When Orion appeared through a designated hole or the
sun shone directly on a specific spot, it meant spring was near. The pyramid of
El Taj n in Mexico, for example, is made up of 365 niches, one for each day of
the year. A niche here is the equivalent of a box in one of our calendars.
Smaller calendars were sculpted into stone and gold. It is no wonder then
that artists were highly regarded and given special status in Mayan society.
Without artists there would be no calendars, no way to tell time, bad crops and
eventually famine. For the Maya, astronomy was enmeshed into one thick fabric
with art, agriculture and religion.
The Dresden Codex - the Book of Mayan Astronomy
The advanced Mayan culture developed thanks to a complex synthesis of
different culture streams arising from the home agricultural base, influenced by
cultural values coming from regions lying out of the territory of Mayan
settlement. Its forming falls to the so-called early phase of the initial period
placed between 1500 800 BC. It was spread step-by-step to the regions of
Guatemala, south-eastern Mexico, Belize, Salvador and north-western Honduras.
The construction of beautiful and splendid cathedral cities, fine arts of
sculpture and painting, use of their own hieroglyphic script, success in
astronomy, existence of the literature and the development of handicraft and
trade were the outer expression of this cultural-economic rise.
The results of Mayan observations and calculations of astronomical phenomena
are concentrated in the Dresden Codex. It is a band of paper 3.5 meter long set
up into 39 sheets making up 78 pages 8.5 x 20.5 cm. The paper was obtained from
the bark of wild-growing species of fig tree. It is supposed that it originates
from Yucatan as a latter transcription of an elder original. It contains
calendrical data, written in the Mayan dating system, concerning astronomical
data and the sky mechanics, and tables of multiple integers that are to be used
for calculations of planetary movement ephemerids and tropical years, next to
the hieroglyphic texts and numerous depicturings of the Mayan gods and ritual
The data contained in the Dresden Codex were studied by many researchers who
suspected they contain astronomical data. M.Meinshausen (1913), C.E.Guthe (1921)
and H.Spinden (1930) were the first who had been interested in the eclipses
tables. E.Foerstemann has drawn our attention to Venus visibility ephemerides
tables; he also issued the Dresden Codex with a commentary in 1892. The analysis
of these ephemerides has been made by J.E.Teeple (1926). R.W.Wilson believed
that some of the data could concern the observations of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn
(1924). The above-mentioned researchers, and lots of others, worked with the
calculation coefficients of 584,283 or 584,285 days accordingly to
Goodman-Martinez-Thompson when converting the Mayan dates into the Christian
dating system, or tried to calculate their own coefficient. For this reason
their conclusions were very diverse.
One of the most important problems during the studies of various Mayan
culture phenomena had been the problem of correlating the Mayan to our Christian
dating system. In present times we are used to correlate the Mayan dates with
the Christian ones using the Goodman-Mart nez-Thompson correlation. Accordingly
to it, a stable coefficient of 584,283 or 584,285 days is added to the Mayan
dates expressing the counts of days which have passed from a particular day to
the date of a certain event. The Mayan date is converted into a Julian day
number and the latter finally to the corresponding day, month and year of the
Julian calendar used in modern astronomy.
Working with the Mayan data of the Dresden Codex we found that the
Goodman-Mart nez-Thompson correlation is unusable, even for the dates evidently
concerning certain astronomical phenomena, such as the observations of Venus
visibility, or Sun and Moon eclipses. We have obtained a new coefficient of
622,261 days for the conversion of the Mayan dates to our dating system by a
complete analysis of the mutual relations between the time intervals of all the
Mayan dates in the Dresden Codex and 400 inscriptions from the cathedral cities.
Using the so called B hm correlation coefficient we were successful in proving
that all data contained in the Dresden Codex are concerning astronomical
The Mayan astronomical observations were carried out by simple measuring
methods. It is therefore necessary to examine them statistically while
respecting unavoidable accuracy scatter. It applies first of all to the sky
phenomena calculated to the past and the future during several centuries
recorded in the Dresden Codex. The dated astronomical observations are
1.The observations of Venus visibility, when it had appeared for the first
time after its conjunction with the Sun as a morning star in the sky shortly
before the sunrise, or after its upper conjunction, when it had appeared in the
sky as an evening star shortly after the sunset.
2.The observations of Mercury visibility. Its trajectory creates an eccentric
ellipse. Thanks to this eccentricity the synodic circulations of the planet
lasts from 104 to 132 days. The average length of the synodic circulation is
The considerable proximity of the planet to the Sun makes its glow suppressed
by dazzling sunshine.
For that reason, the Mayan astronomers could have observed it only when the
planet gets to the greatest angle distance during its circulation around the
Sun, so called elongation. It is the western elongation, when Mercury rises over
the horizon shortly before sunrise and the eastern elongation, when it is
briefly visible over the western horizon right after sunset.
The maximal angle distances are as a rule moving between 18 to 23 degrees.
The maximal elongation of 27 degrees and 49 minutes happens when this
elongation visible from the Earth runs during the epihelium, that means the
greatest distance between Mercury and the Sun (Mercury gets there once for its
sidereal circulation on its eccentric trajectory).
The sidereal circulation is the real time of circulation of any planet around
the Sun and it makes in this case 87.9693 days.