November 20, 2017

Maya Wheel Calendar, Leap Year and A Huge Mistake

Through some very exciting conversations of late with renowned Mayanist Dr. Mark Van Stone, we have developed a very keen understanding of what he refers to as the “projecting” of our knowledge onto an earlier society that had not discovered what we know today and instead of explaining the world through their frame of reference, seeing it AND explaining it through ours. In other words, creating a total distortion.

This is a very dangerous practice and one that often leads to the nonsense we see in shows like Ancient Aliens, where learned professors like Dr. Van Stone spend a small portion of the show giving an authoritative perspective, only to have it then clouded by a clown with big hair who says the answer has to be aliens.

The Maya Wheel Calendar

What better a day to have this discussion.

To the right is a photo of the Maya Calendar exhibit at Museo de la Cultura Maya in Chetumal, Belize. Though it’s Leap Day, to the Maya, this meant nothing.  They apparently didn’t make up for “Drifting” in their calendars.

But we have seen this concept of the Maya Calendar displayed in many places and even are having an internal debate on how to use it in applications being developed by our art department here in Dallas.  But there’s one HUGE, ancient-pyramid-sized error in what you’re looking at.

The Maya didn’t have the wheel. 

So if they didn’t have the wheel, though cyclical like ours today, their calendar did not look like this.  As Dr. Van Stone has pointed out, neither does ours.

It is just this sort of thing that makes television shows like Ancient Aliens so plausible and easy to believe.  And it is just this sort of thing that when it’s shown as fact, needs to be called out and explained.

We can understand why this is being used: Because today we KNOW about the wheel and because of our knowledge today, it’s easier to look back on what they didn’t know then and conceptualize.  But….

Made to Stick

In their 2007 book, Made To Stick, the Hatch brothers talk about an experiment to do with tapping out the rhythm of a song.  If you hear a tune in your head and you start tapping it out on the table in front of you, there’s no doubt you can be just as impressive (in your own mind) as Ringo Starr or Peter Chris from Kiss in banging it out.  But without humming the tune and without saying ahead of time what it is, ask someone sitting there with you what it is you’re tapping out.

The odds are tremendously high they are not going to be able to name that tune.  Why?  Because they don’t have the same frame of reference about the tune in your head as you do. You are the only one who can “hear it.”  Once they know what you’re tapping out, the chances improve that they might be able to say that they can hear what you’re doing, but even then….

The point is historians and archeologists often try to do this same thing when explaining what was going on in the minds of our ancient ancestors.  In many cases, because some civilizations either didn’t have a written records, like those who built Stonehenge, or the Mesoamericans who had much of their work burnt and destroyed by the Conquistadors, we just don’t know.  And then there are those who can sit in front of a camera with a straight face and say, “It had to be Extra Terrestrials.”

Leap Day 2012

So on Leap Day 2012, remember, there is a lot of thinking and work that went into the marking and the use of Leap Year and Leap Days.  If today is your birthday, congratulations.  We wish you a great day, certainly.

There is plenty of information on the Net about how we came to have a Leap YearJulius Caesar is often given credit for adopting the Leap Year tradition in 45 BC to help the seasons catch up with the calendar once they had shifted.  As you may know, the length of a year isn’t actually 365 days, it’s a little longer, so when you’ve had a couple of them go by, things start to get out of sync, and gone far enough, Dec. 25 could have drifted into another season, etc.

Pretty cool when you stop and think about it.

 

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