Despite serious exploration of Maya sites since the 1830s, only part of their hieroglyphic writing system, history and culture has been understood. Several mysteries remain intact, such as the decline of this civilization, but also the functioning of the 819-day calendar. Recently, scientists have found the key, based on a period of 45 years. This calendar would be linked to the cycles of all the planets potentially visible to the civilization’s astronomers, demonstrating the extent of the astronomical knowledge of this extinct people.
the empire Maya
reached the height of its power and influence around the 6th century AD. The Maya excelled in agriculture, pottery and writing. They left behind a large amount of architectural and symbolic works, which earned them the reputation of great artists of Mesoamerica.
Inspired by their religious rituals and drawing on the inventions and ideas inherited from earlier civilizations such as the Olmecsthe Maya also made significant advances in mathematics and astronomyincluding the use of zero and the development of complex calendar systems such as the Calendar Round, based on 365 days, and later the Long Count Calendar — designed to last over 5,000 years.
However, the abandonment of the great Mayan cities around the year 900 and the decline of this civilization have sparked debate since the 19th century. Most of historians’ knowledge of the Maya comes from the remains of their architecture and art. In the 1940s, scientists began to decipher a particular calendar covering a period of 819 days and called “the 819-day count”. But until now, researchers had not found the correspondence of these 819 days.
Recently, anthropologists John Linden and Victoria Bricker of Tulane University believe they have finally solved the mystery. Examining the count over a period of 45 years, the researchers found that it would match the cycles of “all major planets”, a vivid example of the advanced astronomical knowledge of the Maya civilization. Their article is published in the journal Ancient Mesoamerica.
Expanding our thinking to understand the Mayan spirit
The Mayan calendar is actually a complex system made up of smaller calendars, but the 819-day count is the most baffling to modern anthropologists. Indeed, it is a calendar based on glyphs (graphic representation of a typographical sign) that repeats four times, with each block of 819 days corresponding to one of the four colors that scientists initially linked to the cardinal directions. Red was associated with the east, white with the north, black with the west, and yellow with the south. It wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers realized this assumption was incorrect.
Instead, white and yellow seem associated respectively with the zenith (the Sun rises in the east, travels across the sky to its highest point) and at nadir (the Sun sets in the west, then travels through its nadir to rise again in the east).
But as the researchers explain, this “four-part directional pattern is too short to scale well with synodic periods. [temps impliqué par un objet céleste pour sembler
revenir approximativement au même point dans le ciel] visible planets. It was therefore necessary to extend the period of the calendar in an effort of vision and reflection broader than the usual scientific method.
The authors write: By increasing the length of the calendar to 20 819-day periods, a pattern emerges, in which the synodic periods of all visible planets correspond to station points in the 819-day calendar “.
Amazing astronomical knowledge through a precise calendar
Other clues could indicate the link between this calendar and the planets. Indeed, the Maya had extremely precise measurements of the synodic periods of the visible planets (Venus,
March And Mercury) used to predict celestial events, such as eclipses solar and lunar.
However, since each planet follows a different path in the sky, it seemed impossible to match multiple planets over the same 819-day period. This is why the authors explain that this calendar should be read on ” 16,380 days (about 45 years), a total of 20 times the count of 819 days “.
To understand how it works, they first studied Mercury’s synodic period of 117 days. The count of 819 days then corresponds to exactly 7 Mercurian cycles (819/117 = 7). For Mars, having a synodic period of 780 days, the authors associated 21 Mars cycles with 16,380 days.
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Then, they continued with Venus, of which 7 periods correspond to 5 counts of 819 days, 13 periods of synchronization of Saturn with 6 counts of 819 days, and 39 periods of Jupiter equal to 19 counts of 819 days.
Moreover, it seems that this calendar is also related to the 260-day calendar known as the Tzolk’in. By multiplying it 63 times, the authors get 16,380 days! They then point out: this larger 20-period 819-day calendar system provides a mechanism to re-establish the day number and day name of the Tzolk’in each time the 20-period 819-day cycle begins “.
The authors conclude that instead of focusing on a single planet, the Mayan astronomers who created the 819-day count envisioned it as a larger calendar system
“, a tool that could predict ” all synodic periods of the visible planet “. Then, when the number 819 is extrapolated 20 times, ” you can integrate each key planet into the system “.
Source : Ancient Mesoamerica
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