Mesoamerican Calendars and Archaeoastronomy

Anthony F. Aveni

in The Oxford Handbook of Mesoamerican Archaeology

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780195390933
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Mesoamerican Calendars and Archaeoastronomy

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This article reviews archaeological evidence of Mesoamerican calendars and archaeoastronomy. Most Mesoamerican calendars measure a year as eighteen months, each consisting of twenty days, with an added month of only five unlucky days. To reckon deep time, the Maya created the longest Mesoamerican calendar cycle by multiplying the basic unit of twenty to the fifth order, the exception being the multiplication of the 20-day count by 18 to form a cycle of 360 days, or one tun , which approximated the year; thus, 20 × 360 days = 7,200 days, or one katun , and 20 × 7,200 = one baktun . The Long Count cycle consisted of 13 baktuns, or 5,125.37 years. Dates are carved in prominent positions on hundreds of stelae situated in (likely) publicly accessible locations in open plazas fronting temples. In addition to monumental texts, codices are the other major source of calendric information. Of particular interest among the some three hundred almanacs that make up the Maya codices are those that reveal the extraordinary sophistication of Maya astronomical practice. The Paris Codex, for example, contains a thirteen-constellation zodiac that implies that Maya astronomers tracked the movement of the sun, moon, and planets against the background of the stars.

Keywords: Mesoamerica; calendars; Long Count cycle; Maya codices; astronomical practice

Article.  2986 words. 

Subjects: Archaeology ; Archaeology by Region ; History of Art

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