Open Letter to Mayanists and Astronomers
Excerpt from Chapter 3 of Galactic
Alignment by John Major Jenkins.
By mid-1999 I had received a statement from an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University to the effect that ‘it is not possible that the Maya could see the Galactic Center.’ My general response to this opinion is that the region of the Galactic Center should be more generally identified as the “nuclear bulge” which can be noticed with naked eye observation because the Milky Way is wider in that region and there are more bright stars there. In other words, any ancient culture intimate with the night sky would notice that part of the Milky Way as interesting. But this argument was not well received, so I decided to resort to evidence. I wanted to show that the Maya thought of the region of the Galactic Center as a center and a source, designations true to the Galactic Center’s nature. I wrote a short piece, “An Open Letter to Astronomers and Mayanists,” that presented some facts of Maya star lore and posted it to the Aztlan email list in June of 1999:
Did the Maya know where the Galactic Center is located? Yes. Now, brace yourself, because I’m going to show you how and why without resorting to speculation or guesswork. The question to ask is this: Did the Maya understand the region of the sky occupied by the Galactic Center in a way that is metaphorically and conceptually equivalent to what the Galactic Center is? In this way we can answer the related question of "did the Maya know where the Galactic Center is located?
First, what is the Galactic Center? In most basic terms, the Galactic Center is:
· A source-point, or “creation place.”
· A center
The first thing to recognize is that the region of the Galactic Center contains several features—all visible to the naked eye—that call attention to it as a unique place along the Milky Way. These are:
· The Milky Way is filled with brighter stars and is wider in the region of the Galactic Center
· The dark-rift, or Great Cleft, of the Milky Way extends to the north of the Galactic Center
· The cross formed by the Milky Way and the ecliptic is near the Galactic Center
Now we can assess established, academic identifications in Mayan ethnoastronomy and starlore. Two factual indicators:
1. Among the modern-day Quiché Maya, the dark-rift is called the xibalba be. This means “road to the underworld.” In the ancient Maya Creation text, the Popol Vuh, this same feature serves as a road to the underworld and is also called the Black Road. Associated iconography with the “underworld portal” concept includes caves, monster mouths, and birthing portals. In general, the Milky Way was conceived as a Great Goddess and the dark-rift was her birth canal. This demonstrates that the Maya understood the region of the Galactic Center as a source-point or birth place.
2. The cross formed by the Milky Way with the ecliptic near Sagittarius has been identified at Palenque, among the Quiché and Chorti Maya, and elsewhere as the Mayan Sacred Tree. In the Popol Vuh, it is the Crossroads. The cross symbol, according to accepted epigraphic and iconographic interpretation (e.g., on thrones), denotes the concept of “center” and usually contextually implies a “cosmic” or “celestial” center. The concept of “cosmic center” and the principle of world-centering was important to Mesoamerican astronomers, city planners, and Maya kings — kings who symbolically occupied and ruled from the “cosmic center.” Thus, the Maya, via the Sacred Tree/Cosmic Cross symbology, understood the region of the Galactic Center to be a center.
Center and birthplace — understandings that are true to the Galactic Center’s nature. This is not speculation, but an assemblage of academic evidence. I repeat here the evidence available in my book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, which contains 24 pages of bibliography and 20 pages of academic documentation in end notes.
I speak of “region” in referring to the Galactic Center because the visible “nuclear bulge” of the Galactic Center is not an abstract, invisible point, is not limited to the high frequency radio spectrum, but rather covers a large area or “region” in the visible night sky. Now, my book argues, as its primary thesis, that the Maya intended 2012 to mark the rare alignment of the solstice sun with the band of the Milky Way. In astronomical terms, this is the alignment of the solstice meridian with the Galactic equator—an astronomical fact. Notice that my thesis, in this sense, does not even require knowledge of the Galactic Center in order for it to be valid. Nevertheless, knowledge among the ancient Maya of the Galactic Center as a “creation place” and “cosmic center” is strongly implied, indeed demonstrated, by established Maya concepts, as outlined above.
Ancient Maya knowledge of the precession of the equinoxes is the hitch that most skeptical scholars invoke to discredit my work. The evidence for precessional knowledge is found in the academic data, in archaeoastronomical realignments of temples, in the Creation monuments and texts, in the structure of the Long Count calendar, and in the work of respected Mayanists like Gordon Brotherston and Eva Hunt. Appendix 2 of my book surveys the evidence in the literature. Citations to the work of Brotherston, Tedlock, Schele, Smiley, Hunt, Aveni, and others are available upon request (electronically) and are also contained in my book. Important points that are demonstrated here, which will help us understand how and why the Maya knew where the Galactic Center is located:
· We need to recognize that naked eye observation alone can identify the uniqueness of the Galactic Center region.
· We need to compare ancient Mayan terms and metaphors with modern scientific terms and metaphors to determine if the ancient Maya had an accurate understanding and conception of the Galactic Center region. Clearly, without even using speculation but rather by assessing the available and accepted academic data, they did.
I am trying to establish here a foundation for astronomers to approach my material without judgment before the evidence I’ve assembled is assessed. I anxiously await further dialog, comments, and feedback. [end]