Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Maya Sun

The Sun and traditions concerning time are very important throughout the land of the Maya. Systematic observations of the passage of the Sun directly overhead twice a year, allowed the Maya to make very accurate calculations defining the length of a solar year. The Maya were accomplished mathematicians. They invented the concept of zero, and recorded mathematical tables to predict solar and lunar eclipses. Maya astronomers had the ability to predict and mark the passage of the seasons by observing the movements of the Sun along the horizon, or the Sun’s movements with respect to the pyramids and other temples. The Sun and its cycles are the foundation for Maya calendar keeping.

The great cities of our past were designed as symbolic landscapes that mimicked and enhanced the natural surroundings. My ancestors built monuments in concert with the movements of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars.” José Huchim Herrera, Yucatec Maya, Archaeologist and Architect