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Archaeoastronomy Archives - The Wonders Expedition™ - @Archeoastronomy

June 5, 2020

Archaeoastronomy or Cultural Astronomy? Which Term Do You Use?

By Donny Claxton

It’s my second full day at the Society for American Archaeology meeting here in Memphis and wow, did I ever learn a lot today. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to attend a single session or paper reading.  The day was spent filming video interviews of Dr. Anthony Aveni, Dr. John Carlson, Dr. Susan Milbrath and a host of other scholars from around the country who specialize in Maya studies. It is because of their studies, each knows a fascinating amount of information about the Maya and any doomsday predictions for Dec. 21, 2012.

Dr. Anothony Aveni SAA meeting 2011

Today, there also were discussions with Dr. Aveni and Dr. Carlson about using the term “Cultural Astronomy” as opposed to “Archaeoastronomy.”

(I want to straighten one thing up here while I can.  We use the Twitter name @Archeoastronomy–without the A behind the H, in part because Twitter would only allow enough characters to spell it that way.  I also realized today that I’ve been spelling Archeology without the A behind the H, too, which apparently is accepted by the dictionary, but AP Style book says to include the A, so from hence forward on the site, so shall be the policy.)

The discussion with Dr. Aveni went along the lines that the term “Archaeoastronmy” has been tarnished by crack pots who have come along and jumped on the term and taken it in weird directions.  This is me saying this, not Dr. Aveni, but the people from the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens show come to mind.

Dr. Aveni did say that even though that even the likes of Eric Van Daniken haven’t been entirely bad for the field because even with his wild psuedo-scientific claims, he’s generated an interest in the field that has brought actual scholars into its arena of study.  His point was that there are many scholars in the world today who would never have studied  archaeoastronomy if they hadn’t seen the wild claims of Lord Pakal’s sarcophagus cover allegedly being a depiction of him sitting in a space capsule and then went in search for the actual facts surrounding it.

Dr. John Carlson

I had really been looking forward to getting to know Dr. Carlson.  He reminds me of my maternal grandfather and is one of the kindest and smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of having a deep, and informative conversation with.

Dr. Tony Aveni

In meeting Carlson and Aveni, today really became a fascinating and incredible day to me personally.  I bought Dr. Aveni’s 2012 book, The End of Time–The Maya Mystery of 2012 and got it autographed.

I had some great one-on-one conversations wtih Dr. Carlson and if I could spend the next several years in conversations learning from these two geniuses, I’d still be starving for more knowledge. As Dr. Aveni talked on camera today, he would rattle off a citation of someone’s work from a 1978 paper and the reference being on page X, and it saying ABC and then he’d go right on to another, almost like a Sunday morning preacher citing chapters in the Bible.  It was truly amazing and inspiring.

Dr. John Carlson

Dr. Mark Van Stone

We made a lot of progress today on the development of Dr. Mark Van Stone’s first interactive book for the iPad on the 2012 meme.

I really cannot wait for this iBook to hit the market because with the interviews we’ve conducted over the past 24 hours to include in this first-of-its kind book, there literally will be no other resource like it available as we draw closer to Dec. 21, 2012.

And as I now call it a day, I’m going to bed with some incredible new knowledge, perspectives and comfort in having made some wonderful new friends.

It’s a rare occasion to have the chance to sit down with an expert in a field of study.  Today I’ve had the chance to interview two men who created their own field of study–Archaeoastronomy.  When was the last time you did that?  I bet the chances are slim it ever happens again in my life.

Archaeoastronomy v. Cultural Astronomy

So, which term do you use?  Have the likes of Van Daniken, David Childress and Giorgio Tsoukalos  tainted the word Archaeastronomy too much for your own tastes?

 

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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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