Astronomy and Architecture in the Maya Lowlands

Authors

  • Ivan Šprajc Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU)
  • Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.1558/jsa.30050

Keywords:

Archaeology, Archaeoastronomy, Orientation

Abstract

This article summarises recent systematic research into the use and significance of astronomical orientations in ancient Maya architecture, and shows how by applying a more rigorous methodology to a large number of orientations we were able to detect alignment patterns that shed light on the validity of former hypotheses and provide a basis for novel interpretations. Our measurements and analysis confirm that orientations to the Sun’s position on the horizon, which largely prevail, allowed the use of observational calendars composed of multiples of 13 and 20 days and were also intended to facilitate proper scheduling of agricultural activities. Further, while some buildings recorded Venus extremes, a previously unknown orientation group has been found to refer to major lunar standstill positions. Some important buildings, aside from exhibiting astronomical orientations, are aligned to prominent features of natural or cultural landscape, implying a deliberate selection of these places for their construction. Discussing some relevant contextual evidence, we argue that Maya architectural and urban planning was dictated by a complex set of rules, in which astronomical considerations and their practical uses were embedded in a broader framework of cosmological concepts.

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Author Biographies

Ivan Šprajc, Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU)

Ivan Šprajc is an archaeologist and anthropologist who is currently the head of the Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), in Ljubljana. His research interests are Mesoamerican archaeology and archaeoastronomy where he has accomplished extensive research on the concepts about the planet Venus in the Mesoamerican world view, and on the practical and ritual significance of astronomical orientations in pre-hispanic architecture. Since 1996 he has directed nine seasons of archaeological reconnaissance in the inaccessible and archaeologically unexplored central lowlands of the Yucatán peninsula.

Pedro Francisco Sánchez Nava, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia

Coordinador Nacional de Arqueología

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Published

2017-02-10

How to Cite

Šprajc, I., & Sánchez Nava, P. F. (2017). Astronomy and Architecture in the Maya Lowlands. Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, 2(2), 189–215. https://doi.org/10.1558/jsa.30050

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Research Articles