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Pre-Columbian Astronomy and Latin American

"high Cultures" Of The New World, Less Complex Societies, Bibliography

The sun and the moon, the planets and the stars are the same the world over. One might hypothesize, therefore, that diverse cultures of the world would think the same of them. The two American continents, having been cut off from the Old World from the time of the Asian migration across the Bering land bridge more than ten thousand years ago up to European contact in the fifteenth century, provide an excellent laboratory to test such a hypothesis. One does find some remarkable Old–New World parallels. For example, ancient Maya divisions of the movement of the planet Venus inscribed on bark paper are practically identical to those written in cuneiform by the Babylonians. Moreover, in both of these highly urbanized cultures, planetary sightings were employed to the same end by a class of astronomer-astrologers situated very close to royalty: to cast omens.

This essay is divided into two parts. It begins by reviewing the astronomies of the so-called high cultures of the New World: the Maya, the Aztecs, and the Incas, those must often compared with the classical world, Egypt, and the Middle East, from whom are inherited the roots of modern scientific astronomy. Then follows a brief examination of astronomical practices by less complex societies of North and South America.

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