Ancient Archaeoastronomy of the Mesoamericans – event proposal

Friday, December 14th 2018. | Paper, Proposal

For centuries civilizations have Relied on the stars in several aspects of their daily lives. Whether heavenly bodies have been used for navigation, ceremonial, insight for agriculture, or even socio-political motives these people often put celestial bodies at the middle of the ideology. Many cultures held these celestial bodies in such high esteem that they incorporated their whole society around specific celestial bodies and the annual celestial events, such as the equinoxes and the solstices, and quite often associated these bodies and happenings with their gods. 1 such people, the Mesoamericans appeared to have a tight spacing involving archaeoastronomy and their everyday life. The objective of this paper is to demonstrate how the different people which were connected with Mesoamerica regarded celestial bodies and the way they incorporated certain celestial events in their architecture, ideology, and everyday life.

First, a definition of
Archaeoastronomy is justified to allow for a better understanding of what’s being discussed . A.F. Aveni defined archaeastronomy in his post entitled,”Archaeoastronomy at Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment: as”over the study of ancient astronomy through the use of archeological data and using ancient texts. Archaeoastronomy is an interdisciplinary meeting ground for those who are concerned about the perception and concept of the natural world by the people of early cultures” (Averi; 165). To summarize this it could be stated that archaeoastronomy isn’t just these ancient people saw and recorded when they looked into the heavens, but also how they implemented what they found and drew conclusions based on these findings which were carried over to aspects of their lives like agricultural, religious, and even town planning. Averi is proposing the argument that there’s more than meets the eye where archaeoastronomy is worried. This archaeoastronomy is not only scientific data, but also what contexts these findings are plugged into as a way to form an ideology based on celestial bodies or occasions. All these implementations of celestial bodies and events in various aspects of pre-Columbian civilizations of these Mesoamerican are usually seen in the artwork, architecture, and also in most of the listed religious practices that have been preserved via codices. Though Averi can also argue that Teotihuacan is situated in a particular fashion because the alignment of it’s in line with Cerro Gordo (which was the primary area where they drew water) which does not automatically signify that archaeoastronomy does not have a scientific leg to stand on. In reality, offering numerous concepts of this orientation stimulates new disagreements which may, finally, uncover new data concerning the particular rationale that Teotihuacan is oriented exactly the way that it is. While Averi holds fast to his argument many others seem to believe that the astronomical orientation of Teotihuacan has to do with specific events. For instance, some anthropologists seem to believe that the fifteen-point-five level orientation of the Pyramid of the Sun contrasts with the setting of the sun on August 13th. Moreover, the Pyramid of the Moon’s summit was associated with the telling of noon and midnight with its orientation. It would be hard to believe that the orientation of the structures along with the coinciding connection between celestial events are pure coincidence.

Next, it is unlikely that Civilizations ignored the skies and what they found in the night sky. There is so much data to the contrary. Although Averi may not think that the orientation of Teotihuacan has something related to celestial events that he does argue that many civilizations were aware of the skies; their orientation at the skies, and the paths where they travel every day (and daily). According to a post that Averi wrote entitled,”Tropical Archeoastronomy” he states many of these civilizations had a conscious understanding of their celestial environment. He wrote,”In most early societies, the sky and its contents lay in the very base of human cognition. Early hunter-gatherers and later sedentary societies were deeply affected by the dependable precision of cyclic recurrence unfolding from the celestial canopy.” (Avery; 161).

Averi points out that the celestial
Bodies and their positions (and paths) were appreciated by ancient civilizations and were used in such ways, for instance, as in aiding seafarers in navigation. In his newspaper, Averi proceeds to explain some of the Mesoamerican astronomical concepts. He focuses on the Maya and commented concerning their advanced types of writing, mathematics and astronomy. He goes on to talk about the way they”also utilized the horizon system to track celestial events and to indicate time.” For instance, Averi talks about stone markers which were used to mark specific celestial events and their correlation to terrestrial events. He writes,”Stone markers extending from Campo Santo around the top of mountain west of city. By Campo Santo to top approx. 1.5km. Sun rises on lines PS & OS observed from stones O & P on March 19th 1940 two weeks before the equinox.” This information, in itself, tells us nothing outstanding about the rock markers, but it does give a little bit of background information and helps a reader to form a mental image in their thoughts. It sets the scene for the next quotation. Averi then writes,”Sun climbs this afternoon at 6 levels 31.5 ms. Direction observed with simple adjustable compass. Observations are made in the stone now by zahorins (shamans) for harvesting and planting.” (Averi;162-3). This passage, though lengthy and full of scientific jargon, does reveal that these marker stones that were erected can be, and were/are, utilized in combination with the planting and harvesting of the crops. Each year that a shaman can go to the stone and, with the simplest of instruments, make detailed calculations which will be utilized in ensuring a positive effect on their agriculture. Without markers such as these ancient Mayas would have had a harder time trying to figure out when to plant their own crops to ensure optimum return, and when to harvest so as to ensure optimum quality of the crops.

Averi has also written about Architecture and its significance to celestial bodies in Mesoamerica. He, and his partners, discussed the calendrical symbolism of particular buildings within Chichén Itzá and certain correlations that could be seen from within the Maya calendar. For example, Averi talks specially cabout that the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and the way certain aspects of it can be related to aspects of this Maya theology, calendar, and celestial events. He clarifies that the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and joins it to these different aspects. For instance, he writes,”This stepped radical pyramid possesses nine terraces, just like the number of degrees of this Maya underwold.” Averi is revealing the way the Maya incorporated parts of their ideology in their architectural strategies. He goes on to say,”Divided by a stairway, every side includes 5 such layers, which is equal to the amount of twenty-day months in a Maya calendar year.” (Averi; 129) Averi is demonstrating a direct correlation between the way in which the Maya built, and adorned, this monument and also how they tied their calendar into it. Whether it is by coincidence or completed by purpose there isn’t any denying that the similarities to the two features mentioned concerning the Castillo demonstrates the Maya could’ve been implanting these ideologies to the stone monuments that dominated the landscape. When the Castillo is viewed from above it”looks like the quadripartite diagrams of the universe that the ancient Mesoamericans painted inside their codices, which show the four directional gods, plants, animals, day titles, etc” (Avery;129). Why would these Mesoamericans integrate this type of theological depth to a physical structure that may only be considered from above? Could it be that they were hoping to gain favor with the gods by showing them the ways in which they’re worshipping, and paying homage, to them? Is it a combination of theology and calendric math that only happened to take the form it did and that it may be seen most completely from the skies is just a coincidence? This author thinks not. This writer thinks that there was a conscious intent to appease the gods, perhaps in the hopes of countless years of bountiful harvests and the flourishing of the civilization. The architecture of the Castillo of Chichén Itzá is full of potential inferences. (Averi; 129). This extra layer of symbiosis between architecture and Maya ideology lays further credibility to the argument that the actual makeup of this Castillo at Chichén Itzá is not random and that there was aware thought that was granted in order to incorporate these astronomical and theological ideas. Averi is claiming the Castillo was built and functioned at a”calendrical ritual capability from the context of this early four-directional New year festival practice, which was conducted throughout the previous five days of the seasonal calendar” (Averi; 129). The construction itself was integrated with so much Maya ideology and theological beliefs which it was undoubtedly built as a sacred site.

Avery has not cornered the market as Far as archaeoastronomy is concerned. There are a number of different anthropologists and other interested parties that have chimed in on the topic. Once such person is Elizabeth Baity. She wrote a post for Current Anthropology entitled”Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy So Far”. In her paper she discusses the building of megalithic structures of ancient times and the astronomical techniques that were used in their structure. She delves into describing a new sub disciple that integrates technology, archeology, as well as astronomy. She makes the argument that there are numerous structures that were erected in early civilizations that held a specific purpose of predicting astronomical events. These constructions were not just erected because of their aesthetic value alone even though many of these constructions are breath-taking inside their attractiveness. In talking about archaeoastronomy she explains that it”concentrates on the evaluation of their orientations and dimensions of megalithic and other monumental historical structures, many of which, as we will see, might have served for the forecast of solar and lunar eclipses and unquestionably did serve for the determination of solstices and equinoxes, enabling the setting of dates to agricultural pursuits and for the ritual cycle of the year”. As you can see there are some similarities between what she is arguing along with the argument that Avery presented. Both are under the impression that these structures the ancient Mesoamerican individuals built were built with the aim of astronomical, agricultural, and religious events. Most of these structures were incorporated into rituals which coincided with particular seasonal occasions and the evidence can be seen on ceramics, art, and other mediums. It is safe to say the Mesoamerican people put an emphasis on particular celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. A few of these celestial events directly coincided with the planting or planting of the yearly crops that provided the sustenance the Mesoamericans required to flourish as a culture. The concept of structures to forecast specific celestial events is not a new one and is not specific to the Mesoamericans. A number of other cultures throughout history have erected structures for the same purpose. For instance, Stonehenge is perhaps one of the most well-known celestial monuments in the world. Archeologists have tried to decode what the position of the stones relate to. Some archeologists theorize they mark the swing of the azimuth of the moon, while some appear to think they are directly linked to the solstices and equinoxes. No matter what differences the astronomers and anthropologists have concerning Stonehenge one thing is for sure — it had been built for a purpose other than that of pure usefulness. It’s this pushing and extending of long held beliefs regarding the uses of these monolithic structures that lead to new advancements and discoveries in anthropology.

There are many other sites in Mesoamerica that have archaeoastronomical content. One such website is the one at the Maya site of Copán. Harvey and Victorian Bricker clarify some of the astronomical content in this website, referred to as Group 8N-11. In their paper,”Astronomical Orientation of the Skyband Bench in Copán”, the Bricker’s talk specifically about the Skyband Bench. Like Teotihuacan the orientation of this Skyband Bench in Copán plays an Integral role in laying credibility to the debate for archaeoastronomical content in Mesoamerican cultures. Panels 5, 2, and 8 are frontal views of the head of this personified Sun or Sun god. Panel 3 is a personified Moon and board 7 per personified Venus. Panels 4 and 6 are personifications of, respectively day and night.” This proof cannot be ignored. The fact that the Mesoamericans are creating artwork that defines celestial bodies also, moreover, personifying them demonstrates that they had a deep connection with up the bodies in the heavens. The Skyband Bench is a superb example of ancient Mesoamericans demonstrating their consciousness of the skies above and the celestial bodies that are held within. The Brickers’ paper is a good illustration of the way in which part of Mesoamerican architecture can offer a plethora of knowledge and authenticity for archaeoastronomy. As in any other area the more newspapers that become published on a certain topic the further the scientific community will notice and also, hopefully, work towards accepting these hypotheses.

The Mayas were not the only Mesoamerican culture to integrate celestial vision in their structure, and then, into their own culture. David Carrasco talks about the Aztec culture in his article,”Star Gatherers and Wobbling Suns: Astral Symbolism in the Tradition”. In his essay he explains spatial orientation and symbolism. He writes,”The Aztecs observed stars, measured themand calculated them into their agricultural and social cycles” (Carrasco; 284). Can you find a trend appearing? In virtually all of the examples of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy one of the prime elements is agriculture. Without agriculture of any kind a culture will certainly perish. The capacity to produce a bountiful harvest could mean the difference between a thriving civilization and one that is in ruins. There are a number of things to consider when agriculture is concerned. First, the sun can be both a godsend and a curse. Its warmth and ultraviolet rays are required by the plants in order to grow and flourish. Too much or not enough warmth, as well as too much or not enough ultraviolet rays as well as the crop will suffer. Second, water is necessary for agriculture to flourish. Without life-giving water a crop can dry up and the culture will suffer. Too much water and the crops can be bombarded, which will affect the return, and the people will suffer as well. The ancient Mesoamericans believed that dinosaurs controlled each these facets of agriculture. Rituals were held so as to appease the gods. By appeasing the gods that the people were hoping that the gods could look generously down to them and give them a bountiful harvest that would help to sustain them for another season. It’s only logical that they desired to be as well-equipped as possible as it came into the planting, overseeing, and harvesting of the crops. Many of these ancient Mesoamerican shamans could be looked at as ancient scientists without them knowing that they were. In their eyes that they were just being messengers, or arbitrators, for its gods. In fact, they have been using the scientific method and applying it to various measuring instruments (architectural structures) in order to show a means of scientific replication year in, year out. These shamans knew that the solstices and equinoxes occurred at specific times of the year, each year. By having the ability to reproduce these results they weren’t only helping their own people, but putting authenticity to themselves as being messengers to the gods. These structures were essential tools for the shaman to effectively do their celestial duties.

All of these examples of Archeaoastonomy are linked by certain imagery and celestial bodies. In virtually every case there are depictions of the Sun, Moon, and several other celestial bodies. Even though they may be connected with different gods, these celestial bodies have been highly regarded by the Mesoamericans as crucial components for their survival. Without the sun the plants would, definitely, fail. With no moon the tides would not crest and ebb and thus fishing and navigation could be inconsistent. These all-important heavenly gods compose an essential part of Mesoamerican ideology.

To explore this point further one In this paper he explains elements of many mosaics in Uxmal. By looking at those mosaics one can see how they are loaded with archaeoastronomical data. Sheldon delves into this subject by describing facts about the moon, sun and Venus which are observed in the mosaics at the site. He writes,”that these features taken together maintain knowledge of eight facts about sunlight, moon, and Venus: the moon’s synodic period is 29.53 days; the lunar sidereal period lasts nearly 27.33 times; the Venus synodic mean is almost 584 times; the observed Venus synodic can vary between 581 and 587 days; any five consecutive Venus synodics equivalent or return to within a single day of eight vague years of 365 days each; one sun-moon correlation has five short years and three long ones together equal to eight obscure years or eight true solar years or 99 lunations; the Venus sidereal period is almost 224 days long; and finally, 13 Venus sidereals virtually equal five Venus synodics.” Though this looks as if it is simply a bunch of scientific information due to the language in which the data is housed one must take into consideration that these mosaics were made around 750-1000 A.D. Considering that into consideration an individual can see how the Maya were very interested in celestial bodies and so were very technologically in song with all the skies. This type of data gathering would not be performed over a period of months or days, but over centuries and years. That kind of devotion can only mean that the Maya were very engrossed in archaeoastronomy. These mosaics also have animal such as figures, largely bird serpents, portrayed on the walls of some of the buildings too. This shows that astronomy was integrated and meshed very closely with their faith. Having deities alongside astronomical data reveals a strong correlation between the religious beliefs of the people and how closely knit it had been in astronomy. The Maya were definitely interested in astronomy and were even more interested in trying to preserve their civilization by understanding their gods. To better understand their gods is a method to better be able to serve their gods, and appease their gods. When the gods are appeased, the Maya thought there would be a more bountiful harvest, stronger war attempts, and the fruition of their culture.

In Summary, there are lots of Anthropologists out there that may not entirely concur with the several interpretations that some archaeoastronomy scientists have made regarding the architecture and ideology of the Mesoamerican people. Much of it’s thatup: for interpretation, however enough scientific data is coming through to show that there is, in fact, correlation between the events that happen in the skies and the theological, agricultural, and cultural ties which bind a lot of these Mesoamerica individuals to various celestial bodies. Looking up at the modern skies it is no surprise that so many civilizations were fascinated with the marvels from the sky both in the day time and at nighttime. Today we have astronomers and innovative technology to compute, calculate, and make sense out of all of the data that is extracted from the heavens. Back at the time of the Maya, Aztec, and other Mesoamericans it is mind blowing to imagine that they left quite scientific calculations regarding celestial bodies without the aid of computers or other pieces of contemporary technology. Add that with the amazing looking character of the heavens and it is no surprise that these people often associated celestial bodies together with that of the gods –the Sun, the Moon, and other celestial bodies. Across the world there are comparable beliefs from pole to pole and hemisphere to hemisphere. The next time you look up at the sky and select your favorite constellation, or other heavenly bodies envision what the Maya, or even the Aztec, watched. Looking up in the heavens is like looking into a window leading from the past.