Sunday, November 8, 2009

How knowledgeable were the Maya and their sister cultures?

The ancient Mesoamerica Maya-Azteca cultures were more advanced in the science of astronomy than their contemporaries in Europe and Asia. They even took astronomy into consideration how they laid out the core of their cities, placing buildings not just taking into consideration the four cardinal directions but placing obser
vatories strategically to study the sky.

No other ancient society recorded as accurate observations of celestial phenomena as the Maya (and later the Azteca) did, and they measured time with obsessively elaborate precision. Their Long-Count Calendar, which predicts our world will come to an end on 2012, was infinitely more advanced than anything the Old World had when Cortez conquered the Aztecs militarily in the 16th century.

-- Did their astronomical observations have a practical purpose?

In some regards, they did. In ancient times, the sky was an integral part of daily life – people looked to the sky not just to see whether they needed an umbrella, but for guidance on how to cross a sea, the route caravans took, when crops were to be planted and harvested, and even to predict future events.


  1. I think that we are so obsessed with how much knowledge we have at our fingertips that we don't realize how knowledgeable some ancient societies were -- it's just that the skills were different because the needs were different -- how many times do we read about people lost in a forest only minutes walk from the nearest road? How many fishermen could find their way home without GPS? The ancients used their knowledge of astronomy to guide them.

  2. It is true that we have different skills. I buy my clothes ready to wear. If I had to pick the cotton, weave it into material and sew it into clothes I would be completely helpless. And wow, the idea of raising chickens, chopping off their heads, plucking their feathers -- need I go on?

  3. When I think about what the Maya knew about astronomy, about the Milky Way galaxy and the alignment of it, I wonder if they got their knowledge from some other source than viewing it. There are so many of situations where the ancients seem to know things they couldn't have known without have access to air or space travel, I'm open to the suggestion that we were visited by entities from the stars.