Ancient Aztecs used the Basin of Mexico as a solar observatory

(ORDO NEWS) — Like a gigantic bowl carved into the earth, surrounded by mountains and active volcanoes, the Basin of Mexico, in what is now Mexico City, is one of the most ancient and important cradles of human civilization in the world.

Referred to as the Valley of Mexico, this unique geographic feature is landlocked and therefore technically a basin rather than a valley.

The ancient inhabitants of the Basin of Mexico used it as a solar observatory to keep track of the seasons, according to a new study.

Using the landscape as a calendar, ancient people could grow crops at the right time of the year and feed 1 to 3 million people.

Before the Spanish invasion in 1519, the authors of the study write, Mexicans were able to feed themselves using sophisticated farming systems.

Agriculture in the basin was complex and depended on the ability to predict the seasons. For example, if planted too early, it can be disastrous for the future crop.

And if you plant too late, then the growing season will be shortened, and your crop will fight weeds that have already appeared during the rain.

The colonial invaders witnessed how the Aztecs could track the year incredibly accurately and added a leap day every four years to match the calendar with the astronomical seasons.

It is likely that they used the basin’s mountains as a “solar observatory,” using the position of the Sun to track the seasons, according to a team of researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

“We came to the conclusion that they must have been standing in one place, looking east from one day to the next to determine the time of year, watching the rising sun,” said the study’s lead professor of ecology Exequil Ezkurra.

“Our hypothesis is that they used the entire Valley of Mexico. Their working tool was the pool itself.

As the sun rose at a landmark point beyond the Sierras, they knew it was time to start landing.”

Ancient codices, including the Codex Tovar, the Codex Borbonicus, and the Wheel of Boban, contain references linking Mount Tlaloc and the first day of the new calendar year, and Spanish authors report that the new year was celebrated when the Sun appeared over a particular mountain.

Using astronomical models and maps of the area, the team was able to simulate the position of the Sun for every day, up until 4712 BC.

They were able to figure out that on the first day of the Aztec new year (February 24), the temple on top of the mountain and the long dam at its base coincide with the rising sun.

“On February 24, 2022, we climbed Mount Tlaloc, set up camp near the summit, and climbed to the summit to explore the ancient ceremonial structure,” says the team of scientists.

“The next day we climbed the summit again early in the morning, when it was still dark, to check the rising sun against the stone dam.”

The team believes that the precise alignment during the Aztec new year suggests that ancient people used the pool, as well as man-made structures, to keep track of the calendar accurately.

“These results confirm that even without the celestial instruments used by Europeans at the time of their arrival (such as the gnomon, compass, quadrant, and astrolabe), the team concludes, people in the Basin of Mexico could keep an extremely accurate calendar that would allow for a leap year from using systematic observations of the sunrise against the backdrop of the eastern mountains of the Mexican Basin.

“These results highlight how a similar goal, such as bringing the length of the calendar in line with the solar year,” the scientists added, “could be achieved with completely different technologies.”


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