A reinterpretation of the Dresden Codex, the famed ancient Maya civilization pictographic text, suggests that a Mayan astronomer figured out that Earth’s sister planet Venus required a “leap year” — and the astronomer calculated it 500 years before Polish astronomer Nikolaus Copernicus discovered the same orbital oddity. What is revealed, by extension, is that the ancient Mayas were very aware that the Earth and other planets revolved around the Sun, and they had made the discovery half a millennium before Copernicus’ published his findings in defiance of the commonly held belief that the universe was geocentric.
News.com.au reported last week that University of California Santa Barbara professor of anthropology Gerardo Aldana believes the text of the Dresden Codex, one of less than 20 codices that survived the Spanish conquest of Central America, has been misinterpreted, particular in the pictographic panel known as the “Venus Table.”
Making his argument in the Journal of Astronomy in Culture, Aldana posits the argument that the Venus Table is not just a collection of calculations of the phases of Venus as it moved between the Earth and the Sun, but instead is a calculation of Venus in its orbital revolution of the Sun. This, he says, indicates that the ancient Maya were skilled enough in mathematics to make the calculation that, like Earth, Venus’ calendar year would not end in a round number of days.
Aldana, who is also a professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, blames historical acceptance without question for the misinterpretation of the hieroglyphs in the Codex. He says as much in a University of California Santa Barbara press statement.
“It’s all the blinders that we have, that we’ve constructed and put in place that prevent us from seeing that this was their own actual scientific discovery made by Mayan people at a Mayan city.”
Aldana explains the Venus Table thusly.
“They’re [The Maya are] using Venus not just to strictly chart when it was going to appear, but they were using it for their ritual cycles. They had ritual activities when the whole city would come together and they would do certain events based on the observation of Venus. And that has to have a degree of accuracy, but it doesn’t have to have overwhelming accuracy.”
In short, the astronomer (Aldana says he believes the Dresden Codex panel is the work of one man or woman) calculates that Venus moves around the Sun every 583.92 Earth days, a mathematical distinction that was discovered in the Venus Table in the 1930s. To make up for the mathematical discrepancy and so the calendar would be accurate, the Mayan then added an extra day, a “leap day,” in a set calendar year, just as it is done every four years for Earth’s calendar.
Professor Aldana’s reinterpretation does not come strictly from the Dresden Codex. Although there is evidence of a historical record, those records no longer exist in the Codex. Aldana assumes that the Maya kept such historical astronomical records — all cultures that charted the skies kept historical records — and that they were destroyed (along with what amounted to vast libraries of Mayan texts burned by Spanish conquistadores and Catholic priests as “devil’s bibles”).
“If … you say ‘This is based on a historical record,’ that’s going to nail down the range of possibilities. And if you say that they were correcting it for a certain kind of purpose, then all of a sudden you have a very small window of when this discovery could have occurred.”
Aldana has matched the time of the Mayan astronomer to having made his observations and calculations between 800 and 1000 CE. Nikolaus Copernicus would not make his observations and publish them, much to the consternation of the Roman Catholic church (which held that the Sun and Moon and stars all moved about the Earth), in the book On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres until 1543.
The announcement and publication of Gerardo Aldana’s work on the Dresden Codex comes just days after the announcement of the discovery of several panels of ancient Mayan hieroglyphs in an excavated tomb in Belize. As the Inquisitr reported in early August, archaeologists there not only uncovered the pictographs, but they also recovered several dozen artifacts and the remains of an individual believed to have been a ruler of the Snake Dynasty, a family regime that dominated Mayan civilization for much of the Classic Period (200-1000 CE).
[Image via By Alexander von Humboldt | Public Domain | Wikimedia Commons]