Mayan Astronomer Tracked Venus, Established Leap Year

First Posted: Aug 23, 2016 07:14 AM EDT

Mayans have always been known to be very innovative. Now, evidence revealed that the Mayans were more advanced in the field of astronomy than what was previously thought. Experts have recently analyzed an ancient document and found that ancient Mayan astronomers were able to make a scientific discovery about Venus' movement across the night sky.

According to Live Science, the ancient text, known as Dresden Codex, had complex measurements of the rising and setting of the planet Venus. Based on these transcripts, experts can now conclude that this astronomer can be placed within a 25-year span within the first half of the 10th Century.

"We can see the moment when this person puts it all together," said Gerardo Aldana, a science historian in the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a co-author of a new study describing the findings. The Venus Table of the Dresden Codex tracks the visible phases of Venus and has historically been admired as a curiosity that was used only for astrology. It is a 39 double-sided paged book with Mayan text and a vague but fascinating backstory.  

"What my article intends to do is really change how we understand what [the Venus Table] means within ancient Mayan culture itself," Aldana told the ABC. "We've known for a long time that ancient Mayan astronomers were tracking Venus and we know that they developed a model for projecting their predictions into the future," he added.

Aldana also said that the document has mathematical calculations about the planet's irregular cycle around the sun which the Mayans were able to accurately discover to last 583.92 days. Mr. Aldana also explained: "So that means if you do anything on a calendar that's based on days as a basic unit, there is going to be an error that accrues." reported that the Mayans tracked Venus to benefit themselves. Mr. Aldana continued saying: "They're 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." He also said that the reason he made the comparison to Copernicus was because like the Mayans, Copernicus was worried about how good their astronomical models were so they would be able to do other things like set the timing for Easter.

It has also long been known that the Venus Table contains a mathematical "correction" to account for the Mayan Calendar's irregular cycle, which Aldana said is equivalent to a "leap year". He said he believed that the correction was developed at the city of Chichen Itza during the Terminal Classic period (AD 800-1000). "There's one specific date that's an anchor to the whole table, but for the most part it's been taken as a numerological fiction," he said.

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