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Edzna's Astro Edification
Although considered one of the more accessible Maya ruins, Edzna has eluded the attention which its true significance merits. This huge complex of temples and pyramids with it's many outlying settlements is one of, if not the earliest, major Maya urban centers. It dates to at least 650 BC, although some believe it to be older.
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that it played an important role in the development of Maya astronomy and calendars.Among the innovations that appear to have had their origin here are the Maya's fixing of their New Year's Day; the concept of "year bearers"; and what might possibly be the oldest Maya Lunar observatory in Central America. If these are valid, then Edzna was not only one of the first urbanized places of the Maya, but also the birth-place of the modified version of their calendar; and the setting of the first ancient Lunar observatory in the Mesoamerican realm.
Edzna's astronomical importance is its very geographical location, which may have been the reason for the Maya's choice of July 26 for the beginning of their New Year, and the establishment of a given sequence of 'year-bearers'. Edzna's GE coordinates are 19.35' 48.76”N ~ 90.13' 45.31”W.
Edzna's priests were certainly aware of the practice of using the zenithal passage of the sun to herald the beginning of a new year, but here the sun passed overhead at noon 18 days earlier than the date that the Olmecs had established as 'the beginning of time'. They needed a new calendar; and while the Maya couldn't change the facts of history, they could amend the calendar to attune more closely with the realities of their own physical setting. There was no question as to what day would begin their new year. The Maya marked the beginning of their new year with the zenithal passage of the sun on the day that is the equivalent of July 26 in our calendar. This event takes place along the parallel of 19º 5 N, a line which neatly bisects the Yucatan peninsula but intersects only one major site in doing so – Edzná.
That the ancient Maya were dedicated observers of the sky is well understood. They had an absolute fascination with cycles of time and by using their vast knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, they developed what was then, and still is today, the most accurate calendar system in human history.
Edzna's main pyramid, Cinco Pisos (Five Stories), is 40m (131ft) high. We here at Ancient Agenda feel that this incredible pyramid is a working inter-geared combination of all three Mayan calendars in parallel with each other, together cycling time. The Tzolk'in ~ their Sacred 260 day; the Ha'ab ~ their civil 365 day, and their Long Count calendars. Of these three, only the Ha'ab has a direct relationship to the length of the Solar year.
The Maya mathematical system is a 'vigesimal' system, meaning that it is based on twenty, (one, twenty, four hundred, eight thousand, and so on) unlike our own decimal system, which is based on ten (one, ten, one hundred, one thousand, ten thousand, and so on) They believed that complex mathematical achievements and numbers were not meaningless symbols. It was the most important part of their daily life and their numbers were a combination of dots and bars. Combined symbols of 3 bars and 4 dots, known as 'tones', represent the number 19. (each dot equals 1 and each bar equals 5) On the calendar this actually adds to 20 because the Mayans count the number 0 as one and had a special glyph for it.
The zero always had value for the Mayans, unlike most other cultures where 0 means nothing. In many Mayan stele you will see a flower and it means '0' because the placenta in many Mayan languages is called 'flower', it means 'the origin'. It is also commonly depicted with a seashell, and this symbolizes creation and the spiral of time, both the beginning and the infinite. They realized that light travels in a spiral, because the spiral is the form of all of creation and is a manifestation of reality.
The mathematics they used to create their calendar appear to be based on equations very similar to the Fibonacci method of 0+1+1+2+3+5+8=20; and 20 times the next number in the series, which is 13, equals the 260 days in the Mayan Sacred calendar. This spiral occurs within ALL nature, even our dna is of a spiral shape. This signifies the space time, or the naj, which is a macro spiral ~ the ratio of all creation~ this is well known as the Fibonacci spiral. By discovering the natural sequence of numbers that start with 0 and 1, followed by the sum of two previous numbers 2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55,89,144 they realized that these keep on expanding and draw ever closer to the golden number of 1.6180339887 or phi. They had the knowledge of the turns of the spiral of time and also understood that in a given time a situation is repeated, but with a different scenario and energy.
There are three commonly known Maya cyclical calendars~ the aforementioned Tzolk’in, the Ha'ab and the Calendar Round. The Haab calendar is 365 days, and approximates the solar year. It is a nineteen month calendar composed of 18 months made of 20 days each, and 1 month, made of 5 days. This 5-day month is called "Wayeb." Thus, 18 x 20 + 5 = 365 days. Each day is represented by a number in the month, then the name of the month.
Although the Ha'ab calendar is longer than the Tzolk'in, the Maya wanted to create a calendar that would record even more time. For this reason, the Tzolk'in and Ha'ab calendars were combined to form the Calendar Round. In this, the 260 days of the Tzolk'in calendar are paired with the 360 days and Wayeb, the 5 nameless days of the Ha'ab calendar. The two calendars are matched the same way the Tzolk'in day names and numbers are. This gives the Calendar Round 18,890 unique days, a time period of approximately 52 years. Along with these, the Maya also developed the Long Count calendar to chronologically date mythical and historical events. The 13 Bak'tun cycle of the Maya Long Count calendar measures 1,872,000 days or 5,125.366 tropical years. This is one of the longest cycles found in the Maya calendar system.
The Maya Long Count is the name given to the chronology that was used by the Maya to keep track of the passage of vast eras of time that individual human lifetimes could not encompass. On almost all their ancient pyramids and stele, dates are inscribed according to this "Long Count." This count is based on a mathematical year of 360 days and it endowed the Maya with a sense of cosmic vision that made them unique. Their calendar is not defined solely by this; as it is only one of a 3 way system with two other timekeeping methods, the 260 day Tzolk'in Sacred calendar and the 365 day Ha'ab. These all work harmoniously together to offer a multi-faceted view into the nature of existence, from the individual human being to the largest universal time scales that most of us find hard to imagine. With their invention of the Great Cycle, the Maya were making a bold and powerful effort to mathematically quantify and define the cycles of world emergence.
In Edzna's upper court-yard, at the base of the staircase of Cinco Pisos, there once stood a beautifully fashioned gnomon, which was as simple in design as it was effective in operation. Standing in the center of a raised stone platform was a tapered stone shaft approximately 15.7 inches in height, surmounted by a stone disk whose diameter was identical to that of the base of the shaft. Thus, on the two days of the year when the Sun was vertically overhead at noon, the stone disc ensured that the entire shaft was in shadow. On all other days, a stripe of sunlight fell across the shaft.
As a result the priests of Edzná had an accurate gauge on the timing of the Sun's zenithal passage. But understanding the movement of the Sun, irregular as it was with respect to their Long Count, was like child's play for the Maya compared to their struggle to understand the movements of the Moon. Very unlike the sun, which moves progressively farther north or south each day until it finally reaches its 'hanging' place and then starts back, the Moon rises and sets at such different times of the day or night in such widely differing places along the horizon that it might even seem illogical in its behavior in the flat and featureless landscape of the Yucatán.
It had been a rather simple matter for the Maya to lay out a new city oriented to the sunset on "the day the world began" because the "summer solstice + 52 days" formula had already been developed. (June 22 to August 13th is 52 days).
But the Moon was a challenge, even for them. They realized that it was not 29 days, but it also was not 30 days and attempting to describe a time period which was actually 29 days, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 2.8 seconds in length was for them a philosophical impossibility. Yet, after they had painstakingly counted 149 full moons in a row, they knew that exactly 12 tuns and 4 uinals had elapsed, or a total of 4400 days. Approximately 30 years.
Then, and only then, were they assured that that same cycle would begin over again, with the moon occupying the same position it had had relative to the sun when the cycle began. That they could do so with reasonable assurance is demonstrated by the fact that 4400 days divided by 149 lunations yields an average of 29.5302 days per lunation – amazingly a value less than 0.0004 at variance with that used by today's modern astronomers! Nonetheless, in this region where the local landscape presented no opportunities for calibration against a natural landmark, the problem they now had required some means of marking the moon's rising and setting position along the circumference of the monotonously uniform horizon that stretched out from Edzná in all directions. They could scratch markings on the temple surface but they needed something much more accurate.
Constituting an ingenious solution to the problem of the city's featureless surroundings, the Maya built a long narrow apartment complex building just beyond the plaza. It is 440 ft long with a narrow notch built into the top, and they used that as an artificial horizon. Now a priest, standing in the doorway opening on to the courtyard of the temple, could 'sight' through the notch to the summit of the pyramid behind it to calibrate the sunset on August 13 -- an azimuth of 285.5 degrees.
From the doorway and through the sight-line to the small pyramid is 922 ft. This long building has 24 total spaces between 24 rectangular walls, 12 on one side of the sighting notch and 12 on the other. This signifies the 24 hours in a day.
Also seen on this building, the 15 steps were intentionally built with certain stones jutting out and square stones at carefully chosen places to create a specific design pattern that can only be seen at certain times of the year, using light and shadows for the full effect. This special stonework can also be seen on other temples and steps at Edzna.
Because the moon's orbit is just a hair over 5 degrees off that of the sun, 9.3 is the number of years the moon transits in one direction. Keep in mind that the moon's orbit is always tilted by 5 degrees from the ecliptic.
This explains why the 5 degree La Vieja (the old one) pyramid was built as a horizon marker to commemorate this event. This pyramid, whose azimuth of 300 degrees marks the northernmost standstill position of the moon, is located 1,048 yds farther to the northwest. Even in its now almost totally dilapidated condition it is still high enough to intersect the horizon as seen from the top of Cinco Pisos and it is the only man made construction here which does so. This means that the summit of the pyramid lies exactly 5 degrees beyond the sun's northernmost setting position at the summer solstice, marked by another temple alongside of it.
Not only is "La Vieja" a testimonial to the patience and accuracy of Maya astronomy, but because of its specialized function, it should also be worthy of being designated as the oldest lunar observatory in Central America. It is apparent that the Maya had succeeded in measuring the interval between lunar maximum standstill at least by A.D. 300. Perhaps this knowledge would allow them to begin the count which would eventually reveal the secrets of the Lunar eclipse cycle. Although it may not ever be certain when the Maya finally succeeded in working out their eclipse cycle, it seems certain that most of the basic research on this had been carried at Edzna.
article by Joani Jiannine 2019