Skywatching in the Ancient World

Skywatching in the Ancient World: New Perspectives in Cultural Astronomy

Clive Ruggles
Gary Urton
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Skywatching in the Ancient World
    Book Description:

    Compiled in honor of Anthony F. Aveni, America's leading archaeoastronomer, Skywatching in the Ancient World offers state-of-the-art work in cultural astronomy by well-known experts in Mayan glyphic studies, cultural history, ethnohistory, and the history of science and of religions.   This collection's wide range of outstanding scholarship reveals that cultural astronomy has come into its own. The diverse topics addressed by the contributors include the correlation between Colonial Northern Zapotec and Gregorian calendars, the period of use of the Dresden Codex Venus table and the significance of the Lunar Almanacs that precede it, a new interpretation of an Inka tapestry mantle as a commemorative calendar, temple orientations in Hawai'i and church orientations in Medieval England, and the connection in cultural imagery between astronomers (science) and wizards (magic).   Contributors include: Harvey M. Bricker, Victoria R. Bricker, Edward E. Calnek, Clemency Coggins, John Justeson, Edwin C. Krupp, Stephen C. McCluskey, Susan Milbrath, Clive Ruggles, David Tavárez, Barbara Tedlock, Dennis Tedlock, Gary Urton, and R. Tom Zuidema. Mesoamerican Worlds Series

    eISBN: 978-0-87081-980-3
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Davíd Carrasco

    I met Anthony Aveni in 1982 when he was visiting the University of Colorado to lecture on his recent book Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico. This book fascinated me because of its significance for my academic discipline, the History of Religions. At the time, scholars of religion and anthropology had been showing increased interest in the religious significance of the sky, sun, moon, stars, and celestial phenomena, spurred in part by the publication of Mircea Eliade’s Patterns in Comparative Religion. Paul Wheatley’s magisterial The Pivot of the Four Quarters: A Preliminary Enquiry into the Origins and Character of the Ancient Chinese...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Clive Ruggles and Gary Urton
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Lorraine Aveni
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    Clive Ruggles and Gary Urton
  7. Editors’ Note
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  8. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In the twenty-first century, it is possible to consider archaeoastronomy one of fifty “key concepts” in the development of archaeological thinking and method (Renfrew and Bahn 2005). This is a long way indeed from the position in the 1960s and 1970s, when exploring the associations between ancient monumental architecture and objects and events in the skies was largely the preserve of professional and amateur astronomers, undertaken mainly as an entertaining sideline and producing conclusions that were treated with incredulity (and often derision) by all but a handful of mainstream archaeologists (see Kintigh 1992; Aveni 1992). Many factors have effected this...

  9. CHAPTER ONE The Correlation between the Colonial Northern Zapotec and Gregorian Calendars
    (pp. 17-82)

    This paper provides evidence for the correlation between dates in the Gregorian calendar and dates in the Zapotec calendar, as it was in the northern Sierra of Oaxaca near the end of the seventeenth century.¹ It concerns specifically the correlation of two calendrical cycles that are not only found in the Zapotec calendar system but that are widely distributed in Mesoamerica: the 260-day ritual calendar and the 365-day calendar (the vague year).

    Based on the data provided by Córdova (1578a: 204–212), the sixteenth-century Zapotec ritual calendar can be seen as a permutation of two independent cycles, each of which...

  10. CHAPTER TWO Kirchhoff’s Correlations and the Third Part of the Codex Borbonicus
    (pp. 83-94)

    Probing the many possible (or impossible) permutations of the calendar has been among the “Great Games” played by Mesoamericanists since the late nineteenth century and, doubtless, by pre-Spanish astronomers and calendar priests as well. The principal structural characteristics of the calendar are well understood. Apart from a vocal minority still seeking a Mesoamerican variant of our own standardized leap year intercalations (Tena 1987; Mora Echeverría 1997), there is good agreement on most points, although strong disagreements remain on many others.

    This paper focuses on Paul Kirchhoff’s (1950, 1955) claim that different calendars were concurrently used in the Mexica (Aztec) capital,...

  11. CHAPTER THREE When Was the Dresden Codex Venus Table Efficacious?
    (pp. 95-120)

    Of the surviving Precolumbian Maya hieroglyphic books, the Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis 1975) is the one that gives the most information about astronomy, and one of the major astronomical instruments in the Dresden Codex is the Venus table, which occupies six consecutive pages, D.24 and D.46 to D.50 on the obverse side of the codex. (There is no interruption in the sequence; a faulty nineteenth-century pagination scheme for two parts of the codex that had been torn apart caused the page after D.24 to be called D.46.) This table has been studied for more than a century, and it is...

  12. CHAPTER FOUR Moon Woman Meets the Stars: A New Reading of the Lunar Almanacs in the Dresden Codex
    (pp. 121-156)

    The Maya hieroglyphic book known as the Dresden Codex was compiled a century or so before the Spanish invasion in Mesoamerica. The writers were speakers of a language of the Yukatekan branch of the Mayan language family, working somewhere in Yucatán or northern Guatemala. Their book opens with a series of almanacs (on pages 2–15) whose temporal rhythms appear to be limited to those of the 260-day Maya divinatory calendar, although many of the deities who appear in these pages later take roles in events that are clearly astronomical. Next come almanacs (on pages 16–23) whose overall temporal...

  13. CHAPTER FIVE Astronomical Cycles in the Imagery of Codex Borgia 29–46
    (pp. 157-208)

    The Codex Borgia, a Postclassic religious manuscript from Mexico (Anders et al. 1993), is replete with intriguing astronomical images. The role of astronomy in the Codex Borgia is the focus of a number of recent studies involving the interdisciplinary field of archaeoastronomy. This work, pioneered by Anthony F. Aveni, indicates that certain sections of the codex refer to actual astronomical events dating to the late Postclassic period (1300–1520).

    Establishing the date and cultural context of the codex is an essential preface to any detailed study of the astronomical imagery. The evidence presented here indicates that the screenfold originated in...

  14. CHAPTER SIX The Measure of Man
    (pp. 209-244)

    In August 1977, I participated in a conference at Colgate University on Teotihuacan and Classic Mesoamerica—a topic that has consumed much of my professional life. My paper, titled “The Shape of Time” (Coggins 1980), considered evidence for an Early Classic Teotihuacan presence at Tikal, Guatemala, and postulated that the Mesoamerican calendar had played a significant role in the interaction between intrusive central Mexicans and the Lowland Maya of Petén during the Early Classic period: the pecked crosses at Uaxactun figured in this hypothesis (Figure 6.1). Anthony Aveni, an organizer of the conference, was surprised to find someone exploring a...

  15. CHAPTER SEVEN A Multi-Year Tukapu Calendar
    (pp. 245-268)

    Students of what was once commonly termed “nuclear American” studies, by which was meant the complex Pre-Columbian societies of Mesoamerica and the Andes, have long recognized a number of profound and persistent similarities and differences in the cultures and material remains of these two regions of the ancient Americas. One of the most notable differences is the existence of writing systems in Mesoamerica and the apparent absence of any such system(s) in the Andes (but see Urton 1998 and Quilter and Urton 2002 on this point). One of the principal areas in which writing was employed among the Maya and...

  16. CHAPTER EIGHT Solar and Lunar Observations in the Inca Calendar
    (pp. 269-286)

    In this paper I shall discuss three of the dual divisions of the year that the Incas applied to their calendar in Cuzco: the first division of 258 and 107 days obtained by observing sunrise on the two days when the sun passes through the zenith; the second of 251 and 114 days defined by observing the days of antizenith sunset and thus derived from the first one; and the third of 220 and 145 days closely related to the second one. My interest is, of course, inspired by the repeated attention that Aveni paid to apparently similar problems in...

  17. CHAPTER NINE Cosmology, Calendar, and Temple Orientations in Ancient Hawai‘i
    (pp. 287-330)

    The basic archaeological evidence available to the archaeoastronomer consists of material expressions of perceived relationships with objects and events in the night sky. Addressing issues in cultural astronomy, however, typically involves considering a wider range of evidence wherever it is available and relevant, including data obtained from history and ethnography. In the past two decades we have moved beyond Aveni’s green/brown characterization (Aveni 1989) in two important ways. On the one hand, serious archaeoastronomers studying prehistory and hence dealing wholly with archaeological evidence—the nominally “green” camp—can no longer be accused of choosing to ignore, let alone remaining blissfully...

  18. CHAPTER TEN Calendrical Cycles, the Eighth Day of the World, and the Orientation of English Churches
    (pp. 331-354)

    Tony Aveni has frequently reminded us that in Mesoamerican astronomy, numbers and dates are not merely abstract measures of time. He has made us all familiar with the interlocking numerical cycles of days in Mesoamerican calendars. For example, the Venus table of the Dresden Codex embodies the relationship:

    $ 13\times (5\times 584)=13\times (8\times 365)=146\times (13\times 20) $

    The first two patterns reflect the well-known Venus relationship that five synodic periods of Venus equal eight calendar years; the third integrates this Venus period into the 260-day calendrical cycle of thirteen twenty-day “months,” the tzolkin. As Tony has taught us, such recurring periods are central to Mesoamerican calendars. Some of...

  19. CHAPTER ELEVEN High Fashion
    (pp. 355-374)

    Behind the Crystal Ball: Magic, Science, and the Occult from Antiquity Through the New Age, published by Times Books in 1996, appeared to depart from Anthony Aveni’s well-established studies of ancient astronomy in its cultural context. Aveni instead turned his attention to occult magic and the belief systems that sustain it. The sky, however, commands ample territory in prehistoric, ancient, traditional, and contemporary belief. Aveni’s contributions to our understanding of the role of the sky in systems of belief suggest his examination of magic was not really a leap into another realm of research but rather a lateral shift in...

  20. Contributors
    (pp. 375-376)
  21. Index
    (pp. 377-392)