Uxmal / Venus / Thanksgiving

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I recommend watching the PBS series “Native America,” (we watched on Thanksgiving) because it tells new old native stories really well. Here is an excerpt on Uxmal (where I visited with Frontera staff in 2015 and took the photos in the collage) –

Maya cities flourish between the years 100 and 900– a period twice as long as the golden age of Rome. The Maya track the positions of many stars and planets with an accuracy within one day every 400 years. Their astronomical knowledge would not be matched in Europe until a thousand years later, the time of Galileo.

(speaking Spanish)

(translated):

The Maya constructed cities and buildings that were in some way aligned to the sun.

NARRATOR:

Pepe Huchim is Maya. He grew up among these ruins and is now a leading archaeologist in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and site director of Uxmal.

(Herrera speaking Spanish)

HERRERA (translated):

The sun was the giver of life. It was the fundamental nourishment that regulated the life of the Maya. (birds chirping)

NARRATOR:

Here at Uxmal, one magnificent building stands out.

(Herrera speaking Spanish) 

HERRERA (translated):

The Governor’s Palace is one of the most beautiful structures in this region because of its exquisite lines and finishes. (Herrera speaking Spanish) This is a primary indicator that this was a very important place.

NARRATOR:

Uxmal is built on the common north-south grid. But Uxmal’s greatest king, Chan Chak K’ak’nal Ajaw, builds the Governor’s Palace twisted 15 degrees off this axis.

MARY E. MILLER:

For so many years, people had noticed that the Governor’s Palace at Uxmal seemed a little bit out of whack. (birds chirping)

NARRATOR:

Art historian Mary Miller finds the reason why written on the building’s facade. (birds chirping) The House of the Governor is covered with thousands of glyphs– the Maya form of writing.

MILLER:

Maya writing is one of the few full writing systems that ever evolved in the history of humanity.

NARRATOR:

Maya writing contains more than 800 characters. Some are like letters, representing certain sounds. Others, like those on the Governor’s Palace, represent entire words, names, or concepts. The repetition of one particular glyph is a clue to the building’s orientation. There were dozens and dozens of these fantastic masks of Chaac the Rain God piled up in great stacks across the House of the Governor. Under each and every eye is the sign for Venus.

NARRATOR:

The House of the Governor contains close to 350 glyphs representing Venus. And Maya astronomer priests write an entire book to track Venus, the brightest body in the sky after the sun and moon.

MILLER:

There are four surviving Maya books, and it is really quite striking that one is entirely devoted to the sequence of Venus.

NARRATOR:

Mary stands in the doorway where an astronomer priest would observe its elaborate cycle on the horizon.

MILLER:

Venus would line up once every eight years with maximum brightness with the principal doorway of the House of the Governor.

NARRATOR:

The House of the Governor is carefully positioned to align not with the sun, but with Venus.

MILLER:

This building was aligned from the very beginning to Venus. It’s the harvest of perhaps a thousand years of knowledge about Venus, and imbuing Venus with this much meaning.

NARRATOR:

But why Venus? Understanding the cycles of the sun helps guide agriculture.

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