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Paper: What We Think We Know About Maya Mathematics and Astronomy
Volume: 501, Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena VIII
Page: 265
Authors: Van Stone, M.
Abstract: In most cultures, mathematics and astronomy are obscure and arcane. Not so to the ancient Maya. Despite what we consider technological “deficiencies”—they lacked both metal tools and the wheel—their public inscriptions paid uniquely sophisticated attention to these sciences. At any given monument, fully half the text is devoted to situating events in time, particularly specifying the precise number of days between events, whether historical or mythological. Often these intervals have numerological significance, and many are precise multiples of the periodicities of heavenly bodies. The Maya apparently were fully aware of the exact length of the tropical year, the sidereal year, the cycles of Venus, and eclipses; and there is evidence that they even celebrated events reflecting the 26,000-year precession cycle. However, Maya illuminati had an agenda quite alien to our way of thinking. Clues to their knowledge are arcane, rare, and often difficult for us to recognize with eyes clouded by our modern worldview. The body of work left to us consists of just a few tantalizing sherds of a once-rich and diverse astromythological tradition. Moreover, there was no single pan-Mayan mythos. An astronomical alignment seen repeatedly in one city will be completely absent in others. Each city-state emphasized specific and often unique features, and they often contradict one another. But we soldier on. The diversity we find so frustrating is simply the fine structure of their worldview. Intellectual historians have for too long been, like Procrustes, trying to force all Maya science and religion into a single universal straitjacket.
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