Simply Science: The Maya Calendar

6:49 PM, Jun 27, 2013   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Perhaps best known for their calendar -- the Maya people were excellent time keepers, astronomers and astrologers. Their culture is the focus of a new exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

"They weren't doing astronomy like NASA is doing astronomy," says Lead Exhibit Developer Laze Pryor.

The Maya people,famous for their calendars, kept time by watching the heavens. What they saw was a mix of science and religion.

For example, the appearance of a specific planet, might alert a sacrifice to the gods, or perhaps the ascension of a new king. A sign from the cosmos could also appear regularly just before the rainy season, which is very important to the Maya people who were a largely agricultural community, relying on corn.

There were many calendars, but the one foretelling of religious ceremonies and agricultural practices was of the utmost importance.

Pryor continues, "Certain things appear in the sky when the rainy season is about to start, and if you're a culture that's completely dependent on corn harvest, that's a really good thing to know."

Here's how they formed their calendar: By consistently watching from the same, high-elevation vantage point and always referencing a specific object on the horizon, like a wooden cross, or distant mountain, the Maya people followed the sun, moon, planets and the position of the milky way.  Each of these things is cyclical.

While some of us "Westerners" view the calendar as ending after each cycle, the Maya don't.  When the calendar ends, it simply starts again fresh.

You may remember the most recent turning of the calendar, last December.

"Maya: hidden worlds revealed" is now open at the Science Museum of Minnesota.



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