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Mayan calendar, start all over again?
A new reading of the boards of Venus contained in the famous Dresden Codex might oblige us to revise the astronomical approach and history of the Mayan world.
For us today Venus is just a very bright dot in the sky. But for the ancient Maya, the planet’s light was a harbinger of war who led the ritual activity, gave the go-to great battles, or could even be synonymous with “total destruction”.
Archaeologists have always considered a key to understanding Venus calendars and Mayan translations. Today, however, the new interpretation of an ancient text, the Dresden Codex (named in honor of the city that houses the eighteenth century), indicates that the interpretation in use to date of how the Mayans followed the movements of Venus compile their astronomical calendars can be completely wrong. Putting together a new reading of the text, complex equations and field observations, Gerardo Aldana, University of California at Santa Barbara has simplified the way the Mayan scribe corrected their calendars. The code contains a very elegant mathematical approach that so far had not been identified. His work not only sheds new light on how the Mayans relate their ceremonies to the sky, but it calls into question any date of events known to us so far in the Mayan world. Scholars have long known the fascination of the ancient Mesoamerican cultures for astronomy, but many details about how these ancient peoples were following celestial objects were destroyed with the arrival of the conquistadors. The Dresden Codex is one of four texts were thousands of existing before the landing of the Spaniards in the New World.
A section of the code is made up of the so-called tables of Venus, which provided the Maya a tool to correct their calendars. The peoples of Mesoamerica used two calendars: the solar calendar, 365 days, said haab, and one ceremony, the tzolkin, which followed a 260-day cycle related to rites and celebrations: a kind of calendar week (a week composed of 260 days) in which each day had its own cultural significance.
However, because a solar year consists of 365.25 days, the Mayans then carried out a correction to make ends the cycle with the fourth advancing, just like we do every four years with the leap year. To make their correction, the Mayans resorted to the planet Venus. Consulting their ancient texts, they were able to determine where he was the planet hundreds of years before, and then where it should be when a remark was made. The difference between the two positions in time was the amount of correction to be made.