A Mayan codex shows this civilization’s knowledge of mathematics and astronomy

Part of the Venus Table in the Dresden Codex (Image courtesy University of California - Santa Barbara)
Part of the Venus Table in the Dresden Codex (Image courtesy University of California – Santa Barbara)

An article published in the journal “Journal of Astronomy in Culture” describes a research on the Venus Table contained in the Dresden Codex, one of the few Maya codices still existing today. According to Gerardo Aldana, a professor of anthropology at the University of California – Santa Barbara, it contains significant innovations in mathematics and astronomy, so much to compare its author to Copernicus.

The Dresden Codex is a Mayan manuscript of the 11th or 12th century that may have been created at Chichen Itza. Historians believe that it’s a copy of a manuscript dating 3-400 years earlier and is the oldest among the ones still existing. Only 15 of these codices still exist because during the Spanish conquest strong efforts were made to destroy the Mayan civilization, including its culture.

The 74 pages of the Dresden Codex are about various topics, including the Venus Table and other astronomical topics. However, generally historians believed that it was used mainly for astrological uses. Instead, Gerardo Aldana believes that in particular the Venus Table has been underestimated and put together elements from various disciplines to present his thesis.

Epigraphy is a discipline that specifically studies inscriptions, often in archeology. Gerardo Aldana put it together with archeology and astronomy to present his interpretation of the Venus Table in which he argues that the mathematical correction of the Maya’s “Venus calendar” was probably developed in the Classic period, between 800 and 1000 A.D. at Chichen Itza.

In the preface of the Venus Table, on page 24 of the Dresden Codex, there is what Gerardo Aldana defined a mathematical subtlety in the hieroglyphic text. This is a correction of the irregular cycle of Venus, which is 583.92 days, a principle similar to that of the leap year in the Gregorian calendar. It’s been known for some time but Aldana wanted to understand its true meaning.

Epigraphy allowed Gerardo Aldana to analyze the language of hieroglyphics used to write the Dresden Codex. Until now, historians had thought that Venus observations were accurate but that the Venus Table was based on numerology. Aldana looked for more data on Venus dating back to the Mayan civilization for verification and the ones existing in Copàn, in today’s Honduras, matched the observations recorded in the Dresden Codex.

The Mayans had rituals based on Venus cycles so their knowledge was important. If those were data connected to numerology only they wouldn’t be based on anything but if those were the result of astronomical observations and mathematical calculations they would make sense.

Copernicus was trying to predict Easter dates and ended up creating the heliocentric model. Someone in the Maya civilization did something similar observing Venus. A few months ago, a study concluded that that the Babylonians knew the basics of calculus over 14 centuries earlier than previously thought. Gerardo Aldana’s research shows that the Mayans had advanced knowledge of mathematics and astronomy that before the Europeans that got lost with the end of their civilization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *