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Historical and Cultural Entries
The first step of our project, which was sponsored by the Wisconsin
Space Grant Consortium, was to learn about the impressive astronomical
achievements of the ancient culture of Maya. To gain expertise I have
taken the National Science Foundation’s Chautauqua short course for
college teachers, "Archaeoastronomy in
the Maya Ruins of Palenque / Bonampak / Yaxchilan / La Venta Park",
in June 12-18, 2002, in Mexico.
The Chautauqua Course
The course was taught by Dr. Ed Barnhart of the Mayan
Exploration Center . He is one of the most
prominent experts on Maya archaeoastronomy, hieroglyphics, iconography,
and was in charge of an archaeological survey that discovered over 1000
new structures in the ruins of Palenque. There were about 20 college
professors who took the course. Their fields ranged from physics,
chemistry and math, to art, anthropology and philosophy. This mixture of
fields ensured a lively input and participation, as well as exchange of
ideas on incorporation of the material we learned into our teaching.
The course covered the observational methods developed by the Maya and
what astronomy meant to them as people. We started with study of
Palenque ruins in Chiapas, Mexico. We investigated the
archaeoastronomical evidence, such as architectural forms and various
hieroglyphic texts. We became familiar with its famous king, Lord Pakal,
who used astronomy to validate his right to the throne. Lord Kan Balam,
who was Pakal's son, was the first king to incorporate Jupiter and
Saturn into the Maya calendar. We visited also Bonampak and Yaxchilan,
the two of Palenque's allied cities. Finally, we visited La Venta Park,
where we learned about the Olmec civilization. At the last seminar we
discussed what we have learned and were also given the resource packet
for the course. This is the most useful material, which can be used as
the starting point for developing teaching modules. The resource packet
has the sections on Sun, Moon, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn,
with sections on their glyph representations and translations, on
various astronomical calculations Maya's performed, deities, creation
mythology and animal associations as related to the sun and planets,
archaeological maps of the areas we visited, and much information on
Maya's famous calendar.
A. Aveni, “Stairways to the Stars, Skywatching in Three Great Ancient
Cultures”, J. Wiley & Sons, New York, 1997.
A. F. Aveni, “Skywatchers”, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001.
P. G. Bahn, “The Atlas of World Archaeology”, Checkmark Books, New York,
M. D. Coe and M. Van Stone, “Reading the Maya Glyphs”, Thames and
G. Díaz and A. Rogers, “The Codex Borgia, A Full-Color Restoration of
the Ancient Mexican Manuscript”, Dover Publ. Inc., New York, 1993.
A. G. Gilbert an M. M. Cotterell, “The Mayan Prophecies, Unlocking the
Secrets of a Lost Civilization”, Element, Rockport, Massachusetts, 1995.
P. D. Harrrison, “The Lords of Tikal, Rulers of An Ancient Maya City”,
Thames and Hudson, Inc., New York, 2000.
G. S. Hawkins, “Stonehenge Decoded”, Doubleday& Co., Garden City, New
G. Ifrah, “The Universal History of Numbers, From Prehistory to the
Invention of the Computer”, J. Wiley& Sons, New York, 2000.
M. Miller and K. Taube, “The Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and
Maya, An Illustrated Dictionary”, Thames and Hudson Inc., New York,
J. Montgomery, “Tikal, The Ancient Maya Capital, An Illustrated
History”, Hippocrene Books, Inc., New York, 2001.
“Popol Vuh, The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life
and the Glories of Gods and Kings”, Translated by D. Tedlock, Touchstone
Book, Simon& Schuster, New York, 1996.
“Route of the Mayas”, Knopf Guides, Alfred A. Knopf, Publ., New York,
R. J. Sharer, “The Ancient Maya”, Fifth Edition, Stanford University
Press, Stanford, 1994.
K. Taube, “Aztec and Maya Myths”, The University of Texas, Austin, 1997.
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