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The Ancient Maya: Tools of Astronomy

2006, History  -   24 Comments
Ratings: 7.09/10 from 11 users.

Star-gazing reached incredible heights thousands of years before the Hubble. Learn the amazing advances made by the great ancient culture of Central America.

Take another fascinating trip through time to discover the precursors from centuries or even millennia ago of todays cutting-edge technological breakthroughs. Using the latest scholarship, hands-on demonstrations, and dramatic reenactments, The Ancient Maya: Tools of Astronomy shows just how far ahead of their times they really were.

Without the aid of magnifying technology or even a firm idea of where they stood on the planet, the Mayan grasp of the universe through astrological observation was simply stunning. Host Michael Guillen travels to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula to get a firsthand look at the ancient world's most skilled astronomers.

Climb the giant pyramid of Kukulkan and see how it functioned as a giant solar observatory. Examine El Caracol at Tikal, which looks amazingly like a modern day observatory. Learn how the Maya used the sun to lay out their various temples and observatories and examine their incredibly complex and accurate calendar.

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24 Comments / User Reviews

  1. 9875

    Kooky Khan is the man! Or the god, anyway. Good docs on the Maya I recommend:
    -Cracking the Maya Code (or the full DVD 'Breaking the Maya Code')
    -The Maya Collapse
    -Lost King of the Maya
    and there are a couple of others but they are no longer online.


    -there are much better docs on this site regarding this topic.
    -maybe i am just not a fan of the presenter and his style?
    -redundant and elementary presentation of an otherwise interesting subject.

  3. rd47art

    Tell me how we can believe anything these guys are saying?

    1. Bballs

      "Homie" the only way to know anything is to stop been bloody Christian.. Adam A Karu

    2. Bballs

      In order to understan the univers! stop been Christian!!. Christianity is a curse..

  4. Dargor

    "El Caracol" lol

  5. ROY

    they all are excellent critics, but not one of these critics can
    plan anything, move a stone or explain anything. thank god for modern times because in those days, their heads would be the ones rolling down the stairs of those pyramids.

  6. Karen

    The Olmacs had rubber.

  7. alex

    the Maya knew of there demise, they were destroyed by the Spanish, wow. i can t believe they left that out.

    also, guy is so annoying,

    1. 9875

      Not completely correct.

      The collapse of the Classic Maya happened in the 9th century. Long before the Spanish arrived. But still, they did destroy their history and culture and killed off nearly 90% of the population within 50 years. (Mostly due to disease. But also to warfare and genocide.

      If you want to read a good succinct account of the Spanish conquest of Yucatan read the book, AMBIVALENT CONQUESTS. It was not nearly so quick and easy as many people imagine

  8. 27left

    I'm with Ryan... Yeah, I couldn't get too far into this doc because of the way this guy talks. It was a bit like Reading Rainbow or Sesame Street. I was waiting for Statler and Waldorf to appear and harass this guy. That would have been worth the watch.

  9. ez2b12

    @ The Coyote

    No you didn't offend at all man. Your opinion may be absolutedly right, who knows. I wasn't in the best of moods that day either, sometimes it effects what i think. I am alot more sceptical on days when I am in a bad mood. I wonder if that is true of everyone to some degree.

    I should re-watch this when I feel better and see what my opinion is then. I never even heard him say that about the orientation of the buildings, so I must of been missing stuff. That usually means one of two things for me: either the doc is getting boring and my mind is starting to wonder or I was just worried about something else and tuned it out intermittently.

    I'll probably watch it again tonight, I'm in a better mood lately. It will be interesting to see how much it changes my perception of the doc. Thanks for the discussion.

  10. scott

    Was there in 97 at Chitzen-Itza...awe inspiring from Kulkulkan's pyramid to El Caracol and seeing the Jaguar statue inside the pyramid.wasnt there for the shadow play though but maybe someday.I did get to see Pavarotti at Chitzen where they put on an opera replete with laser light show. imagine opera in the Yucatan scrub surrounded by these magnificent structures. Did Tuluum also and a new pyramid found out towards Oxcutzcab and the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal..what and still a great people the Maya are...

  11. z1

    this guy sucks!

  12. coyote03

    He says it at some point during the documentary, unless I just totally made it up, which hopefully I didn't haha

    I agree that there's a lot of things we invest with deeper meaning then they probably originally held, although in the case of these two temples I don't see that being the case. Who knows, at the same time it's possible we aren't attributing special meaning to other things that seem mundane to us but were special to ancient cultures.

    Glad I didn't offend, I can be an ass on the occasion :P

  13. ez2b12

    @ The Coyote
    O.k. he should have explained the fact that the building was alingned differently than the rest, he didn't so it seemed a stretch to me. As far as the bottle cap analogy, I wasn't claiming you could invest it with deep meaning- only that they woud probably try if they had spent a life time studying it.

    Like I said no one knows whether all of this stuff was intentional or just some of it. I would guess the latter, but I'm no Myan scholar either. I will concede that they where brilliant astronomers and architects, but I still say we invest too much meaning in every little thing we find. No offense taken or offered, we can agree to disagree and still be friends.

  14. coyote03

    @ EZ

    All the temples are oriented with the four major directions asides from the temple of the snake god, which is just out of alignment (apparently so it appears as though the snake god is climbing the pyramid on the solstice, loved that scene!) and the proposed Venus observatory, which is distinctly different then the other buildings.

    Both buildings demonstrate that their builders needed incredible amounts of prior knowledge before construction. We know the Maya were influenced heavily by the sky, so to see it reflected in their architecture is expected and is something we should in fact always look for.

    No offense meant here, but I highly doubt you could invest a bottle cap with the same deep meaning even after studying it for a lifetime! Even if it was part of a greater contextual set of artifacts you'd still need much more mathematical and written proof as is provided in the few remaining Mayan codices and temples. Also, it's not just a bottle cap, it's a specific brands cap made for a specific kind of beverage, enjoyed possibly by a specific country or culture during a certain time period. It may have been a popular brand associated with the most popular star or athlete of the day, or it could have been a cheap, easy to make drink enjoyed by a specific group for a specific reason. If you spent several years investigating it and its surroundings, there are definitely a lot of questions you could answer, but it still wouldn't posses deep meaning like the temples of the Maya unless the evidence around it suggested so.

    Lastly, many modern chemical compounds we have discovered are through trial and error, I don't believe he argues they have a superior knowledge, just that they stumbled upon a process which produced similar results to vulcanization way before the modern process was discovered. I think it's safe to say the fact they discovered the process allows us to make a reasonable enough assumption that these peoples were intelligent, inquisitive and innovative.

    Hope my post wasn't too long :)

  15. ez2b12

    I have always thought that their is a strong possibility that, in the case of most ancient civilizations, we tend to see purpose where their may be none. It is obviouse that the Mayans made some amazing observations and built some beautiful and complicated structures. That said perhaps everything they did wasn't guided by these observations.

    I'll admit that some of the things they bring up do lend themselves to having a certain depth of meaning to the details. That said I think they infer alot of meaning where it just isn't that apparent. Just because a building is not turned in a perfect north-south east-west orientation doesn't mean we should start looking for why, unless all other buildings are oriented this way. Maybe the mixing of raw rubber and morning glory sap was a simple accident that resulted in a cool discovery, not the product of a superior knowledge of chemistry.

    Then again maybe it was all intentional, no one really knows I guess. Something I do know is that once these guys spend a lifetime studying this stuff they seem to want to infer a deeper meaning to the details than what is really their. I think this is to validate the fact that they have spent a lifetime studying it. I bet if I spent several years digging up a bottle cap, I would find some way to invest it with deep meaning and purpose. It would be hard to say, "Well, its just a bottle cap." and walk away.

  16. coyote03

    @ Ryan

    All he attempted to do was show that the Maya were capable of building their own structures without assistance from aliens. The idea that aliens helped the Maya build their temples and align them with the stars is 'cooky', especially after he demonstrates the ways in which they could have done it.

    As 'Me' says, sites like Puma Punku are better examples to site as their construction methods are still speculative.

    I personally thought he did a great job showing the math behind the structures, overall an entertaining and enjoyable watch :)

  17. Me

    @ Ryan
    Totally agree. That guy is pretty annoying. Plus, the theories of alien (or rather advanced civilisation) influence are related to structures like Puma Punku in Bolivia.

  18. Rina Ralls

    Where is it? My screen is blank

  19. Annelise

    What an interesting proramme and such an amazing insight into Mayan culture. Thank you

  20. Achems Razor

    Interesting doc. Nice to watch.

  21. Ryan

    Well, im dissapointed in this guy. He seems like he should be part of sesame street. The way he dictates this just seems like it should be for an audience of children. Plus:,, for a theoretical astronomer dscounting "alien" life as cooky... well i had to turn it off there. He just seems foolish to me.