The Mayas were a civilization that developed in regions of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico and Central America. The Mayas, like other Mesoamerican civilizations, had many accomplishments in architecture, art, writing, and mathematics; however, some of their major accomplishments were made in astronomy. The Mayas were assiduous observers of the heavens with which they related most of their activities on Earth. The practice of naked eye sky watching must have been one of their principal pass times.
By observing the heavens, they were able to track the path of the Sun in the sky, and record the times of the summer and winter solstices, as well as the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Like other civilizations, the Mayas found in the skies the forms of animal creatures, some of which they related to those found in the rain forests at the tropics. The Milky Way, for the Mayas, was the tree of life, where all life originates, and was called Wakah Chan. They developed a precise calendar based on their observations of the heavens, and all their observations were recorded in their codices.
Portals to XibalbaXibalbaSource: La Rebellion de los Tornillos, CC-BY-2.0 via FlickrXibalba
The limestone column resembles the Milky Way, known as the World Tree by the Mayas. Caves were seen by the Mayas as portals to the underworld where the spirits of the dead interwined with the supernatural beings
Mayas considered the universe in three distinct levels. The heavens and all the astronomical events were in the superior level. The earth and all its life was considered as the intermediate level and the inferior level was comprised by the underworld, which they called Xibalba. In this level was where the Sun engaged itself in a struggle, after setting in the evening horizon, with the beings of the underworld, which always were defeated, resuming its journey the following through the superior level.
Astronomy was a tradition among Mesoamerican civilizations, although, the Mayas developed it with a higher degree of complexity, relating it to seasonal cycles, religion, astrology and their own origin in the universe. The Mayas made exact calculations of the periodic cycles of the planets, as well as those of the Sun and Moon. The group of stars known as Pleiades (Tz´ab ek), which they thought was their place of origin, was seen as the tail of a rattle snake.
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