Mayan calendar

A curious Mayan connection with eclipses

Astronomical phenomena defined how the Mayans developed religiously.

Astronomy was an important part of many ancient societies across the globe, serving as a foundational pillar upon which their cultural, religious, and practical knowledge were intricately interwoven and deeply rooted.

The ancient Mayans were no exception. They created a surprisingly effective calendar to define their lifestyle. Astronomical phenomena such as eclipses had an important cultural and religious significance for the Mayans.

The ancient Mayans were able to predict astronomical phenomena. Furthermore, they managed to develop a complex calendar. They also built pyramids to, for example, temporarily locate the solstices or equinoxes.

The ancient Mayans were possibly one of the most prominent sky-watching societies. As accomplished mathematicians, they recorded systematic observations on the movement of the Sun, planets, and stars.

Thanks to some historical records such as the Dresden Codex, we can get closer to the astronomical culture of the Mayans. Of course, this was not limited to being an exact science but had an important religious character.

Mayan priests possessed knowledge of astronomy, and mathematics allowing them to predict celestial events. They tracked the lunar nodes, predicted the days of eclipses, and then gave them religious meaning.

What did eclipses represent for the Mayan civilization?

A few millennia ago, 2 eclipses crossed the sky observed by the Mayans within 6 months. The intention of predicting these phenomena was to be able to be prepared for any situation that represented a ritual opportunity.

The eclipse phenomena represented divine figures, and it was common to make sacrifices or ceremonies while they occurred.

According to ancient Mayan beliefs, sunsets were associated with death and decay. This is because Kinich Ahau, the Sun God, traveled through the Mayan underworld (Xibalba) while it was night.

The deity became weaker and the Mayans felt an obligation to help him heal. When an eclipse occurred, they believed that Kinich Ahau was being weakened by his counterpart and they had to perform rituals capable of recovering it.

The nobility, especially the king, performed blood sacrifices, piercing their bodies and collecting drops of blood to burn as offerings. This “blood of kings” was the highest form of sacrifice, intended to strengthen Kinich Ahau.

The relevance of astronomy for the ancient Mayans is another example of their mathematical and cultural complexity. The stars always deeply influenced the lifestyle of different societies spread throughout the world.

Solar eclipse in Mexico on April 8, 2024

This total solar eclipse was the first of its kind in Mexico since July 1991. The last time such an astronomical phenomenon could be seen in the skies of Mexico was July 11, 1991, and the next one will be 28 years later, in 2052.

Mexico was one of the places from which the entire solar eclipse could be observed, or almost entirely. In Mexico, the best views were found in Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, and Torreon and Piedras Negras in Coahuila.

The solar eclipse brought more than 4 minutes of sudden darkness to northern Mexico.

The phenomenon has been visible in a strip about 200 km wide that began its journey in the Mexican Pacific, crossed the center of the United States, and ended in the Atlantic, after traveling through eastern Canada.

Mazatlán (Sinaloa) was the first place on land to project the eclipse’s shadow, the total phase of which lasted 4 minutes 20 seconds, in Torreon (Coahuila) the Moon blocked sunlight for 4 minutes 10 seconds.

In the rest of Mexico, the solar eclipse was partially visible: the Moon covered the solar disk by 99–42%.

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