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The Locations Of The First Known Star Calendars In America Are Revealed By Lasers

As far back as 3,100 years ago, ceremonial sites along Mexico’s Gulf Coast were aligned with the stars.

A new research reveals that Olmec and Maya people who lived along Mexico’s Gulf Coast established star-aligned ceremonial complexes as early as 3,100 years ago to keep track of significant days on a 260-day calendar.

Nearly a millennium later, between 300 and 200 B.C., the first known written record of this calendar was discovered on painted plaster mural pieces from a Maya site in Guatemala. However, scientists have long hypothesised that Gulf Coast Olmec civilizations evolved a 260-day calendar hundreds of years earlier.

According to archaeologist Ivan Prajc and colleagues, astronomical orientations of 415 ceremonial structures dating from around 1100 B.C. and A.D. 250 have now been disclosed using an aerial laser mapping method called light detection and ranging, or lidar. According to the scientists’ findings published in Science Advances on January 6, the majority of ritual sites were oriented on an east-to-west axis, which corresponded to sunrises or other astronomical occurrences on certain days of a 260-day year.

The discovery suggests the first indication of a structured calendar system using astronomical knowledge with terrestrial structures in the Americas. This technique determined significant dates throughout a 260-day period of a whole year using celestial events.

According to prajc of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Ljubljana, “the 260-day cycle crystallised in Mesoamerica’s oldest known monumental complexes [and was used] for arranging seasonal, subsistence-related rites.” “We are unsure of the precise timing and location of its invention.”

Archaeologist Stephen Houston of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, who was not involved in the current research, claims that although some of the earliest ceremonial complexes discovered by lidar unquestionably belong to the Olmec civilisation, others are difficult to categorise.

The Olmec civilisation existed between 3,500 and 2,400 years ago. Uncertain connections exist between the Olmec and subsequent Maya cultures, who are most known for their Classic-era cities and kingdoms that thrived between 1,750 and 1100 years ago. But the 260-day calendar is also mentioned in Classic Maya writings.

According to research by Prajc and colleagues, mobile tribes in Mesoamerica, a prehistoric cultural zone that spanned from central Mexico to Central America, may have planned significant seasonal meetings using the 260-day calendar long before the Classic Maya rulers did. The development of maize agriculture in Mesoamerica beginning approximately 3,000 years ago may have also been marked by days of significant agricultural operations or rites, they suggest. Some Maya villages continue to plan maize planting and agricultural rites using a 260-day calendar.

Previous lidar data suggested that around approximately 3,400 years ago, ceremonial complexes with the same design began to develop at several Olmec and Maya sites along Mexico’s Gulf Coast. The alignments of ceremonial locations’ calendar importance have just recently come to light.

The location of sunrises on February 11 and October 29 when complexes were in operation, separated by 260 days, corresponds to the most frequent architectural alignment found in the current research. On those two days, the sun rose in the east, toward a location on the horizon where these structures were located.

Sunrises Spaced By 130 Days, Or Half Of The 260-Day Period, Were Another Common Orientation.

Only a small percentage of ritual complexes were timed to coincide with moon cycles, quarter days, or the longest and shortest days of the year throughout the 260-day calendar year. Other locations monitored the movement of Venus, a star linked to maize growing and the rainy season.

At ceremonial centres, sunrises and sunsets were frequently spaced by multiples of 13 or 20 days. In addition to serving as fundamental arithmetic units for a 260-day year, the Maya and other Mesoamerican civilizations have historically connected the numerals 13 and 20 with a variety of deities and holy ideas, according to Prajc.

Houston claims that future excavations at ceremonial complexes identified by lidar may look at whether prehistoric peoples officially devoted certain buildings to particular days in the 260-day year.


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