Maya Astronomers Were 500 Years Ahead of Copernicus

There are only four manuscripts left from the ancient Maya civilization, but by far the oldest and best preserved is the one known as the Dresden Codex. On the 24th of its 39 double-sided pages is a table of Mayan numerals, which 19th-century mathematician Ernst Förstemann deduced were related to the movements of the planet Venus. The fact that the 10th-century author of the codex chose to watch Venus isn't so surprising, as the planet played a central role in Maya ritual and had ties to Kukulkan, a deity closely related to the Aztecs' Quetzalcoatl. It was the sheer accuracy of the observations that were surprising to modern-day astronomers. In the hieroglyphics were tiny corrections made to the planet's movements, making the observations so precise that scientists can use current knowledge of Venus's travels to pinpoint the date they were taken within a span of only 25 years. Compare that to the observations made by Nicolaus Copernicus, whose heliocentric model of the universe that correctly predicted the paths of the planets wasn't conceived until the 1500s, and the Maya culture becomes even more impressive. Explore Maya science with the videos below.

Explore A Maya Observatory

This is where ancient astronomers watched the planets with only the naked eye.

25 Facts About The Maya

Sports that used severed heads? It's possible.

Does The Mayan Calendar Predict The End Of The World?

No, and the Maya never meant it to.

Written by Curiosity Staff September 1, 2016

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