The Maya were quite accomplished astronomers. Their primary interest, in
contrast to "western" astronomers, were Zenial Passages when the Sun crossed
over the Maya latitudes. On an annual basis the sun travels to its summer
solstice point, or the latitude of 23-1/3 degrees north.
Most of the Maya cities were located south of this latitude, meaning that
they could observe the sun directly overhead during the time that the sun was
passing over their latitude. This happened twice a year, evenly spaced around
the day of solstice.
The Maya could easily determine these dates, because at local noon, they cast
no shadow. Zenial passage observations are possible only in the Tropics and were
quite unknown to the Spanish conquistadors who descended upon the Yucatan
peninsula in the 16th century. The Maya had a god to represented this position
of the Sun called the Diving God. Maya
The Maya believed the Earth was flat with four corners. Each corner
represented a cardinal direction. Each direction had a color: east-red;
north-white; west-black; south-yellow. Green was the center.
At each corner, there was a jaguar of a different color that supported the
sky. The jaguars were called bacabs.
Mayans believed the universe was divided into thirteen layers, each with its
Mayans believed that four jaguars, called bacabs, held up the sky. Each had a
The Milky Way
The Milky Way itself was much venerated by the Maya. They called it the World
Tree, which was represented by a tall and majestic flowering tree, the Ceiba.
The Milky Way was also called the Wakah Chan. Wak means "Six" or "Erect". Chan
or K'an means "Four", "Serpent" or "Sky". The World Tree was erect when
Sagittarius was well over the horizon. At this time the Milky Way rose up from
the horizon and climbed overhead into the North. The star clouds that form the
Milky Way were seen as the tree of life where all life came from.
Near Sagittarius, the center of our galaxy, where the World Tree meets the
Ecliptic was given special attention by the Maya. A major element of the World
Tree include the Kawak Monster, a giant head with a kin in its forehead.
This monster was also a mountain or witz monster. A sacrificial bowl on its
head contains a flint blade representing sacrifice, and the Kimi glyph that
represents death. The Ecliptic is sometimes represented as a bar crossing the
major axis of the world tree, making a form that is similar to the Christian
Cross. On top of the World Tree we find a bird that has been called, the
Principal Bird deity, or Itzam Ye. There is also evidence that shows the Sun on
the World Tree as it appeared to the Maya at Winter Solstice.
During the months of winter, when the so-called "Winter" Milky Way dominates
the sky, it was called the "White Boned Serpent." This part of the Milky Way
passed overhead at night during the dry season. It is not brilliant like the
star clouds that dominate the sky North of the equator during the months of
Summer, but observers at dark locations will easily see the glow. Here the
Ecliptic crosses the Milky Way again, near the constellation of Gemini which was
the approximate location of the Sun during Summer Solstice. It is possible that
the jaws of the White-Boned Serpent were represented by the Kawak monster head.
The Maya portrayed the Ecliptic in their artwork as a Double-Headed Serpent.
The ecliptic is the path of the sun in the sky which is marked by the
constellations of fixed stars. Here the moon and the planets can be found
because they are bound, like the Earth, to the sun.
The constellations on the ecliptic are also called the zodiac. We don't know
exactly how fixed constellations on the ecliptic were seen by the Maya, but we
have some idea of the order in some parts of the sky. We know there is a
scorpion, which we equate with our own constellation of Scorpius, in this figure
I believe they used the claws of Libra.
It has also been found that Gemini appeared to the Maya as a pig or peccary,
(a nocturnal animal in the pig family.) Some other constellations on the
ecliptic are identified as a jaguar, at least one serpent, a bat, a turtle, a
xoc monster--that is, shark, or a sea monster.
The Pleiades were seen as the tail of the rattlesnake and is called, "Tz'ab."
April 5, 2000 - FOX News
Approximately one millennium before Archbishop Usher of Armagh concluded that
creation occurred at 4004 B.C., the Mayans had calculated the cosmos was 90
million years old.
Like other pre-Columbian civilizations, the Maya had a profound knowledge of
the sky. Their priests recorded astronomical observations and passed them down
from generation to generation.
The result was an extremely accurate calendar that predicted the coming of
eclipses and the revolutions of Venus to an error of one day in 6,000 years.
Only a handful of the parchments that chronicle this knowledge survived the
zealous bonfires of the missionaries; those that did are now called codices. In
one, for example, Venus is represented as a figure with two masks, symbolizing
its appearance in the early morning and evening.
The calendar itself was divided into cycles 3 million years long, subdivided
into units of 20 years, 400, 8,000 and 158,000 years. There were also subunits
for marking the death and rebirth of the sun and fire. Rituals punctuated the
cycles and acted like the needles of a clock, marking the passage of time.
It is difficult to talk of Mayan astronomy itself because it was truly part
of a greater discipline: religion. The Mayan ball game is the perfect embodiment
of this fact. Transmitted from previous local civilizations as far back as 3,000
B.C., it consisted in using hips, legs and the head to get a ball across a line
or through a hoop.
Different symbols are brought together in the ball game. Archaeologists think
the ball symbolized the sun and the game re-enacted its apparent orbit around
the Earth. The sun was worshipped as a god and by playing the game, one became
somewhat akin to the Sun-God. But the game might also have signaled a changing
season, so that it served a purpose as well. Since agrarian societies require a
timekeeper to regulate agricultural tasks, these rituals were vital to the Mayan
Pre-Columbian ball courts and other buildings functioned both as religious
temples and observatories. The architecture was used to define orientations and
mark the passage of time.