Historical Archaeoastronomy of the Mesoamericans – Occasion proposal

Saturday, December 15th 2018. | Paper, Proposal

For centuries civilizations have Relied on the stars in many aspects of their everyday lives. Whether heavenly bodies have been used for navigation, ceremonial, insight for agriculture, or socio-political motives these folks often place celestial bodies in the middle of their ideology. Many civilizations held these celestial bodies in such high esteem that they integrated their whole society around certain celestial bodies along with the annual celestial events, like the equinoxes and the solstices, and very often associated these bodies and happenings together with their gods. 1 such men and women, the Mesoamericans appeared 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 how they incorporated certain celestial events in their own architecture, ideology, and daily life.

Archaeoastronomy is warranted to allow for a better comprehension of what’s being discussed herein. A.F. Aveni defined archaeastronomy in his article entitled,”Archaeoastronomy in Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment: as”more than the analysis of early astronomy through the use of archeological data and the use of historical texts. Archaeoastronomy is an interdisciplinary meeting ground for people who are worried about the perception and concept of the natural world by those of early cultures” (Averi; 165). To summarize this it could be stated that archaeoastronomy isn’t just what these ancient people saw and recorded if they looked into the heavens, but also how they realized what they found and drew conclusions based on these findings that were carried over to aspects of their lives like agricultural, religious, and even city planning. Averi is proposing the debate that there’s more than meets the eye where archaeoastronomy is worried. That archaeoastronomy isn’t simply scientific data, but also what contexts these findings have been plugged into in order to form an ideology based on celestial bodies or occasions. All these implementations of celestial bodies and events in various facets of pre-Columbian cultures of the Mesoamerican are usually seen in the artwork, architecture, and also in most of the recorded religious practices which have been preserved through codices. Even though Averi can also argue that Teotihuacan is located in a specific manner because the alignment of it is based on Cerro Gordo (that was the primary place 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 arouses new disagreements which may, ultimately, uncover new data regarding the specific reason that Teotihuacan is oriented exactly the way it is. While Averi holds fast to his argument many others seem to think that the astronomical alignment of Teotihuacan has to do with particular occasions. For instance, some anthropologists appear to think that the fifteen-point-five degree orientation of the Pyramid of the Sun contrasts with the setting of the sun on August 13th. In addition, the Pyramid of the Moon’s summit has been associated with the notification of noon and midnight with its orientation. It would be tough to feel that the orientation of the structures and the coinciding relationship between celestial events are pure coincidence.

Next, it is unlikely that Civilizations ignored the heavens and what they found in the night sky. There’s so much data to the opposite. Although Averi may not feel that the orientation of Teotihuacan has anything related to celestial events he does assert that many civilizations were aware of the heavens; their orientation at the sky, and the paths where they travel every day (and daily). According to an article that Averi composed entitled,”Tropical Archeoastronomy” he says many of these civilizations had a conscious awareness of the celestial surroundings. He wrote,”In most ancient societies, the sky and its contents lay in the base of individual cognition. Early hunter-gatherers and later sedentary societies were deeply influenced by the dependable precision of cyclic recurrence unfolding from the celestial canopy.”

Averi points out that the celestial
Bodies and their positions (and paths) were valued by ancient civilizations and were used in such ways, for instance, as in aiding seafarers in navigation. In his newspaper, Averi proceeds to describe a number of the Mesoamerican astronomical theories. He focuses on the Maya and commented about their innovative forms of writing, astronomy and mathematics. He goes on to discuss the way they”also used the horizon system to track celestial events and to indicate time.” (Averi;162). By way of instance, Averi talks about rock markers that were used to indicate certain celestial events and their correlation to terrestrial events. He writes,”Stone markers stretching from Campo Santo up to the top of mountain west of town. By Campo Santo to high approx. 1.5km. Sun rises on lines PS & OS observed from rocks O & P on March 19th 1940 two days before the equinox.” (Averi;162-3). This information, in itself, tells us nothing extraordinary about the stone markers, however, it does give a bit of background info and assists a reader to form a mental image in their mind. It sets the scene for the next quote. Averi then writes,”Sun rises this afternoon at 6 levels 31.5 ms. Direction observed with simple adjustable compass. Observations are made in the rock now by zahorins (shamans) for planting and harvesting.” (Averi;162-3). This passage, though lengthy and full of scientific jargon, does reveal that these marker stones which were erected could be, and were/are, used in combination with the planting and harvesting of these crops. Every year a shaman can go to the stone and, together with the simplest of tools, create detailed calculations that will be utilized in making sure a positive impact on their own agriculture. Without markers such as these ancient Mayas could have had a tougher time trying to determine when to plant their crops to ensure optimum return, and when to harvest in order to ensure optimum quality of their crops.

Averi has also written concerning Structure and its correlation to celestial bodies in Mesoamerica. One such site that Averi talks about in detail is that of Chichén Itzá. He, and his partners, discussed the calendrical symbolism of certain buildings in Chichén Itzá and certain correlations which could be observed from inside the Maya calendar. By way of example, Averi talks especially cabout that the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and the way specific aspects of it could be related to aspects of this Maya theology, calendar, and celestial events. He clarifies the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and ties it to all these different aspects. For instance, he writes,”This stepped groundbreaking pyramid owns nine terraces, the same as the amount of levels of the Maya underwold.” (Averi; 129). Averi is showing the way the Maya incorporated pieces of their ideology into their architectural strategies. He proceeds to say,”Divided by a stairway, each side includes eighteen such layers, which is equal to the number of twenty-day months in a Maya year.” Whether it’s by coincidence or completed by purpose there is no denying that the similarities to the two features mentioned concerning the Castillo demonstrates that the Maya could’ve very well been putting those ideologies into the stone monuments which dominated the landscape. When the Castillo is seen from above it”looks like the quadripartite diagrams of the world the ancient Mesoamericans painted in their codices, which reveal that the four dimensional godsplants, animals, day titles, etc” (Avery;129). Why do these Mesoamericans integrate this type of theological depth to some physical arrangement that could only be viewed from above? Could it be that they were expecting to gain favor with the gods by showing them the ways that they’re worshipping, and paying homage, to them? Could it be a combination of theology and calendric math that just happened to take the form that it did and that it may be viewed most entirely from the skies is simply a coincidence? This author thinks not. This writer 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 the Castillo of all Chichén Itzá is filled with possible inferences. By way of example, Averi proceeds to characterize the Castillo by writing,”Fifty-two recessed panels decorate both sides of each stairway, just like the number 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 added layer of symbiosis between architecture and Maya ideology lays additional credibility to the argument that the physical makeup of the Castillo in Chichén Itzá isn’t random and that there was aware thought that was given as a way to incorporate these astronomical and theological thoughts. Averi is arguing that the Castillo was constructed and functioned in a”calendrical ritual capability from the context of this ancient four-directional New year festival practice, which was conducted during the last five days of the seasonal calendar” The building itself was incorporated with so much Maya ideology and theological beliefs that it was definitely erected as a sacred location.

Avery has not cornered the market as Far as archaeoastronomy is concerned. There are a number of other anthropologists and other interested parties that have chimed in on the topic. Once such individual is Elizabeth Baity. In her paper she discusses the construction of megalithic structures of early times and also the astronomical techniques which were used in their structure. She delves into explaining a new sub disciple that incorporates technology, archeology, and astronomy. She makes the argument that there are numerous structures which were built in early civilizations that held that a specific intention of predicting astronomical events. These structures weren’t just erected for their aesthetic value even though many of these structures are breath-taking inside their beauty. In referring to archaeoastronomy she explains that it”focuses on the analysis of the orientations and dimensions of megalithic and other monumental historical structures, many of which, as we’ll see, might have functioned for the prediction of solar and lunar eclipses and unquestionably did function for the conclusion of solstices and equinoxes, enabling the setting of dates to agricultural activities and for the ritual cycle of the year”. As you can see that there are some similarities between what she is arguing and the debate which Avery presented. Both are under the belief that these structures the ancient Mesoamerican people built were built with the aim of astronomical, agricultural, and religious occasions. The majority of these structures were integrated into rituals that coincided with particular seasonal occasions and the evidence can be seen on ceramics, art, and other mediums. It is safe to state the Mesoamerican people put an emphasis on particular celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. A few of those celestial events directly correlates with the planting or planting of those annual plants that provided the sustenance that the Mesoamericans required to flourish as a civilization. The concept of constructions to forecast specific celestial events isn’t a new one and isn’t specific to the Mesoamericans. For instance, Stonehenge is maybe among the most famous celestial monuments in the world. Archeologists have attempted to decode what the position of the stones relate to. Some archeologists theorize that they mark the swing of the azimuth of the moon, while others appear to believe they are directly related to the solstices and equinoxes. No matter what differences that the astronomers and anthropologists have concerning Stonehenge something is for certain — it had been built for a purpose other than that of pure usefulness. It is this pushing and extending of long held beliefs regarding the uses of these monolithic structures that cause new advancements and breakthroughs 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 at this website, known as Group 8N-11. In their paper,”Astronomical Orientation of this Skyband Bench at Copán”, the Bricker’s talk specifically about the Skyband Bench. Like Teotihuacan the orientation of this Skyband Bench at Copán plays a key role in laying credibility to the debate for archaeoastronomical content in Mesoamerican cultures. Panels 2, 5, and 8 are views of the head of the personified Sun or Sun god. Panels 6 and 4 are personifications of, respectively day and night.” (Bricker; 435). This proof cannot be ignored. The simple fact that the Mesoamericans are producing art that depicts celestial bodies and, moreover, personifying them shows that they had a deep connection with the bodies up in the skies. The Skyband Bench is a great example of early Mesoamericans showing their consciousness of the skies above and the celestial bodies that are held within. The Brickers’ newspaper is a good illustration of how part of Mesoamerican architecture may provide various knowledge and authenticity for archaeoastronomy. As in any other area the more newspapers that become published on a particular topic the further the scientific community will detect and also, hopefully, work towards accepting these hypotheses.

The Mayas weren’t the only Mesoamerican culture to integrate celestial vision into their construction, and then, into their culture. In his essay he describes spatial symbolism and orientation. He writes,”The Aztecs observed celebrities, measured them, and calculated them in their agricultural and social cycles” Can you see a trend appearing? In virtually all of the cases of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy among the prime elements is agriculture. Without agriculture of some sort a civilization will certainly perish. The ability to produce a bountiful harvest may mean the difference between a thriving civilization and one which is in ruins. There are a few factors to consider when agriculture is concerned. To begin with, sunlight can be both a godsend and a curse. Its heat and ultraviolet rays are required by the plants in order to grow and thrive. Too much or not enough warmth, as well as too much or insufficient ultraviolet rays and the harvest will endure. Secondly, water is needed for agriculture to flourish. Without life-giving water a harvest can dry up and the civilization will endure. Too much water and the crops can be flooded, which will affect the yield, and the people will suffer as well. The ancient Mesoamericans thought that dinosaurs controlled all of these facets of agriculture. Rituals were held in order to appease the gods. By appeasing the gods that the people were expecting that the gods would look down on them and grant them a bountiful harvest which would help keep them for the following season. It’s only logical that they wanted to be well-equipped as possible as it came into the planting, overseeing, and harvesting of these crops. Many of these ancient Mesoamerican shamans may be looked at as ancient scientists without them knowing that they had been. In their eyes they were simply being messengers, or arbitrators, for its gods. In reality, they were using the scientific method and applying it to different measuring tools (architectural structures) so as 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, every year. By having the ability to replicate these results they were not only helping their people, but also laying credibility as being messengers to the gods. These constructions were essential tools for the shaman to efficiently do their divine duties.

All of these examples of Archeaoastonomy are connected by certain imagery and heavenly bodies. In virtually every case there are depictions of the Sun, Moon, and several other celestial bodies. Even though they could be connected with various gods, these celestial bodies were highly regarded from the Mesoamericans as key elements for their survival. Without the sun the crops would, definitely, fail. With no moon the tides would not crest and ebb and thus navigation and fishing could be inconsistent. These all-important celestial gods make up an integral part of Mesoamerican ideology.

To explore this point further one Can look at Weldon Lamb’s paper entitled,”The Sun, Moon and Venus in Uxmal”. In this paper he explains elements of several mosaics in Uxmal. By looking at those mosaics one can observe how they are packed with archaeoastronomical data. Sheldon delves into this topic by explaining facts about the moon, sun and Venus that are found in the mosaics in 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 days; the observed Venus synodic can change between 581 and 587 times; any five successive Venus synodics equivalent or come to within one day of eight vague years of 365 days each; one sun-moon correlation has five brief years and three long ones together equal to eight vague years or eight solar years or even 99 lunations; the Venus sidereal period is almost 224 days long; and lastly, 13 Venus sidereals virtually equal five Venus synodics.” Though this looks as though it is simply a bunch of scientific data due to the vocabulary where the data is housed one has to take into consideration that these mosaics were produced around 750-1000 A.D. Taking that into consideration one can see the way the Maya were very interested in celestial bodies and so were very technologically in song with the skies. This kind of data gathering wouldn’t be performed over a period of days or months, but over centuries and years. That type of dedication can only mean that the Maya were quite engrossed in archaeoastronomy. All these mosaics also have animal like figures, mostly bird serpents, portrayed on the walls of a few of the buildings as well. This shows that astronomy was incorporated and meshed very closely with their faith. 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 interested in astronomy and were more interested in attempting to preserve their culture by understanding their gods. To better comprehend their religions is a way to better be able to serve their gods, and appease their gods. When the gods are appeased, the Maya believed there would be much more bountiful crop, stronger war attempts, and the fruition of the civilization.

In Summary, there are lots of Anthropologists out there which may not entirely concur with the several interpretations that some archaeoastronomy researchers have made concerning the architecture and ideology of the Mesoamerican men and women. Much of it’s that: up for translation, but enough scientific information is coming to show there is, in fact, correlation between the events that occur in the skies and the theological, agricultural, and cultural ties which bind a lot of these Mesoamerica individuals to different celestial bodies. Looking up at the modern skies it’s no wonder that all these civilizations were fascinated by the marvels in the skies both in the day time and at nighttime. Now we have astronomers and advanced technology to compute, compute, and make sense from all of the data which is extracted in the heavens. Back at the time of the Aztec, Maya, and other Mesoamericans it’s mind blowing to envision they left quite scientific calculations regarding celestial bodies without the aid of computers along with other parts of modern technology. Add that with the awesome looking nature of the heavens and it is no surprise that these folks often associated heavenly bodies with that of their gods –the Sun, the Moon, and other celestial bodies. Across the world there are comparable beliefs from pole to pole and hemisphere to hemisphere. Next time you look up in the sky and pick out your favorite constellation, or other heavenly bodies envision what the Maya, or the Aztec, watched. Looking up in the heavens is like looking into a window leading out to the past.