Archive for the ‘Archaeoastronomy’ Category

Heaven and earth in ancient Mexico: Astronomy and seasonal cycles in the Codex Borgia.

Milbrath- Book cover            This book by art history Professor Susan Milbrath is a breakthrough interpretation of the Codex Borgia. Published in 2013 by the University of Texas Press.

            Heaven and earth in ancient Mexico: Astronomy and seasonal cycles in the Codex Borgia is major new interpretation of the enigmatic middle section of the Codex Borgia. Milbrath demonstrates that this ancient painted text is the most important historical record of pre-Columbian astronomy and natural history in central Mexico.

Her innovative interpretation incorporates a reappraisal of the dates and imagery in a unique narrative passage that has been the subject of scholarly debate for generations. Decoding the imagery in the Borgia narrative allows a new understanding of the way astronomy was integrated with annual cycle of the festival calendar. Reading the Calendar Round dates in companion almanacs as historical records, the author sets the narrative in historical context.

These dates are associated with imagery that are related to changing seasonal rainfall and the festivals celebrated at different times of year to ensure rainfall at appropriate times of year. The book includes an analysis of the seasonal cycle of rainfall and maize, and its relationship to the late Postclassic (1325-1520) festival calendar shared throughout Central Mexico.

The author demonstrates that this account records actual observations of astronomical events and observations of seasonal cycles on earth involving plants, animals, and rainfall.  The interpretations focus on Post Classic imagery of the three most important astronomical bodies in Mexico: the Sun, Moon, and Venus as manifested in the Borgia Group codices and the broader sphere of Aztec iconography. The narrative focuses on the transformation of Venus in relation to the solar cycle, tracking Venus events in concert with the equinoxes and solstices, and the periods when Venus made its underworld journey in conjunction with the sun. Significantly, the narrative records a time when Venus was seen to go through its phase transformations at key points in the solar cycle in a year (1496) of a solar eclipse, the  only total eclipse recorded in late Postclassic Aztec sources.


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Maya musicians playing at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico. 2013. Pic: Milbrath

Maya musicians playing at the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico. 2013.      Pic: Milbrath

           Professor Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology for the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida, presented her paper, “Agro-astronomical evidence among the ancient Maya” at the colloquium “La relación sociedad- naturaleza entre los mayas” held in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya de Mérida in Yucatán, Mexico on October 18.

           Prof. Milbrath’s paper is a new exploration of the role of Venus and solar eclipse cycles in Maya agronomy. Maya agricultural cycles today indicate that observations of the sun and moon, and the Pleiades remain important, but her study also documents observations of Venus and solar eclipses in relation to agricultural cycles in the Madrid Codex, suggesting a sophisticated form of agro-astronomy in ancient Maya agricultural almanacs.

Abstract of the paper–

“La Evidencia Agro-astronómica Entre los Antiguos Maya”

En los c6dices mesoamericanos, Venus está estrechamente vlnculada con el ciclo solar, en almanaques que integran cinco ciclos de Venus, con ocho años solares, en los que este planeta vuelve a la misma posición en eo relación con el añio solar, cada ocho añios. El uso de este almanaque se extiende desde el centro de México hasta el área maya, y al parecer se originó en el período Preclásico Tardio.

Es evidente que las fases de Venus y eventos de esta naturaleza, fueron seguidos de cerca, en re!aci6n con el ciclo de siembra, lo que refleja una forma de agro-astronomía que sólo estamos empezando a comprender.

Article in the Diario de Yucatan

An article about Prof. Milbrath’s paper was published in the Merida newspaper Diario de Yucatán on October 19, 2013. The article can be accessed by clicking on this link: Diario de Yucatán- Valoran el sistema agroastronómico maya 19 Oct 2013

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