some of the Maya murals and carvings that have been found. 

            As you can see, the sky was an important part of the culture of the Maya.  Their daily lives seemed to revolve around the Sun, the planets, and the moon.  Without these things their culture would have been completely different.  

 

                                                                                                  

 


Doug Espenson, Rachel Batalden,

Keith Schwartz, Paul Richardson

March 3, 2004

Group Assignment #1

 

Incan Astronomy: Ahead of Their Time?

            Astronomy was a key aspect of many ancient cultures.  Astronomy was as vital to the Incan peoples as soymilk is to a man stricken with a violent intolerance to lactose.  The Incan people used astronomy for many reasons, the most important of which being agriculture.  The city of Cuzco was laid out in a radial plan modeled after the sky and pointed to certain astronomical situations on the horizon.  Like most cultures of the past and of today, the Sun, Moon and stars were used to base their calendar, which was 328 days long and was organized into 12 sidereal lunar months.  All in all, the Incas utilized the sky and its wondrous aspects to create a harmonious and organized lifestyle.

            Astronomy was used in many different ways involving agriculture.  In order to know when it was best to plant crops, the Incan people created very specifically oriented pillars on the hills of Cuzco.  Whenever the Sun rose or set in the middle of the pillars, planting was to be done at specific altitudes.  Many different pillars were erected as to have extremely accurate time keeping1.  The Incans were not above the occasional sacrifice to the Sun, asking for him to raise in particular places for their planting.  The most important time in the Incan agricultural season occurs in the middle of August.  This is when the sun arrived at its position opposite the zenith, and therefore meant the first day of planting.  

The Agricultural season depended heavily on the documentation of the seasonal patterns.  The Incas used both the sun and the moon to keep time.  The Incas would organize different rituals in which they would observe the sun.  Because this process required precise observations and exact timing, it was said that the Incans designated specialists that were in charge of putting together an official calendar.  All of the Incan calendars suggest that the Incas paid very close attention to the phases of the moon.  They used this twelve-month calendar and based it on the waxing and waning of the moon.

The Incas used the sky on a daily basis, and depended on the consistency of the seasonal patterns.  They based their crop planting on the position of the sun, and by using the sky they were able to have an effective and plentiful culture.  We take for granted our digital clocks and large bell-towers that spoon-feed us the time as if it is something we deserve.  The Incan peoples worked for their time and if time is money, then they were a wealthy ancient culture.

 

 


                                                                                                            Meghan Lynch

                                                                                                            PHY 102

                                                                                                            3/ 5/ 04

 

The Skidi Band of the Pawnee Tribe

 

The Skidi Band of the Pawnee tribe were some of the most advanced star watchers of North America. They originally lived in villages in Nebraska. They were forced to move to reservations in Oklahoma at the end of the 1800's.  Part of their creation myth says that Mars, the red morning star warrior, mated with Venus, the female evening star, to produce the first humans.  

Long ago, society in the Skidi Band was complex and ordered. Human social rank was based on the ranking of the star gods. They identified the heavenly gods with the stars. The Pawnee believed some of the stars to be gods and used astronomy throughout their daily activities. The stars would indicate when to plant corn. Corn was regarded as a symbolic mother through whom the sun god bestowed his blessing. Tirawahat was considered the power of the universe; the first god and the first cause of all. It was Tirawahat who both created and governed the universe through the commands executed by all the lesser gods. During many of their religious ceremonies, emphasis was placed on the bringing of life in which human sacrifice was practiced.  The North Star was Chief Star it was considered to be a chief protecting the stars and the people, which makes sense because the North Star is always up and everything else in the sky revolves around it.  Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, was the Wolf Star.  The delicate cluster of stars that makes up the Pleiades was the Seven Brothers of Unity, to the Pawnee, the solstices were not important, and they instead worshipped the Pleiades cluster.  The Corona Borealis, a semicircle of stars that Westerners see as a crown, was called the Council of Chiefs.  The Pawnee saw the stars as gods who interacted with humans. These stars or gods were ranked in order of importance.

The star ranking is:

Text Box:  
A Pawnee Star Chart

Much of Pawnee life was based on the stars in the heavens. They had shrines dedicated to certain stars. They didn't have a calendar, because the position of the stars told the people when certain events were suppose to happen. The stars were so important that the Skidi Band began to note where the stars were in relation to each other. And so, the Skidi Band is known to have drawn star charts long ago.  The Pawnee people watched the sky and the stars closely because their mythology, their social and religious rituals, and even their social divisions depended on it. They are known to have had a complex religion of which astronomy was a large part. Their attempts to feel connected with the sky went so far as to design their lodges and villages with astronomy in mind. Villages were laid out in the position of the most important stars in the sky. In the last corner of the village was a shrine to the morning star (Venus) and in the west was another shrine to the evening star (also Venus). The doors of the lodges always faced east to the rising sun, and four posts representing the four important directions (northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast) were used to hold up the lodge. The domed roof represented the sky.   

It is apparent that even long ago without sophisticated equipment, astronomy was an integral part of the Skidi way of life.  It gave the answers to where people came from, who watched over them, and when significant events should happen in their lives. In addition, it also provided the backdrop for many legends and myths to be passed on for generations. 


Matt Carlson and Dan Becker

Mayan Civilization

March 5, 2004

The Mayan Civilization was located where Central America is located today.  It includes the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, and Southern Mexico.  The civilization prospered in the sixteenth century.  The Mayans prized jade compared to our gold.  They were a true Stone Age culture, but this does not mean they were not astute at astronomy.  They followed Zenial Passages, which is when the sun passes directly over the Maya latitudes.  They had a God to represent the position of the sun, which they called the Diving God.  The Mayans were most interested in Venus of all the planets that they saw.  They thought it was more important than the sun.  They figured out that it takes 584 days for Earth, Venus and the Sun to line up after their previous alignment.  Venus had psychological effects on the Mayan people as well; they would take daily observations on Venus and would even based wars on the stationary point of Venus and Jupiter.  Humans were also sacrificed when it was at its dimmest magnitude.  A record was also found called the Duesden Codex, in which they had made an almanac that displayed the full cycle of Venus and a record of the lunar synodic period of 29.5 days.  The Duesden Codex was the Mayan Collection of Cosmological predictions and facts.  Included in the records were a total number of cycles that Venus was observed.  They counted 5 sets of 584 days or a total of 2920 days.  Even though they thought that the sun was not as important as Venus, they knew about equinoxes and solstices.  The Mayan calendar was 260 days and included 20 different names.  Even though they had a ritual calendar, they also tracked a vague 365 solar day calendar.  Because they did not include the quarter day each year, it was slightly off.  In the 365-day year they had 19 months.  They used the calendar with their rulers as well.  Every twenty years their king’s would switch and a sacred statue would be erected called Stela, meaning stone tree.  The They had huge celebrations at each twenty-year interval. 


Charles Seitzer

Denis Connelly

John Schaffler

Ryan Morse

 

Mayan Astronomy

            The Mayans were a sophisticated civilization that dominated the now known region of Central America before the European invasion of the Americas.  Through this domination and sophistication they had their heads in the clouds.  They relied heavily on what the sky told them and they listened with great respect. 

 

            One of the Mayan’s fantastic successes was their complex, accurate, and intricate calendar system.  Their calendar system was only 19 minutes off from the actual solar year.   Mayan priests were the principal observers during this civilization.  They looked to the sky for guidance.  These priests used shadow- casting devices, observatories, and horizon observations to observe the sky.  They used these tools to build their calendars.

 

            The sun was very important to the Mayans.  The Mayans knew of the solstices and equinox and solar eclipses.  They knew this because of the buildings that they built.  Many of the buildings were aligned precisely with the compass directions.  They used precisely cut holes in the wall to differentiate between the seasons.  They also used the exterior of the buildings to accurately tell the time of year.  Steps, statues, and edges were all used in observing the sun.   

 

            The Mayans thought that Venus was more important than the sun.  They noticed Venus at a time known as heliacial rising.  After this moment Venus can be seen each morning for 260 days.  The Mayans went to war according to the position of Venus in the sky.      One of their existing chronicles (Dresden Codex) contained extensive writings about Venus.  They wrote about when and where Venus would appear and also used Venus as a mean for predicting the future. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dan Belgam and Dena Pemble
Physics 102
Chuck Niederriter

Archeostronomy Group Activity

Astronomy played an important role in Mayan culture. The motions of the heavens had a large impact on religion, agriculture, and building alignment. By observing the movements of the night sky, they were able to accurately predict astronomical events and the true locations of celestial bodies. “…the practice of astronomy…was believed to have an influence on every Mayan.
The night sky had a large part in the position in society that priest-astronomers held, layers of the heavens and underworld and the representation of deities. The more knowledge that a priest-astronomer held or how well they could predict the future, based on astronomical observations determined how well-respected they would be by their peers. The Mayan model of the universe consisted of 13 layers of heaven and 9 of the underworld with the Earth stuck in between. A close link was established between humans and their gods based on events occurring in both the heavens and on earth.
The Mayans placed strong emphasis on agriculture as a necessity for their survival. Through observations they could determine when they should plant and when it was time to harvest. By the effect that astronomy had on agriculture and with the high value placed on it, it placed a vital role in the survival of the Mayan civilization.
The stars were used as sort of a blue print for the construction of Mayan buildings. The Mayans attempted to mimic the star positions and formations they observed in the sky by constructing buildings in a similar pattern. An example of this is building J at Monte Alba. The building was modeled after the five brightest stars in the sky which formed an arrow. They also built windows which reflected the patterns of other events occurring in the night sky.
The Mayans accurately predicted movements and patterns of planets and other celestial objects in the sky. Through observations of the sun they were able to tell when the sun would rise and set and from this they determined solar year. They also observed the moon and determined the synodic lunations. The synodic periods of Mars and Venus were also calculated with great precision. 
As you can see, astronomy played a very important part in Mayan civilization. The Mayans relied heavily on observations for agriculture, construction of buildings and cosmology. Intrigued by the motions of the sky the Mayans were able to predict many accurate calculations. Mayan culture was strongly influenced by astronomy.



Buildings from Teotihuacan aligned with the Pleiades


Information taken from the website: http://physics.unr.edu/grad/welser/astro/mayan.html