Posted to the Aztlan e-list Friday April 19, 1996 by Linda Schele (commentary notes added by John Major Jenkins in 2003):

(Linda): The following was sent to Milo Gardner on May 6, 1994 as e-mail because I had not yet figured out how to reply to AZTLAN. For those who are interested, here is the reply to his question about the correlation and Floyd Lounsbury's number.

First of all, you must understand I am not anumber person. I am a good friend of Floyd's and have watched him argue the correlation problem with David Kelley for 25 years. Floyd did not send me a preprint copy of his correlation paper because he knows I am not a number person, and The Sky in Mayan Literature was not available until very late 1992, when the manuscript for Maya Cosmos was going through its final editing process before going to the Morrow [publisher] for production. If you have published books, you know that any changes made after the stage of copy editing causes apoplexy in harried editors.

But I probably would not have cited Floyd's article anyway, because I was not attempted to make an argument about the correlation—only stating that David Freidel and I would be using the 285 correlation instead of the 283. Moreover, Maya cosmos was written for the general public first and professionals secondarily. In my experience, there are people who think in numbers and who love them. For this kind of mentality (which Floyd and Dave Keley have and I patently do NOT—this is a big joke between us), the Dresden Codex, the eclipse tables, and other such things are the best way of entering Maya studies. But for most people, the numbers are opaque and mind numbing.[1] For instance, I took Floyd's seminar on glyphs in 1974-1975. He taught us the Venus tables and the eclipse tables. I was supposed to have learned from the master. All of his lessons fell on deaf ears. I could not reproduce any of it and understood less. In the workshops here I describe the experience as "it all made sense when I heard it, but when I walked out the door, it dribbled out of my left ear." It's the "left ear" syndrome.

I finally learned how Venus works by taking EZCosmos 3 and adding the appropriate intervals over hundreds of years and watching what happened.[2] I learned it through the geometry of the sky rather than the numbers.[3] Same thing for the eclipse tables. The rows of numbers that Floyd put in his Encyclopedia of Science article [1978?] were just that—rows of numbers. I learned how the eclipse table worked by using the eclipse finder in EZCosmos 4 to construct my own table for the Maya last summer in our Antigua workshop. This semester I did the same sort of thing in our Dresden seminar by using EZC 4's eclipse finder to check the Dresden eclipse table against the real world using al of its eligible base dates. After that, Floyd's numbers made sense to me.

At a conference here in Austin last November, Dennis Tedlock argued with me about this. He argued that there are other hierophanies just as good for the Venus pages as the ones Floyd Lounsbury presented. Dennis assumed, as many others have, that I prefer the 285 for the same reasons as Floyd does. But you have to understand that I never fully understood Floyd's reasons.

I have been convinced that the 584283-5 correlation was the correct family because of the astronomical alignments we lept finding, but as Dave Kelley says, the astronomy falls into regular periodicities that can be used to support many different correlations—as they have been for a hundred year.[4] Dave doesn't even believe that the 584283 family is correct[5]; for me the problem has been to chose between the 283 or 285. In general, the astronomy does not help because almost all of the known events have a one or two day or greater fudge factor in them.[6] You cannot use them to select betwen one or the other.

Dave Kelley gave me what I consider to be the critical clue twenty years ago. The eclipse table of the Dresden Codex lists a 13 Ahaw that falls on  13 Ahaw 18 Kumk'u if the initial 12 Lamat base date is used. In the dresden sequence, this marks as a new moon with an eclipse station.[7] More over, the same augury that appears in the Dresden Codex also occurs on Quirigua E east side as the age of the moon in the lunar series. I take this to identify both in the retrospective chronology of the Dresden and in the real time chronology of the Classic Period [Quirigua E east side] as an eclipse station and a new moon.[8]

584285 answers this limitation.[9] It was a new moon and an eclipse eligible date. There was not a visible eclipse on that day at Quirigua, although there was one of about 20% at tikal. However, there was a 94% umbral lunar eclipse on February 4, 771 fifteen days after That alone would have confirmed the correctness of the identification.[10] was a lunar eclipse and the next day is marked at Copan as the heliacal rising of the Eveningstar. 584283 puts on Jan. 18, 771, which was not [within] an eclipse date [range].[11] Moreover, as I found out last summer in constructing a modern eclipse table with the Maya, 584283 does not place July 11, 1991 on an eclipse station and 584283 does.[12] This was the date of a total eclipse over Guatemala City.

Finally, I have not read the two other sources you cite. However, I am confused by your reference to a fourth calendar. Do you mean fourth codex? I do not accept that there were many different calendars running at the same time as some people have proposed. We have a difference in the year-bearer's between the Dresden, the Yucatecan, and the highland calendars, that resulted in a slippage of the interlocking of the tzolkin and haab—that is, on which set of days 1 Pop would fall.[13] Justeson has suggested a slip of one month in the epi-Olmec calendar, but so far I see no evidence that they were counting from different bases.[14]

Notes (from John Major Jenkins, 9-2003):

1. Unfortunately, this prevented her from seeing the absurdity of Lounsbury's argument in his 1992 paper from The Sky in Mayan Literature, not to mention his earlier paper of 1983.

2. As early as 1991 I too was using EZCosmos to track Venus and eclipses as well as precession.

3. And because of this Schele noticed interesting connections with the dark-rift and the Milky Way-ecliptic crossroads that were explicit in her famous 1992 workshop (see the workbook from the Austin Hieroglyphic convention) but were not expanded and explored in Maya Cosmos.

4. However, C-14 testing, even with its inherently large error range, defines a limit for how many astronomical periodicities can be included as candidates for the base date.

5. Kelley's correlation is some 200 years different than the 283-285 family, which he claims is within the C-14 range of error, but his argument for extending the error range up to 200 years is questionable. Both Kelley and Lounsbury disregard the importance of the ethnographic evidence of the surviving tzolkin calendar, which only the 584283 correlation supports. Lounsbury's argument for a 2-day shift is extremely implausible, which I've addressed elsewhere.

6. And this is why her following argument doesn't work.

7. Predictive error ranges for the eclipse table are easily more than 2 days; a new moon may have been counted from its first appearance in the west, one or two days after precise "moon dark." Thus, we already easily have at least a 2-day ambiguity in this argument.

8. But here is the problem: What she considers a "real time chronology" recorded on Quirgua E is almost certainly the ideal new moon of the widely used lunar series table—the same predictive sequence found in the Dresden. In other words, the source of both records is the ideal predictive sequence, not real time chronological observation. The Maya were less interested in precise calculation than with the idealized frameworks of cycles that allowed commensuration. A couple of days error between prediction and actual occurrence is an issue to the modern mind, but not so much for the ancient Maya.

9. But so does 283 given the ambiguity of the phenomena involved.

10. Not really. Fifteen days is the error range for eclipse predictions. However, that error range must be applied as a plus/minus to the ideal eclipse date that is indicated in the table. Therefore, up to 7.5 days before or after the ideal date would be acceptable, but not 15 days after. But perhaps I'm being to rigid, for you could be generous and allow a plus or minus 15 days from the ideal date. This just goes to show the generalized situation, one which does not support the precision that Schele (or Lounsbury) require for their arguments to have merit.

11. Yet the 283 is but two days outside the eclipse-period range—this is insignificant when, again, the variablity of the phenomena is considered, as well as my point in note 10 above. The ideal predictive eclipse tables, whether or not you use the 283 or the 285, will indeed occasionally fail to yield an observable result. Or, as in this case, the eclipse falls slightly outside of the predicted date-range.

12. It is ironic to point out that the Quiché Maya people that Schele was working with in Antigua follow a tzolkin day-count that is consistent with the 584283 correlation, but not the 285. And, as it has been argued by Mesoamerican scholars Dennis Tedlock, Munro Edmonson, Barbara Tedlock, Victoria Bricker and others, this modern day-count placement almost certainly has an unbroken lineage going back to Classic Period times; i.e., it is congruent with the count followed at Copan, Uaxactun, and Tikal.

13. Or 0 Pop if "zero counting" was adopted. See Edmonson's Book of the Year (1988) for more.

14. I agree, which means that the earliest Cycle 7 Long Count monuments from the first century B.C. can be expected to track consistently and congruently into the huge corpus of later Classic Period dates.

Context: I received the same or a similar query from Gardner at the same time as Schele did. My response to him echoes some of Schele's comments, but brings a focus to certain items of interest that Schele did not explore.