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View Diary: Ancient America: Teotihuacan (71 comments)

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  •  Magnetic North (10+ / 0-)

    Today, Magnetic North points slightly away from "city North" in Teotihuacan. But Magnetic North drifts considerably over time, as the Earth's liquid metallic core flows around. I'd love to know precisely when Magnetic North aligned precisely with Teotihuacan's grid plan, which could be the exact date when the city was originally planned. Or perhaps a more ancient date memorialized in the layout, or even perhaps somehow a date when the Magnetic North point was calculated by the city's designers. We've often been surprised by the Western Hemisphere's astronomical accuracy exceeding our modern efforts, as well as ancients in the Mideast; maybe they knew more about the world below the surface, too.

    Such serious treatment of the Earth's magnetic pole indicates the possibility that the Teotihuacan people knew a great deal about navigation, to which Magnetic North is the key. They certainly traveled widely around the continents and islands of the hemisphere long before Europeans arrived in the 1500s. They had tools that could have led them much farther around the globe. If we look at what artifacts remain, without the blinding "noble savage" bias that afflicted study of these people for so many centuries by their usurpers (us), we might find their world was much larger than we ever expected.

    "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

    by DocGonzo on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 11:06:51 AM PDT

    •  15 degrees East of TRUE North, not magnetic. (5+ / 0-)

      The orientation of Teotihuacan, and some other sites appears to be more oriented to their calendar than anything else.

      Johanna Broda, a professor from Mexico's UNAM, has done some great work on Teotihuacan's orientation and the Nahua calendar and festivals such as, Day of the Dead and Festival of the Cross. Apparently these festivals, along with the dates of solar zenith passage, the equinoxes, and the solstices break up the year pretty evenly.

      Interesting that to the south, the Maya oriented most of their structures to True North.

      In the middle, one finds the site of Xochicalco, Morelos that is half oriented to True North and half oriented to 15 E of True North.

      There is a temple there that depicts two books bound by a rope. Some have interpreted this to mean a binding or correlation between the Maya and Nahua calendars.

      "... the Professional Left, that is simultaneously totally irrelevant and ruining everything" (Glenn Greenwald)

      by ranger995 on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 12:27:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Calendars Are Astronomy (5+ / 0-)

        The city diagram seems to show the city plan oriented slightly off Magnetic North. And if it is oriented to Magnetic North today, that's an interesting coincidence, as Magnetic North travels around relatively quickly, with a fairly wide variation. It's passed through whatever the city "points" at several times, separated over many years.

        Calendars are astronomy. Calendars for tracking natural processes, like rains, flooding, crops are the application of astronomy that likely stimulated its development. But once you've got astronomy, you've got a model of "landmarks" available around the world. Especially since premodern cultures were less compartmentalized in knowledge among the few experts, and knowledge was passed to everyone encoded in a highly integrated culture of symbols, astronomy was embedded into most group efforts.

        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

        by DocGonzo on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 12:42:06 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  OK (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DocGonzo, Larsstephens, Ebby, Ojibwa, Auriandra

          But in Mesoamerica, just like Babylon, only elites had access to the higher order astrology/astronomy practiced. People were specially trained in tracking the motions of Venus for example--that is what I am thinking of when I think astronomy. The Maya dresden codex is a book that has a Venus table in it, which was capable of predicting Venus' synodic movement very accurately. Especially the first appearance of the morning star in the East.

          The Aztec specifically informed Fray Sahagún about their trained priests who kept constant track of the skies and informed the Aztec Kings. Regular people did not have access to this type of astronomy.

          You are correct, tracking the motions of the sun is astronomy.

          Re magnetic north: How do you explain that there are many Mesoamerican sites, located in places that have very different magnetic declinations, yet they are all oriented to 15 degrees of true north? I don't believe magnetic north has anything to do with the orientation of the site. Otherwise, those other sites would have different orientations based on their magnetic declinations.

          "... the Professional Left, that is simultaneously totally irrelevant and ruining everything" (Glenn Greenwald)

          by ranger995 on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 12:51:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Stars (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Larsstephens, Ebby, Ojibwa

            Yes, surely some people specialized in one or another practice of astronomy, connected with their role in society. But their astronomy was in the terms of their overall mass culture. In ancient cultures, as is retained at least vestigially in modern scientific cultures, each star was a god or other supernatural character, who "starred" in stories (usually songs) describing their travels, which could be interpreted in many ways. Most people knew the stories as moral guidance. Some knew them as guides to affairs of state. Others seem to have used some of them as guides to physical travel, like the songlines by which traditional Australians map their entire continent. The power of a holistic culture is that encoded in one "literature" is the info for all walks of life, if properly decoded by the contexts learned in each walk.

            As for the orientation of Mesoamerican cities, I know almost nothing of it. But what sounds essentially true is that they're all oriented in some single consistent direction, which is itself interesting considering the cultural, geographic and temporal variety in which they were built. Whether that's "15 degrees from Magnetic North", or some onetime Magnetic North, or some offset from True North, or some point in the sky (perhaps ancient from which stars have drifted) is a matter of the context in which the old inhabitants understood it. Which sounds like a fascinating subject to investigate.

            "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." - HST

            by DocGonzo on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 03:58:20 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  There is a great book written by Anthony Aveni (6+ / 0-)

          a professor of both Astronomy and Anthropology at Colgate University that is called

          Skywatchers, 2001, University of Texas Press

          It is, to date, the most comprehensive work written on ancient Mesoamerican astronomy.

          He is also a very nice and brilliant man.

          "... the Professional Left, that is simultaneously totally irrelevant and ruining everything" (Glenn Greenwald)

          by ranger995 on Sun Oct 10, 2010 at 01:02:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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