• Wed. Mar 29th, 2023

The Mesoamerican Context for Chaco Astronomy


Sep 23, 2022

Opening at Casa Rinconada That Channels Sunbeam at Dawn on Summer time Solstice

In the present day is the summer season solstice, so I believed I’d pop again in to do a put up about archaeoastronomy, as is my wont. This time it isn’t concerning the archaeoastronomy of Chaco Canyon per se, however the bigger context wherein it could have developed, particularly that of the civilizations of Mesoamerica to the south.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve a tentative concept that a part of the impetus for the rise of Chaco as a regional heart might have been that its leaders have been the primary within the Southwest, or a minimum of the northern Southwest, to develop a ritual system based mostly on astronomical remark and alignments, which might have enhanced their ritual authority and consequently their financial and political authority as properly. It may be very troublesome to this point archaeoastronomical phenomena, however it does seem based mostly on my analysis to date that Chaco does certainly have the earliest datable proof for astronomical alignments within the northern Southwest, and probably within the Southwest as an entire. (There may be some attainable proof for earlier alignments among the many Hohokam of southern Arizona, however it’s considerably questionable.) This supplies some tentative assist for the speculation.

I don’t suppose it’s possible that the Chacoan leaders developed their astronomy on their very own, although. There may be loads of proof for contact and communication between them and Mesoamerica, although it isn’t all the time clear how direct this may occasionally have been (versus oblique and mediated by way of teams in between such because the Hohokam). The rather more advanced societies of Mesoamerica additionally had rather more elaborate astronomical and calendrical techniques than anybody within the Southwest, so they’re an apparent supply for this as properly.

Additionally they presumably developed their data earlier, in order I used to be fascinated with my Chaco concept it occurred to me that it could be good to look into when precisely astronomical alignments and different proof of this information seem in Mesoamerica and the way they unfold and adjusted over time. Principally, the query is whether or not what is understood concerning the origin and unfold of astronomical data in Mesoamerica is in step with what seems to be true of the origin and unfold of comparable data additional north. Additionally, it could be useful to know simply how related the alignments and different phenomena recognized from Mesoamerica are to these within the Southwest, once more to evaluate the plausibility of a connection.

Fortunately for me, an article revealed final 12 months addressed this precise difficulty. Written by the Slovenian scholar Ivan Šprajc, it was revealed within the Journal of Archaeological Analysis and discusses the temporal and spatial distribution of various constructing alignments in Mesoamerica. It’s really a bit odd that this text was revealed on this journal, which largely publishes overview articles giving a broad overview of latest analysis on a sure subject in archaeology. Šprajc’s article is within the type of such a overview, roughly, however it really primarily discusses a selected analysis venture carried out by him and a number of other collaborators, wherein they collected very exact and full information on the alignments of main buildings at many archaeological websites all through a lot of the Mesoamerican tradition space and analyzed them statistically to provide you with basic patterns of alignment and see what patterns emerged.

The outcomes have been very fascinating, particularly from an outdoor perspective. You may count on alignments to the summer season and winter solstice sunrises and sunsets to be frequent, they usually have been to some extent, however they have been in no way the commonest. (Alignments to cardinal instructions have been additionally current however have been even much less frequent.) Rather more frequent, particularly within the Maya area, have been alignments to sure factors on the horizon that do seem to mirror specific sunrises and sunsets, however on completely different days than the solstices. The particular days cluster in February and October for sunrises and April and August for sunsets. Based mostly on comparisons to ethnohistoric and trendy ethnographic accounts of agricultural cycles, Šprajc proposes that these dates marked important factors within the cycle of planting and harvesting cycle, particularly for maize, and that marking them would have been a part of a really sensible system of timekeeping that will additionally presumably have had ritual significance.

Moreover, the numbers of days separating many of those dates that sample collectively at specific websites are inclined to mirror multiples of 13 and 20, that are key numbers within the Mesoamerican calendar system, notably within the 260-day ritual calendar. (Notice that 260 is 13 instances 20.) Based mostly on the practices of some trendy Maya communities that also measure their agricultural cycles this fashion, it seems that the alignments to mark the important thing dates would have allowed folks to depend from these factors to determine the remainder of the cycle utilizing these intervals. For the reason that identical dates recur at these intervals within the ritual calendar, which isn’t calibrated to the photo voltaic 12 months, folks may have simply used them to maintain monitor of the instances for particular actions with out worrying a couple of basic calibration.

As a simplified instance, if the alignment of a constructing in a neighborhood marked the start of the planting season based mostly on the place of the solar, and the neighborhood knew that the harvest would come 260 days later, they may pay attention to the ritual calendar date (quantity and day-sign) of the start day marked by the alignment, the correspondence of which to the photo voltaic calendar would differ from 12 months to 12 months, and know that when that date got here up once more it could be time for harvest. This appears to me like a intelligent approach to cope with the everlasting drawback of calibrating a photo voltaic calendar to seasonal cycles.

Be that as it might, it appears moderately clear that nothing practically this elaborate in both calendrical improvement or architectural alignment was current within the historical Southwest (although it could be fascinating to examine some constructing alignments to see if any of those specific ones present up, which so far as I do know nobody has carried out). Extra fascinating to me from my Southwestern perspective is Šprajc’s regional and temporal evaluation, which does appear to tentatively present some assist for my Chaco concept.

Šprajc finds, maybe unsurprisingly, that solstice alignments are the earliest, and that they’re notably attribute of Preclassic websites in a number of areas, together with Central Mexico, the Olmec area on the Gulf Coast, and the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. What he calls “quarter-day” orientations, which aren’t strictly to the equinoxes however to the calculated factors in between the solstice alignments, are additionally frequent in early websites and sometimes related to solstice alignments. (He’s doubtful that precise equinox alignments actually existed as a result of they’re troublesome to watch.) In distinction, these alignments are pretty uncommon in early Maya websites.

The extra advanced calendrical alignments additionally seem pretty early, particularly in Oaxaca but in addition in some Olmec websites in addition to some in Central Mexico. It seems to be at Teotihuacan within the Early Basic interval the place two of the widespread calendrical alignments seem collectively for the primary time, accounting for this main metropolis’s well-known format that includes two barely completely different avenue grids. The next unfold of those alignments could also be due partially to affect from Teotihuacan all through Mesoamerica throughout the Basic interval.

Among the many areas of obvious Teotihuacan affect in alignment have been northern and western Mesoamerica, that are the areas by way of which affect would presumably have flowed on its approach to the Southwest. Šprajc notes, nevertheless, that the sample of alignments reveals much more variety in these areas than elsewhere, with solstice and even cardinal alignments retaining substantial affect, and the northern web site of Alta Vista might actually have a true equinox alignment. From following the references to the more detailed report, it seems that the northern and western websites within the pattern are all comparatively late, with none sooner than the Early Basic. That is in step with an expansion of a minimum of solstice alignment ideas, and probably another concepts, spreading step by step on this course from the Mesoamerican heartland, ultimately reaching Chaco by its rise within the Early Postclassic.

Lastly, a phrase on the moon. Lunar standstill alignments have been recognized at some Chacoan websites, particularly Chimney Rock, however are controversial attributable to their basic rarity worldwide. I discovered it intriguing, due to this fact, that Šprajc does determine a few of these in Mesoamerica, however clustered primarily into particular subregions, particularly the northeast coast of the Yucatan Peninsula and the Usumacinta drainage on the western fringe of the Maya Lowlands. These alignments appear to be to the key lunar standstill and are related to solstice alignments, implying that maybe it was the complete moons close to the solstices that have been primarily noticed. Additionally they appear to be related to worship of a selected moon goddess, which helps to differentiate them from alignments to Venus, that are related and have been current in different subareas. That is approach on the opposite finish of Mesoamerica from the half almost definitely to have influenced the Southwest, so direct affect appears unlikely, however it’s fascinating to notice.

Total, this text supplies very fascinating context for understanding Chaco and the position astronomy might have performed in its florescence. Pleased solstice!


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