13 August 2016

THE AGE OF ASTRONOMY. 3/7 Places: El Caracol, Chichen Itza 906AD

Ancient Astronomy Series: THE AGE OF ASTRONOMY. 3/7 Places: El Caracol, Chichen Itza, present Mexico. 906AD.

What is the age of Astronomy? How old is it? Can we find some tangible evidence of it's age?
Many clues can be found in almost all civilizations on Earth before us.
In this mini series of articles we will establish the chronology of astronomy with astronomical relics, instruments, artifacts, alignments, maps, references and places in ancient periods pinpointing exacly in time, the age of Astronomy.

Ancient Astronomy Series. List of articles: 
    1/7 Instruments: NASA's STEREO mission. Predicting the Sun's activities. 2006AD
    2/7 : Relics: Abù Bakr Ibn Yùsuf's medieval Moroccan astrolabes. 1216AD
    3/7: Places: El Caracol, Chichen Itza. Mayan Observatory. 906AD
    4/7: Artefacts: Nebra sky disk of North Germany. 1600BC
    5/7: Astronomical References: The scarab and the Dung beetle in ancient Egypt. 1813BC
    6/7: Alignments: Megaliths of Carnac, France. 3300BC
    7/7: Maps: Prehistoric Starmap.  10500BC

Illustration 8: Mayan astronomical Observatory. El Caracol, Chiche Itza, Mexico. Credit: Bruno Girin

906AD. El caracol, Mayan Observatory.
Location: Present North-America.

In the archaeological site of Chichen Itza in Mexico we find a peculiar building known as El Caracol, The Mayan astronomical observatory. A place where Mayan astronomers could have use the knowledge of the motion of the heavens to set a belief system, understand cycles of time and predict celestial events. Can this peculiar building be an astronomical observatory? And if it does, we could push the age of Astronomy back into an much earlier past than the previous evidence suggested in a past article of the Age of astronomy Series.

This is what we find on Wikipedia: ”El Caracol, the Observatory, is a unique structure at Pre-Colombian Maya civilization site of Chichen Itza. El Caracol, which means 'snail' in Spanish, is so named due to the spiral staircase inside the tower.”

The structure is dated to around 906 AD, the Late Classic period of Meso-american chronology, by the stele on the Upper Platform.
It is suggested that the El Caracol was an ancient Mayan observatory building and provided a way for the Mayan people to observe changes in the night sky due to the flattened landscape of the Yucatán Peninsula. The observers could view the heavens above the vegetation on the Yucatán Peninsula without any obstruction.

Illustration 9: El Caracol, Chichen Itza, Mexico. Good surround viewing for tracking of the planet Venus. Credit: Dr. de la Cova, latin american

Observation of the planet Venus.
Mayan astronomers used the building as some sort of telescope. The narrow windows all around the top portion of the building was to observe the planet Venus at a very "narrow" window of time, when it was in the sky. Mayan astronomers knew from naked-eye observations that Venus appeared in the East before the rise of the Sun at some point and other times appeared in the West after the Sun had set. The figured out with the aid of this construction the cycle of Venus in relation with Earth.It takes 584 days to complete one cycle.

Illustration 10: The Mayan astronomical observatory in Chichen Itza, Mexico. View from the grounds. Credit: Bruno Girin

They also knew that five of these Venus cycles equalled eight solar years. Venus would therefore make an appearance at the northerly and southerly extremes at eight-year intervals.
Of 29 possible astronomical events (eclipses, equinoxes, solstices, etc.) believed to be of interest to the Meso-american residents of Chichén Itzá in the past, sight lines for 20 can be found in the structure. Since a portion of the tower resting on El Caracol has been lost, it is possible that the other measurements will never be ascertained to have been observed.”

Illustration 11: Orientation to the planet Venus and other astronomical alignments. Credit: Not mentioned.

The Mayan civilization clearly had knowledge of geometry that allowed them to build building align to celestial objects. The Summer/ Winter solstices rising and setting of the Sun is represented in the geometry of the building of El Caracol observatory. The high windowed niches at the top of the building was precise observatory platforms tracking the celestial objects.

Illustration 12: Precise astronomical alignments within the architecture of the building. Credit: Not mentioned.

It is clear that the Mayan knew and understood their location. building alignments within the building itself was genius. This to me is evidence of knowledge of astronomy.

So what is the age of Astronomy, you ask? At least since 906 AD (Accepted date). That means the knowledge of astronomy is at least 1110 years old.
The search for the age of Astronomy is still out there.

Read the next article of our series on The age of Astronomy and see how far back we can push it's age in time. Stay tuned, and continue reading Ancient Astronomy Series: THE AGE OF ASTRONOMY.

Next article: THE AGE OF ASTRONOMY. 4/7. Artifacts: Nebra sky disk 1600 BC.

Please take time to read the links and PDF files on this subject.

Pubic outreach program  by Astronomy club Toutatis, Kustavi, Finland

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