Sunday, May 3, 2009

Traditions of the Sun

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The great house of Pueblo Bonito is the largest of all Chacoan structures with around 700 rooms. It is located in "downtown," which is the term used to describe the dense group of ancient sites found in this area of the canyon. The view of Pueblo Bonito from the overlook trail shows the building's traditional D-shaped floor plan. A small white truck barely visible in the plaza provides a sense of scale.

An impressive feature of Pueblo Bonito is its alignment to the cardinal directions. A line drawn through the center of the half moon shape forms a precise north-south axis and the eastern-half of its southern wall is aligned east-west. On the spring and fall equinoxes, the Sun rises and sets in perfect alignment with this wall.

Dr. Shelley Valdez, a member of the Pueblo Laguna Tribe, explained the importance of the cardinal directions, "(They) connect people, the seasons, the Sun and Moon's patterns, time, nature, the environment, the cosmos, and ceremonial systems. Observance of the cardinal directions and the Sun essentially ensured life by knowing when it was time to plant, harvest, and hunt for example. Pueblo Bonito is a physical manifestation of these ideas."


Traditions of the Sun: Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Visit the park in Chaco canyon, while learning about the Sun and Native American solar practices within a larger historical and cultural context.

The Observatory, or Caracol, so-called for the spiral staircase that winds up through its interior, served as an observatory for gathering astronomical data about the sun, moon, and planet Venus. To have a round temple construction with windows is extremely rare; these windows provide for complex charting of the movement of astral bodies. For example, the line of sight through the west wall cuts straight through the setting sun on the spring equinox; another line of sight picks up the moonset on the same date.

This ancient observatory was used by its priests to chart the rising and setting positions of the sun, moon, and the planet venus. The platform, door jambs, and window jambs are all positioned to serve this purpose.

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Traditions of the Sun: The Yucatan. Visit the great Mayan cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Dzibilchaltun, Mayapan, and others. Learn about Mayan astronomy, history, culture, and science.

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Like modern scientists, the ancient Maya were careful observers; recording the motion of the planets and the Sun and moon with such precision that they could accurately predict eclipses. Their interest in understanding the world around them is another quality we share.


The ancient Maya’s achievements were not limited to science and the arts—their strong religious beliefs and practices marked every important event. To the Maya, there was no separation: science, art and religious belief were deeply interconnected.

This Website focuses on archaeoastronomy within the larger context of ancient Mayan culture. Archaeoastronomy as the name implies, combines astronomical and archaeological studies. Traditions of the Sun explores many aspects of Mayan culture, as well as the natural environment of the northern Yucatan peninsula.

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