Historical Archaeoastronomy of the Mesoamericans – Occasion proposal

Thursday, April 25th 2019. | Paper, Proposal

For centuries cultures have Relied on the celebrities in many facets of their daily lives. Whether heavenly bodies have been utilized for navigation, ceremonial, insight for agriculture, or even socio-political reasons these folks frequently place celestial bodies at the middle of their ideology. Many cultures held these heavenly bodies at such high esteem that they integrated their entire society around specific celestial bodies and the annual celestial events, such as the equinoxes and the solstices, and very often associated these bodies and occurrences with their gods. 1 such people, the Mesoamericans seemed to get a tight synthesis between archaeoastronomy and their daily life. The objective of this paper is to show how the different individuals which were associated with Mesoamerica seen celestial bodies and the way they integrated certain celestial events within their architecture, ideology, and everyday life.

First, a definition of
Archaeoastronomy is warranted to allow for a better comprehension of what is being discussed herein. A.F. Aveni described archaeastronomy in his post entitled,”Archaeoastronomy at Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment: as”more than the analysis of ancient astronomy through the use of archeological data and the use of ancient texts. Archaeoastronomy is an interdisciplinary meeting ground for people who are worried about the understanding and conception of the natural world by the people of early cultures” (Averi; 165). To outline this it might be stated that archaeoastronomy isn’t just what these ancient people watched and recorded if they looked in the skies, but also the way they implemented what they found and drew conclusions based on these findings which were taken over to aspects of their lives such as religious, agricultural, and even city planning. This archaeoastronomy is not only scientific data, but also what contexts these findings have been plugged into as a way to form an ideology based on celestial bodies or events. These implementations of celestial bodies and events in different facets of pre-Columbian cultures of these Mesoamerican are usually seen in the artwork, architecture, and in most of those recorded religious practices which have been preserved through codices. Even though Averi may also assert that Teotihuacan is located in a particular fashion because the alignment of it is based on Cerro Gordo (that was the key place where they brought water) which does not necessarily signify that archaeoastronomy doesn’t have a scientific leg to stand on. In reality, offering numerous theories of the orientation stimulates new debates which may, finally, uncover new data regarding the specific rationale that Teotihuacan is oriented the way that it is. While Averi holds fast to his debate many others appear to believe that the astronomical alignment of Teotihuacan has to do with particular occasions. For instance, some anthropologists seem to believe that the fifteen-point-five level orientation of the Pyramid of the Sun correlates with the placing of the sun on August 13th. In addition, the Pyramid of the Moon’s summit was connected with the telling of noon and midnight by its orientation. It would be tough 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 heavens and what they found in the night skies. There’s so much data to the contrary. Though Averi may not think that the orientation of Teotihuacan has something related to celestial events he does assert that lots of cultures were conscious of the heavens; their orientation at the sky, and the paths in which they travel every day (and daily). According to a post that Averi wrote entitled,”Tropical Archeoastronomy” he says many of these civilizations had a conscious understanding of their celestial environment. He wrote,”In most early societies, the sky and its contents put at the base of individual cognition. Early hunter-gatherers and later sedentary societies were profoundly affected by the dependable accuracy of cyclic recurrence unfolding in the celestial canopy.”

Averi points out that the celestial
Bodies and their ranks (and paths) were valued by early cultures and have been used in such ways, by way of instance, as in aiding seafarers in navigation. In his paper, Averi goes on to explain some of these Mesoamerican astronomical concepts. He focuses on the Maya and commented about their advanced types of writing, mathematics and astronomy. He goes on to talk about the way they”also used the horizon method to monitor celestial events and also to mark time.” (Averi;162). By way of instance, Averi talks about rock markers that were used to indicate specific celestial events and their correlation to terrestrial events. He writes,”Stone markers extending from behind Campo Santo around the very top of high hill west of town. From Campo Santo to high approx. 1.5km. Sun rises on lines PS & OS seen from rocks O & P on March 19th 1940 two days ahead of the equinox.” (Averi;162-3). This information, in itself, tells us nothing outstanding about the stone markers, however, it will give a little bit of background information and helps a reader to create a mental image in their thoughts. Averi then writes,”Sun rises this afternoon at 6 levels 31.5 ms. Direction observed with simple adjustable compass. Observations are made in the stone today by zahorins (shamans) for harvesting and planting.” (Averi;162-3). This passage, though lengthy and filled with scientific jargon, does show these markers stones which were erected can be, and were/are, used in conjunction with the planting and harvesting of these plants. Consider these markers as a”Maya Agriculture Almanac”. Each year that a shaman can visit the stones and, together with the simplest of tools, create detailed calculations that will be used in making sure a positive effect on their agriculture. Without mark such as these ancient Mayas could have had a harder time trying to determine when to plant their crops to ensure optimum yield, and when to harvest so as to guarantee optimum quality of their plants.

Structure and its significance to celestial bodies in Mesoamerica. One such website that Averi talks about in detail is that of Chichén Itzá. He, and his partners, discussed the calendrical symbolism of certain buildings within Chichén Itzá and particular correlations which could be seen from within the Maya calendar. By way of instance, Averi talks specially cabout that the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and how certain elements 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 all these different facets. As an example, he writes,”This stepped groundbreaking pyramid owns nine terraces, just like the number of degrees of the Maya underwold.” (Averi; 129). Averi is showing the way the Maya incorporated parts of their ideology in their architectural plans. He proceeds to say,”Divided by means of a stairway, every side includes 5 such layers, which is equivalent to the number of twenty-day months at a Maya calendar year.” When it’s by coincidence or done by purpose there isn’t any denying that the similarities to the two features mentioned concerning the Castillo demonstrates that the Maya could’ve very well been putting those ideologies to the stone monuments that dominated the landscape. Whenever the Castillo is seen from above it”looks like the quadripartite diagrams of this world the early Mesoamericans painted inside their codices, which reveal that the four dimensional godsplants, animals, day names, etc” (Avery;129). Why do these Mesoamericans incorporate this type of theological depth to some bodily arrangement that may only be considered from above? Is it that they were hoping to gain favor with the gods by showing them the ways that they’re worshipping, and paying homage, to them? Is it a mixture of theology and calendric mathematics that only happened to select the form that it did and the fact that it can be seen most completely from the sky is just a coincidence? This writer thinks not. This author believes that there was a conscious aim to appease the gods, perhaps in the hopes of countless years of bountiful harvests and the flourishing of this civilization. The structure of this Castillo of Chichén Itzá is filled with possible inferences. For instance, Averi proceeds to describe the Castillo by writing,”Fifty-two recessed panels decorate both sides of every stairway, just like the amount of years in a calendar around, the shortest period in which the seasonal year is commensurate with the tzolkin or sacred round of 260 days.” (Averi; 129). This extra layer of symbiosis between Maya and architecture ideology lays additional credibility to the argument that the actual makeup of the Castillo in Chichén Itzá isn’t arbitrary and that there was aware thought that has been granted as a way to incorporate these astronomical and theological thoughts. Averi is claiming the Castillo was constructed and functioned in a”calendrical ritual capacity from the context of the ancient four-directional New year festival practice, which was conducted throughout the previous five days of the seasonal calendar.” This construction, in Averi’s eyes, had a particular ritualistic function. The building itself was incorporated with so much Maya ideology and theological beliefs which it was definitely built as a sacred site.

Avery hasn’t cornered the market as Far as archaeoastronomy is concerned. There are many other anthropologists and other interested parties that have chimed in on the topic. Once such person is Elizabeth Baity. In her paper she discusses the construction of megalithic constructions of early times and the astronomical methods which were utilized in their structure. She also delves into explaining a brand new sub disciple that integrates technology, archeology, as well as astronomy. She’s the argument that there are numerous structures that were built in ancient civilizations that held that a particular purpose of predicting astronomical events. These constructions weren’t just built because of their aesthetic value even though a lot of these structures are breath-taking in their beauty. In referring to archaeoastronomy she explains that it”focuses on the evaluation of their orientations and measurements of megalithic and other enormous ancient structures, a lot of which, as we will see, could have served for the forecast of lunar and solar eclipses and certainly did serve for the determination of solstices and equinoxes, enabling the setting of dates for agricultural pursuits and for the ritual cycle of this year”. (Baity; 390). As you can see there are a few similarities between what she is arguing along with the argument that Avery presented. Both are under the belief that these structures the ancient Mesoamerican individuals constructed were built with the aim of astronomical, agricultural, and religious events. The majority of these constructions were integrated into rituals which coincided with specific seasonal occasions and the evidence can be understood on ceramics, art, and other mediums. It is safe to say that the Mesoamerican people place an emphasis on specific celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. Some of those celestial events directly coincided with the planting or harvesting of the annual crops that provided the sustenance the Mesoamericans needed to thrive as a culture. The concept of constructions to forecast specific celestial events isn’t a new one and is not specific to the Mesoamericans. Many other cultures throughout history have erected structures for the same function. By way of instance, Stonehenge is maybe one of the most well-known celestial monuments in the world. Archeologists have attempted 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 related to the solstices and equinoxes. No matter what differences that the astronomers and anthropologists have concerning Stonehenge one thing is for certain — it was built for a purpose other than that of pure utility. It’s this pushing and stretching 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 who have archaeoastronomical content. One such site 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. Like Teotihuacan the orientation of this Skyband Bench in Copán plays a key role in laying credibility to the argument for archaeoastronomical content in Mesoamerican cultures. In their paper they write,”The Skyband Bench at Copán is a bicephalic raptorial bird (panels 1 and 9) instead of a serpent, but all the body panels endure celestial vision. Panels 5, 2, and 8 are frontal views of the head of the personified Sun or Sun god. Panels 6 and 4 are personifications of, respectively night and day.” This proof cannot be ignored. The fact that the Mesoamericans are producing art that depicts celestial bodies and, moreover, personifying them shows they had a deep connection with up the bodies in the skies. The Skyband Bench is a great example of ancient Mesoamericans showing their consciousness of the heavens above and the celestial bodies that are held inside. The Brickers’ newspaper is a fantastic example of the way in which a part of Mesoamerican architecture may provide a plethora of knowledge and authenticity for archaeoastronomy. As in almost any other discipline the more papers that become printed on a certain topic the further the scientific community will notice and also, hopefully, focus towards accepting these hypotheses.

The Mayas were not the sole Mesoamerican civilization to integrate celestial vision in their structure, and then, into their culture. In his article he explains spatial symbolism and orientation. He writes,”The Aztecs observed celebrities, measured them, and calculated them into their agricultural and social cycles.” Can you find a trend appearing? In virtually every one the examples of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy among the prime components is agriculture. Without agriculture of some sort a civilization will certainly perish. The capacity to produce a bountiful harvest may mean the difference between a flourishing civilization and one which is in ruins. There are a few factors to think about when agriculture is concerned. First, the sun can be both a godsend and a curse. Its warmth and ultraviolet rays are needed by the plants so as to grow and flourish. Too much or not enough heat, in addition to too much or insufficient ultraviolet rays as well as the crop will endure. Second, water is needed for agriculture to flourish. Without life-giving water a harvest can dry up and the culture will suffer. Too much water and the crops can be bombarded, which will impact the return, and the people will suffer also. The ancient Mesoamericans believed that gods controlled all of these aspects of agriculture. Rituals were held so as to support the gods. By appeasing the gods that the people were hoping that the gods would seem generously down to them and grant them a bountiful harvest which would help keep them for another year. It’s only logical that they wanted to be as well-equipped as possible as it came to the planting, overseeing, and harvesting of the plants. By incorporating a means in which to predict the best times to plant, and harvest, these individuals could help to ensure the sustainability of their culture for a future generation. A number of these ancient Mesoamerican shamans could be looked at as early scientists without them knowing that they were. In their eyes they were just being messengers, or arbitrators, for the gods. In reality, they have been using the scientific method and applying it to different measuring instruments (architectural structures) so as to show a way of scientific replication year in, year out. These shamans understood that the solstices and equinoxes happened at particular times of the year, every year. By having the ability to reproduce these results they weren’t only helping out their people, but putting authenticity as being messengers to the gods. These structures were essential tools in order for the shaman to effectively do their divine duties.

All of these examples of Archeaoastonomy are linked by certain imagery and heavenly bodies. Though they may be associated with different gods, these celestial bodies were highly regarded by the Mesoamericans as key elements for their own survival. Without the sun the crops would, undoubtedly, fail. With no moon the tides wouldn’t crest and ebb and so fishing and navigation would be inconsistent. These all-important celestial gods compose an essential part of Mesoamerican ideology.

In this paper he describes elements of many mosaics in Uxmal. By viewing those mosaics you can observe how they are packed with archaeoastronomical data. Sheldon delves into this subject by explaining details concerning the moon, sun and Venus which are found in the mosaics in the site. He writes,”these attributes taken together maintain knowledge of eight facts about the sun, moon, and Venus: the moon’s synodic period is 29.53 days; the lunar sidereal phase lasts almost 27.33 days; the Venus synodic imply is all but 584 days; the detected Venus synodic can change between 581 and 587 times; any five successive Venus synodics equal or come to within a single day of eight vague years of 365 days each; one sun-moon correlation has five brief years and three extended ones collectively equal to eight obscure years or eight solar years or even 99 lunations; the Venus sidereal period is almost 224 days long; and finally, 13 Venus sidereals virtually equivalent five Venus synodics.” (Lamb; 79). Though this seems as though it is only a bunch of scientific data because of the language in which the data is housed one has to take into consideration that these mosaics were produced about 750-1000 A.D. Taking that into consideration an individual can observe how the Maya were quite curious about celestial bodies and were very technologically in tune with all the heavens. This kind of data gathering wouldn’t be done over a span of months or days, but over centuries and years. That type of dedication can only signify that the Maya were quite enthusiastic about archaeoastronomy. These mosaics also have animal like figures, largely bird serpents, portrayed on the walls of some of the buildings too. This demonstrates that astronomy was integrated and meshed very tightly with their religion. Having deities alongside astronomical data reveals a strong correlation between the spiritual beliefs of these people and how closely knit it was in astronomy. The Maya were definitely curious about astronomy and were even more enthusiastic in trying to preserve their civilization by understanding their gods. To better understand their religions is a method to better be able to serve their own gods, and appease their gods. When the gods are appeased, the Maya believed there would be a more bountiful harvest, more successful war attempts, and the fruition of the civilization.

In Summary, there are lots of Anthropologists out there that may not entirely concur with the various interpretations that some archaeoastronomy researchers have made concerning the architecture and ideology of the Mesoamerican men and women. Much of it is thatup: for translation, but enough scientific data is coming to demonstrate there is, in fact, correlation between the events that occur in the heavens and the theological, agricultural, and cultural ties which bind a lot of these Mesoamerica individuals to various celestial bodies. Looking up at the contemporary sky it’s no surprise that so many cultures were fascinated by the marvels in the sky both in the day time and at nighttime. Now we’ve got astronomers and innovative technology to compute, compute, and make sense from all of the data that is extracted from the skies. Back at the time of the Aztec, Maya, and other Mesoamericans it is mind blowing to imagine they made quite scientific calculations concerning celestial bodies without the assistance of computers or other parts of modern technology. Add that with the awesome looking character of the skies and it is no wonder that these folks often associated heavenly bodies with that of the gods –the Sun, the Moon, and other celestial bodies. The next time you look up in the sky and select your favorite constellation, or other heavenly bodies envision what the Maya, or even the Aztec, watched. Looking up into the heavens is like buying window leading out to the past.