For centuries, people from all latitudes have been fascinated by the night sky. The unreachable stars, the Moon, the comets and all the events happening in the sky, fired up imaginations and became symbols of life and death, of war, peace and the passing of time and the seasons. The movement of the stars was used to establish the time for planting and harvesting, to prepare for the long winters and to try to discover the future and destiny, the eternal unknown destiny of the human race. Three large human groups, the Mayans, the Aztecs and the Zapotecs populated the Central and Southeastern regions of Mexico long before the discovery of the continent by Columbus. These ancient cultures developed a very complex knowledge of Astronomy and built a large number of structures destined to be used as observatories. They made precise measurements and kept records of all the important events in the skies. This paper will explore some of the most important discoveries of these ancient astronomers and the precision of the alignments of their buildings. It will also establish the importance the astronomical knowledge had in their lives and societies.
Part I - The Mayans
The Mayan Culture occupied the Southern part of Mexico and part of Central America. They were the only pre-Hispanic civilization with an advanced written language and a very developed culture and body of knowledge that included the most advanced mathematics, art, architecture and a very accurate astronomy. The Mayans developed sophisticated hydraulic systems, built extraordinary palaces, and designed and built pyramids and buildings believed to be observatories which were aligned with some celestial bodies and marked some of the most important astronomical events of each year.
The Mayans recorded the motion of some of the stars, the Sun, the moon and certain planets. They produced a very accurate 360 day long calendar they used to measure long periods of time. Developing an extended astronomical knowledge was not very easy because their astronomers did all their observations with the naked eye. However, they were able to do all kinds of incredibly precise astronomical measurements and calculate the seasons, the solstices and eclipses. They did all this by following the patterns of the movements of planets and stars, observing the shadows cast by the Sun, and using some rudimentary instruments. The practice of astronomy was relegated to the ilhuica tlamatilizmatini, or "wise man who studies heaven". These priest-astronomers had a great amount of power, given the fact that they could essentially 'predict' the future. (Welser-Sherrill)
II - Planets, Stars, the Moon and the Sun.
Venus. The Mayans gave great importance to the planet Venus; they recorded its transit across the sky and used this information to create the Dresden Codex which contains the data for the full circle of this planet. The Mayans counted five repetitions of the cycle of Venus, each one with a length of...