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    A bit more about the Maya
    From: Paul Saffo
    Date: 2010 Apr 05, 21:29 -0700

    Bowditch was a pioneer in Maya studies and a terrific writer.  In
    fact, his work was responsible in part for my taking Celestial
    Navigation (Astro 99) from Francis Wright in Sophomore year as I was
    building my skills in order to use a box sextant to measure structures
    in the Northern Peten for suspected celestial alignments .  The maya
    did in fact use a vigesimal place notation system (it dats back to the
    Olmec who probably invented it) , but their calendric Long Count is
    actually a modified vigesimal (the 3rd position only goes to 18 uinal)
    to roughly approximate a 360 day year.  By the way, if one plays with
    the vigesimal system by using stones (or corn) for units and sticks
    for fives, it is remarkably efficient at doing calculations.
    Bowditch was a pioneer when he wrote, but later discoveries proved him
    wrong about the Mayan not calculating long reaches of time.  The Maya
    were very comfortable with large numbers and skilled at predicting
    cyclic events.  The Maya had a fully developed notion of zero. And
    there are accurate eclipse tables in the Dresden Codex, and they of
    course understood Venus in the morning and evening star apparition to
    be the same body. In addition to the Dresden's Venus tables, they did
    extensive calcs of Mercury's apparitions and accurately predicted of
    the periodicity of Mercury's rising/setting bearings. There are
    numerous deep time calcs in the Dresden Codex, and my favorites are
    several stela at Copan that reach back millions of years.  In this
    instance, the dates of course were mythic, an attempt at giving
    temporal credibility to the upstart rulers.  But they clearly loved
    But there are countless other instances of the Maya demonstrating
    calendric virtuosity and sometimes no small sense of humor.  Maya is a
    language that lends itself to puns (for example, in Tzotzil maya, "-
    bol" can mean both "stupid" and "in-laws.", and there are even puns to
    be found in their heiroglyphic texts.  This instinct to tie the
    calendar, human events and the movements of the skies is quite alive
    among the Maya today, hidden behind the thinnest veneer of Christianity.
    By the way, this eve's mercury/venus skyshow would have been just the
    sort of event the Maya would have loved.
    On Apr 5, at , Frank Reed wrote:
    > You mentioned the Classic Maya calendar. Here's a few words from a
    > century ago about the Mayan numerical system and the calendar:
    > "It has long been well known that the Mexican numeration is
    > vigesimal, and, as far as I know, there is no proof that it was ever
    > used in the calculation of long reaches of time. The Cakchiquel
    > numeration is also vigesimal, and Brinton states (Maya Chronicles,
    > p. 44) that the Maya numeration is also vigesimal..."
    > And who wrote those words? Well, just to bring this story of
    > circular time, ahem, "full circle" back to NavList, that was none
    > other than Nathaniel Bowditch's grandson, Charles Pickering
    > Bowditch, a prominent Mayanist c.1900.
    > Ha! Take that.
    > -FER
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