On September 21, Chabot College Planetarium hosted an exclusive event that explores the fascinating world of ancient Mayan science and culture. It’s shed light on the Mayan’s advanced understanding of astronomy and timekeeping.
The event was organized by Scott Hildreth, a knowledgeable Chabot College professor of Physics and Astronomy and NASA researcher, who guided students through the rich heritage of Mayan knowledge and history.
“They didn’t have calculators, they didn’t have Seikos, they didn’t have smartphones, but they took records over so long that they were able to figure out there are approximately 29.530 days in one lunar month. And this is a thousand years ago,” explained Prof. Scott Hildreth.
The show started with a splash of the sound of Mayan cultural music that brought viewers back 1000 years ago to indigenous cultures, highlighting the existence of vinyl records from regions including Mexico and Guatemala, showing many of the musical instruments used by these cultures, such as flutes and drums, likely remained unchanged until now.
One of the central parts of the event was the connection between the students and their potential Mayan ancestry. Prof. Hildreth touched upon the idea that, even if people couldn’t directly trace their lineage to the Maya, the influence of this ancient civilization might still be present in their bloodline or through connections with friends and family.
‘’I also was very amazed to learn that the Mayans did scientific studies which were not only way ahead of their time but included it as a part of their daily lives,’’ – shared Brian after visiting 7 Wonders of the World.
One of the most astonishing revelations was the Mayan’s intricate understanding of time. They precisely recorded the position of the sun throughout the year, tracking its rising and setting locations. They developed a calendar system based on 260 named days and a 365-day solar calendar, along with a detailed system for associating characteristics with specific birth dates.
‘’I did not know that the ancient Mayan civilizations were so obsessed with astronomy and the sky, and they were such strong observers. It’s amazing that they based all of their architecture on the sky, and I think that’s what my biggest takeaway is,’’ – said Chabot student Emmanuel Garrido.
The Mayans’ written records contained detailed depictions of astronomical events, historical records, and intricate artwork that told stories of battles, conquests, and the lives of their rulers.
The event concluded with an exploration of Mayan artistry and craftsmanship, including their beautifully detailed stone glyphs and pyramids. They didn’t build it in one place. They built pyramids all over the Mayan area, and these pyramids are not accidental because they’re aligned to the directions of the Sun.
“They’re aligned to when the moon rises and sets in particular places on the horizon: the highest or lowest of the sky,” – explained Prof. Scott Hildreth.
Mayan legacy left behind such as their specific methodology for counting days in a year on the pyramids is both fascinating and practical. These architectural structures served as both monuments and astronomical observatories with specific characteristics:
“91 steps on all four sides. What’s four times 91? They had to bring a calculator? It’s 364. The top step is 365. You think that’s an accident? No, no. Well, a quarter of the year on each side”, – noted Prof. Scott Hildreth.
All in all, Chabot College Planetarium is an exclusive place in the Bay Area academic neighborhood. None of the most famous local universities such as Berkeley or Stanford has this sort of facility. Luckily, Chabot College has.
‘’I think it’s a very inviting atmosphere, a very learning atmosphere. I think I feel safe being curious and asking questions because I think the professor was very well, he was very eloquent with everything and seeing as this is my culture, these would be my ancestors. I felt just very interested overall,’’ – shared Emmanuel Garrido.
Therefore, all the students were offered a unique opportunity to journey into the heart of ancient Mayan science and culture. Through the insights of passionate and captivating exploration of Mayan achievements, all the students not only gained a newfound appreciation for the intellectual richness of this remarkable civilization but also celebrated Hispanic heritage month.