Universities and Christian Right

Many on the Christian Right claim that American universities teach all sorts of esoteric things, from Pacific Islander cultures to gay and lesbian studies, but don’t teach Christianity. That is not true. Every major university has a theology department, and a student who wants to deepen his understanding of Christianity can do so by taking theology classes. But if the Christian believer feels that the universities do not pay enough attention to Christianity, there is a very simple reason for that.

Christianity is taught all over America in churches, Sunday schools and Christian community programs. An American student has very little to gain from hearing at the college level the same thing that has been the substance of his upbringing. Whereas the university may be the only place where an American college student may learn about the ways of people who are outside the tradition in which he’s been raised. For this reason anthropology and comparative religion are of interest to many American students. They find out about the ways of life other than theirs, which gives them a fuller understanding of the world.

There is very little sense in teaching students at university level what they already know from their childhood. One might as well be teaching them Algebra I. Whereas ways of life that are practiced by people whom one knows nothing about are both interesting and informative, and the university, being a center of learning, is exactly the place where such things should be taught.

If a student takes a class in gay and lesbian studies, that does not mean that he wants to be homosexual, nor does it mean that he is being trained to be a homosexual. He simply wants to find out about people who are not like him. If a student takes a class in anthropology and studies the ways of Native Americans, that does not mean that he wants to be a Native American nor that he is being trained to be a Native American. Once again, he wants to find out about people who are not like him. In a huge country, where there is (or is supposed to be) liberty, knowing about people who are not like oneself is necessary for dealing with people who are not like oneself. And the more the student finds out about people who are not like himself, the more grows his understanding and the greater becomes his ability to get along with people who are unlike himself.

Which means that the knowledge that comes from anthropology departments, comparative religion classes, and other aspects of education that deal with other ways of living and thinking, is in fact good for informed and responsible citizenship. The student finds out about people who are not like himself; and the more he does so, the more he can get along with people who are not like himself. The skills and perspective that are learned in the process can then translate into dealing with people in one’s own community or in the neighborhood on the other side of town. There are few more valuable ways to prepare people for life in democracy than to teach them about people who differ from them, and the service provided to American democracy by professors in these fields is priceless.

The Sophistry of Mormon Apologetics, Nephite Coins, and One Apologist’s Utterly Confused Dilemma

The silly nonsensical use of sophistic arguments by Mormon apologists to defend and explain the blatant archaeological nonexistence of gold and silver coins, which are described specifically in the Book of Mormon’s heading of Alma, Chapter 11, and said to exist, boggles the mind of a reasonable person. The aforementioned Book of Mormon chapter goes into great detail about specific Nephite coins, supposedly created in great quantity, used as mediums of monetary exchange for the millions of Nephites who allegedly inhabited the American continent from 600 B.C to 421 A.D. Here you have an apocryphal book of myths written in 1830 by Joseph Smith, Jr. and his literary cohorts, which was called by its author ‘the most correct inspired nonfiction book on the face of the earth,” which has been modified over 3,000 times since its first publication. Yes, that is correct! Since it was first printed, it has been emended extensively by the Mormon Church in syntax, with additions and deletions of contextual words and phrases, and in spelling and punctuation. In 1920, the current heading was placed into Chapter 11, of the book’s book of Alma distinctly designating and classifying the various specific denominations of gold and silver money used by the Nephites, which were called coins. This heading addition was not done inadvertently, but with approval and concurrence of the highest Mormon authority that is the Mormon First Presidency, meaning the Mormon prophet. All ongoing changes in the Book of Mormon, from 1830 to the present day have been approved by the presiding Mormon prophet at the time of the particular change. All commentaries written to explain the Book of Mormon, especially those from around 1920 until around 1968, accepted the terminology, coins, as applied to the gold and silver denominations in Alma 11. In my introductory summary to this article, I drew an analogy between the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, Jr. and the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, “Tarzan of the Apes.” The fact is that, while the Book of Mormon has been substantially modified in its subsequent editions with many changes, no changes have been applied to any of the many books written by Burroughs about African culture.

The grandiose descriptions given in the Book of Mormon by Joseph Smith of the various Nephite cities and their splendor included the marketplaces where people bought and sold goods using the existing money or legal tender. Mormon apologists, like Michael Griffith, fall head-over-hills into utter chaos when they say that “coins” were not used by the Nephites. First off, the Book of Mormon states that coins ‘were’ definitely used. What these coins looked like is not really as relevant to the issue as if they existed in ‘some’ form. We have information given by Smith that Nephi had the ability to smelt and make high-quality “steel,” which was used to make fine steel bows and weapons of war, and that the refining of ore into steel was done quite frequently (although no archaeological evidence, whatsoever, of such smelting processes have yet been discovered in Mesoamerica). The pictures placed into the Book of Mormon depict finely cast breastplates, amulets, and helmets, with decorative inscriptions on them. Well, if the Nephites had the ability to create such fine artwork, it is quite certain that they, in some way, delineated and differentiated the various denominations of silver and gold money with certain cast designs. This only makes sense, if the “coins” were to be used over and over again in exchange for goods and services. The Nephites were described by Smith as having gold ‘senines,’ which were supposedly equivalent to a judge’s daily wage. So one senine might have been like an American 20 dollar gold piece. And a silver ‘senum’ might have been equivalent to a gold ‘senine.’ Then a gold ‘seon’ was equal to two gold ‘senines,’ or perhaps like an American fifty dollar gold piece. Then there was the ‘shum,’ which might have been like the American hundred dollar gold piece. Finally, there was the gold ‘limhah,’ or seven time the value of one ‘senine.’

Now the essential question wags its head demandingly in the wind, if these coins actually existed, “How did the Nephites differentiate between these gold and silver denominations? They didn’t have to guess about which was which and what was what, for there had to have been millions of these metal denominations in circulation based upon the described population of people. This is where plain common sense and intuition comes into play, something that Mormon apologists sorely lack. Whether the individual senines, seons, shums, senums, and limhahs were flat, thick and raised, or square, they were made with specific designs on them in order for the people to be able to tell them apart. Hence, if millions of Nephites exchanged tens of millions of these “coins” for goods and services, from approximately 660 B.C. to around 300 A.D., these coins should have been found in abundance in the many archaeological excavations that have been conducted in Mexico, Guatemala, Central America, and South America; but they have not! No coins, of any sort, have been found! How can this be plausibly explained? Can you imagine how many gold and silver Roman coins were made by the Roman Empire, and how many of them were distributed over the Holy Land from the 1st Century on; and how many different types of coins were made by the various civilizations that had occupied the Holy Land from the time of the Tower of Babel to the Roma Era? Probably hundreds of millions? That’s the reason that they are found in great quantity during archaeological digs in the Holy Land. The California lawyer, Thomas S. Ferguson, who begged money from Mormon Prophet David O. McKay in the early 1960s to establish an LDS archaeological foundation for proving the existence of the Nephite and Lamanite civilization in Mesoamerica, got the money and went to Central and South America expecting to find, at least, one Nephite coin, weapon of war, or artifact to prove the Book of Mormon true. After spending five years digging for proof, expecting to find it, he gave up, returned to the United States, and began to write letters to various people around the country expressing his frustration and his newly acquired belief that the Book of Mormon was not a true book of ancient American history. These letters were compiled and published in book form by the noted linguist, Dr. Stan Larson, former curator of special collections at the University of Utah Library. In one of the letters, Ferguson declared that, “I was greatly expecting to find at least one coin.” Another very interesting factor about money raises its head in the Book of Mormon, which needs to be mentioned. Another civilization is described by Smith, and whoever else helped him to contrive the anachronistic book, in the book’s Book of Ether, which supposedly exceeded the grandeur of the Nephite civilization. This was the Jaredite civilization, which preceded the Nephites about thousands of years. This civilization was described as exceeding the opulence of the Babylonians. If this were so, a monetary system must have been in existence for use by the millions of people who supposedly lived at that time in ancient history, described by Smith. Yet, the remnants of such coins haven’t been discovered in the many archaeological digs that have gone on in Mesoamerica.

The bottom line of the issue about Book of Mormon coins is that, basically, there were no coins or gold/silver money made by the mythical Nephites and Jaredites. The real Native Americans did not use coins or metal money. This fact has been as well established as the fact that no horses existed anciently on the northern and southern continents of the Americas until they were brought to the New World by the Spanish. You can see how frustrated the Mormon apologists must be, since they lose on both counts. If the Nephites were real people, and if the Book of Mormon is true, there should be plenty of gold and silver coins found all over Central and South America, but none have been found. Mesoamerican archaeology and anthropology has established as hard fact that the real inhabitants of ancient America, the Native American Indians, did not use metal coins at all as money. So, isn’t it time for Mormon apologists to readily admit that the Book of Mormon was manmade, a fraud, and wasn’t written by inspired prophets, but, rather, by a con-man named Joseph Smith, Jr., and those other contributors to the fraudulence?

It’s actually been that imminent time for 187 years of Mormon Church existence, but Mormonism has been, and continues to be, quite a profitable business for the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and for Mormon apologists, through the billions of dollars of tithing received from its deceived supplicants. These apologetic snake oil advertisers and defenders write and publish their books and pamphlets for sale to the general public, and they have quite a marketing advantage in that there are over ten million rank-and-file Mormon adults who will probably buy what they write. Every book they write can actually become a best seller. Some apologists are actually regularly paid by the Mormon Church and can make as much as $50,000/year from their written, and online, sophistry. I’ve had the occasion to get to know, at a relatively close distance, one of these Mormon apologists, Michael Griffith. He currently lives within a few miles of where I reside in Virginia, and when he discovered about two years back that I was an ex-Mormon elder, he contacted me by email and we chatted for a few weeks back and forth about Mormon theology, and of all things, conspiracy. There is actually a Wikipedia website about Griffith, as a Mormon apologist, that lists his curriculum vitae, education, etc., and he appears, on paper, to be a reasonably well educated fellow, and, from what is written about him (he probably wrote and published the Wiki site himself), also intuitive and possessing common sense. Nonetheless, numerous devout Mormons come with a great many academic accolades, degrees, and honors, and I’ve discovered that there is something that all of these frenetically zealous men and women have in common. They all have, seemingly, bifurcated brains (minds), in that in one-half of the mind resides common sense, correct knowledge, and wisdom, and in the other half resides a fantasy masquerading as religion. When the devout Mormon apologist is in a university classroom, as a student, taking an important test over early American history and is writing an essay on the horse and the Native American Indian, he, or she, recites what he has been correctly taught, what the Smithsonian Institution has written about the origin of the horse in America, and what is accepted Mesoamerican history; that the horse was brought to the North and South American continents by the Europeans after Columbus. Yet, when the apologist is at church standing in front of a Mormon congregation giving a sermon, or teaching a class, about the Nephite/Lamanite wars in the Book of Mormon, which supposedly occurred before, and after, the birth of Christ, but before Columbus, the thousands of Nephite warriors are depicted by him as riding into battle on their many horses, using their fine steel bows, swords, and shields.

When I discussed, via email, Mormon theology and Jesus Christ with Michael Griffith, I wasn’t amazed at all to discover that, in addition to convictions about the Book of Mormon, he actually believed that Christ Jesus was not born into the world as God, but just as any other biological human entity. According to Griffith, Jesus did not become (a) complete god, with a capital G, until after he was resurrected from the dead. In accordance with Joseph Smith, Jr.’s 1844 King Follett Discourse, Griffith advocates that Jesus began to take on traits of godhood (such as performing miracles and walking on water) as he grew and developed, but did not become a full-fledged god until after he died on the cross. Furthermore, according to Griffith, Jesus grew and developed as any other human child would humanly grow and develop. Jesus was born, grew, and developed into a god, just like his father-god, with a capital G, was born, grew, and developed into a god.

You see, the bit of LDS theology about the origin of the Mormon father-god is now called ‘theo-genesis and deification,’ and Griffith believes that he, and all of the other ‘worthy’ Mormon elders on this earth, will become, by destiny, as great as the Mormon father-god by becoming, each and every one of them, Mormon father-gods, with a capital G. Moreover, Griffith believes that he and his temple-wedded wife (he and his wife were married in a Mormon temple) will one day, together as a god, with a capital G, and mother goddess with a capital G, organize (not create, since Mormon gods are limited in their powers) a planet, and celestially procreate billions of spirit children to inhabit the physical bodies that will be biologically procreated on their earth. The ultimate destiny of Michael Griffith, as a father-god, and his wife, as a celestial mother-goddess, will be to produce in Mormon exaltation a savior for their billions of spirit children on their earth, just like Jesus Christ. In essence, Griffith believes, and maintains, that there are as many gods, with a capital G’ as there are stars, and as many saviors, just like Jesus, as there are gods. That is what the Mormon Prophet Brigham Young stated in an LDS General Conference in the Salt Lake City Bowery in 1865.

Now, here comes the kicker-clincher! How in the name of sophistry can a person, a devout Mormon, such as Michael Griffith, pretend to apologetically defend a theology as unbiblical, pagan, and unchristian as what I just described, a scenario that rivals the dramas of Greek mythology. Discussing the Nephite use of coins in the Book of Mormon is an element of Mormon doctrine and theology that pales in comparison to the doctrines of polytheism of Joseph Smith, Jr. inculcated into Mormonism through his 1844 King Follett Discourse, and Mormon Prophet Lorenzo Snow’s refinement of it in the later 1890s. Yet, you will never hear, or read, statements from Michael Griffith, in his apologetic productions, explicating in detail his, and his wife’s, ultimate destiny of becoming a father-god and a mother-goddess. Well, you see, Griffith and other Mormon apologists have sophistically laid out their apologies for the Book of Mormon anachronisms and fiction, such as the coins, convoluted Mormon history, Mormon doctrine, for the basic origin of the Mormon father-god and the Mormon savior, Jesus, and the implications necessary for the inferences to the continuation of the endless cyclic reproduction of godhood and saviorhood. But you will not find them, as individuals, proclaiming their specific ultimate destinies in their LDS sacrament meetings and testimony meetings. Why? The Mormon brethren in Salt Lake City have repeatedly stated in their secret solemn assemblies that the devout members of the LDS Church should NOT reveal true Mormon theology to non-Mormons, and this is where intentional misrepresentation of Mormon theology ceases to be an innocent lack of clarity, and becomes fraudulent misrepresentation. Tens of thousands of full-time Mormon missionaries are continually going into the homes of struggling Christians, around the world, and telling them lies about Mormon theology, doctrine, and history, trying to make them believe in a sordid book of dramatic fiction, in a biblically plagiarized Trinitarian theology depicted in that book, which is not the real theology of Mormonism. This is deliberately done to seduce Christians into joining a pagan cult, the LDS Church. This is part of the continuing evil of the day spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 6: 34 (KJV), “Take therefore no thought for the morrow; for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof,” Christians, as good soldiers for Jesus, must realize this profound evil and contend evermore constantly against it in the never-ending war against Satan.

Ancient Archaeoastronomy of the Mesoamericans

For centuries civilizations have relied on the stars in many aspects of their daily lives. Whether heavenly bodies were used for navigation, ceremonial, insight for agriculture, or socio-political reasons these people often put celestial bodies at the center of their ideology. Many civilizations held these celestial bodies in such high regard that they integrated their whole society around certain celestial bodies and the annual celestial events, such as the equinoxes and the solstices, and very often associated these bodies and occurrences with their gods. One such people, the Mesoamericans seemed to have a tight synthesis between archaeoastronomy and their daily life. The purpose of this paper is to show how the different people that were associated with Mesoamerica regarded celestial bodies and how they integrated certain celestial events in their architecture, ideology, and daily life.

First, a definition of archaeoastronomy is warranted to allow for a better understanding of what is being discussed herein. A.F. Aveni defined archaeastronomy in his article entitled, “Archaeoastronomy in Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment: as “more than the study of ancient astronomy through the use of archeological data and the use of ancient texts. Archaeoastronomy is an interdisciplinary meeting ground for those who are concerned about the perception and conception of the natural world by the people of ancient civilizations.” (Averi; 165). To summarize this it could be said that archaeoastronomy is not only what these ancient people saw and recorded when they looked into the skies, but also how they implemented what they saw and drew conclusions based on these findings that were carried over to aspects of their lives such as religious, agricultural, and even city planning. Averi is proposing the argument that there is more than meets the eye where archaeoastronomy is concerned. That archaeoastronomy is not only scientific data, but also what contexts these findings are plugged into in order to form an ideology based on celestial bodies or events. These implementations of celestial bodies and events in different facets of pre-Columbian cultures of the Mesoamerican are often seen in the art, architecture, and in many of the recorded religious practices that have been preserved via codices. Even though Averi may also argue that Teotihuacan is situated in a specific fashion because the alignment of it is in line with Cerro Gordo (which was the primary place where they drew water) that does not necessarily mean that archaeoastronomy does not have a scientific leg to stand on. In fact, offering multiple theories of this orientation stimulates new debates which may, ultimately, uncover new data concerning the specific reason that Teotihuacan is oriented the way that it is. While Averi holds fast to his argument many others seem to think that the astronomical alignment of Teotihuacan has to do with specific events. For example, some anthropologists seem to think that the fifteen-point-five degree orientation of the Pyramid of the Sun correlates with the setting of the sun on August 13th. Moreover, the Pyramid of the Moon’s summit has been associated with the telling of noon and midnight by its orientation. It would be hard to believe that the orientation of these structures and the coinciding relationship between celestial events are pure coincidence.

Next, it is unlikely that civilizations ignored the heavens and what they saw in the night sky. There is so much data to the contrary. Although Averi may not think that the orientation of Teotihuacan has anything to do with celestial events he does argue that many civilizations were conscious of the heavens; their orientation in the sky, and the paths in which they travel nightly (and daily). According to an article that Averi wrote entitled, “Tropical Archeoastronomy” he states that many of these civilizations had a conscious awareness of their celestial surroundings. He wrote, “In all ancient societies, the sky and its contents lay at the very base of human cognition. Early hunter-gatherers and later sedentary societies were profoundly influenced by the dependable precision of cyclic recurrence unfolding in the celestial canopy.” (Avery; 161).

Averi points out that the celestial bodies and their positions (and paths) were appreciated by ancient civilizations and were used in such ways, for example, as in aiding seafarers in navigation. In his paper, Averi goes on to explain some of the Mesoamerican astronomical concepts. He focuses on the Maya and commented about their advanced forms of writing, mathematics and astronomy. He goes on to talk about how they “also used the horizon system to monitor celestial events and to mark time.” (Averi;162). For example, Averi talks about stone markers that were used to mark certain celestial events and their correlation to terrestrial events. He writes, “Stone markers extending from behind Campo Santo up to the top of high hill west of town. From Campo Santo to top approx. 1.5km. Sun rises on lines PS & OS observed from stones O & P on March 19th 1940 two days before the equinox.” (Averi;162-3). This information, in itself, tells us nothing extraordinary about the stone markers, however, it does give a little bit of background information and helps a reader to form a mental image in their mind. It sets the scene for the next quote. Averi then writes, “Sun rises this day at 6 degrees 31.5 ms. Direction observed with simple adjustable compass. Observations are made at the stone today by zahorins (shamans) for planting and harvesting.” (Averi;162-3). This passage, although lengthy and filled with scientific jargon, does show that these marker stones that were erected can be, and were/are, used in conjunction with the planting and harvesting of the crops. Think of these markers as a “Maya Agriculture Almanac”. Every year a shaman can go to the stones and, with the simplest of instruments, make detailed calculations that will be used in ensuring a positive effect on their agriculture. Without markers such as these ancient Mayas would have had a harder time trying to figure out when to plant their crops to ensure optimum yield, and when to harvest in order to ensure optimum quality of their crops.

Averi has also written about architecture and its correlation to celestial bodies in Mesoamerica. One such site that Averi talks about in detail is that of Chichén Itzá. He, and his associates, discussed the calendrical symbolism of certain buildings within Chichén Itzá and certain correlations that could be seen from within the Maya calendar. For example, Averi talks specially cabout the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and how certain aspects of it can be related to aspects of the Maya theology, calendar, and celestial events. He describes the Castillo of Chichén Itzá and ties it to these different aspects. For example, he writes, “This stepped radical pyramid possesses nine terraces, the same as the number of levels of the Maya underwold.”(Averi; 129). Averi is showing how the Maya incorporated parts of their ideology into their architectural plans. He goes on to say, “Divided by a stairway, each side contains eighteen such layers, which is equal to the number of twenty-day months in a Maya year.” (Averi; 129) Averi is showing a direct correlation between the way in which the Maya built, and adorned, this monument and how they tied their calendar into it. Whether it is by coincidence or done by purpose there is no denying that the similarities to the two attributes mentioned concerning the Castillo shows that the Maya could have very well been implanting these ideologies into the stone monuments that dominated the landscape. When the Castillo is viewed from above it “resembles the quadripartite diagrams of the universe that the ancient Mesoamericans painted in their codices, which show the four directional gods, plants, animals, day names, etc” (Avery;129). Why would these Mesoamericans incorporate this type of theological depth to a physical structure that could only be viewed from above? Could it be that they were hoping to gain favor with the gods by showing them the ways in which they are worshipping, and paying homage, to them? Is it simply a mixture of theology and calendric mathematics that just happened to take the form that it did and the fact that it can be viewed most completely from the sky is just a coincidence? This author thinks not. This author thinks that there was a conscious intent to appease the gods, perhaps in the hopes of years of bountiful harvests and the flourishing of the civilization. The architecture of the Castillo of Chichén Itzá is filled with possible inferences. For example, Averi continues to describe the Castillo by writing, “Fifty-two recessed panels decorate both sides of each stairway, the same as the number of years in a calendar round, the shortest interval in which the seasonal year is commensurate with the tzolkin or sacred round of 260 days.” (Averi; 129). This added layer of symbiosis between architecture and Maya ideology lays further credibility to the argument that the physical makeup of the Castillo at Chichén Itzá is not random and that there was conscious thought that was given in order to incorporate these astronomical and theological ideas. Averi is arguing that the Castillo was built and functioned in a “calendrical ritual capacity in the context of the ancient four-directional New year festival cycle, which was conducted during the last five days of the seasonal calendar.”(Averi; 129). This building, in Averi’s eyes, had a specific ritualistic purpose. The building itself was incorporated with so much Maya ideology and theological beliefs that it was undoubtedly erected as a sacred location.

Avery has not cornered the market as far as archaeoastronomy is concerned. There are many other anthropologists and other interested parties that have chimed in on the topic. Once such person is Elizabeth Baity. She wrote an article for Current Anthropology entitled “Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy So Far”. In her paper she discusses the construction of megalithic structures of ancient times and the astronomical techniques that were used in their construction. She also delves into explaining a new sub disciple that incorporates engineering, archeology, and astronomy. She makes the argument that there are many structures that were erected in ancient civilizations that held a specific purpose of predicting astronomical events. These structures were not just erected for their aesthetic value alone even though many of these structures are breath-taking in their beauty. In talking about archaeoastronomy she explains that it “focuses on the analysis of the orientations and measurements of megalithic and other monumental ancient structures, many of which, as we will see, could have served for the prediction of solar and lunar eclipses and unquestionably did serve for the determination of solstices and equinoxes, enabling the setting of dates for agricultural activities and for the ritual cycle of the year”. (Baity; 390). As you can see there are some similarities between what she is arguing and the argument that Avery presented. Both are under the impression that these structures that the ancient Mesoamerican people built were built for the purpose of astronomical, agricultural, and religious events. Most of these structures were incorporated into rituals that coincided with specific seasonal events and the evidence can be seen on ceramics, art, and other mediums. It is safe to say that the Mesoamerican people put an emphasis on specific celestial events such as solstices and equinoxes. Some of these celestial events directly coincided with the planting or harvesting of the annual crops that provided the sustenance that the Mesoamericans needed to thrive as a civilization. The idea of structures to forecast specific celestial events is not a new one and is not specific to the Mesoamericans. Many other cultures throughout history have erected structures for the same purpose. For example, Stonehenge is perhaps one of the most famous celestial monuments in the world. Archeologists have tried to decode what the position of the stones relate to. Some archeologists theorize that they mark the swing of the azimuth of the moon, while others seem to think that they are directly related to the solstices and equinoxes. No matter what differences that the astronomers and anthropologists have concerning Stonehenge one thing is for sure — it was erected for a purpose other than that of pure utility. It is this pushing and stretching of long held beliefs concerning the uses of these monolithic structures that lead to new advancements and breakthroughs in anthropology.

There are many other sites in Mesoamerica that have archaeoastronomical content. One such site is the one at the Maya site of Copán. Harvey and Victorian Bricker describe some of the astronomical content at this site, referred to as Group 8N-11. In their paper, “Astronomical Orientation of the Skyband Bench at Copán”, the Bricker’s talk specifically about the Skyband Bench. Like Teotihuacan the orientation of the Skyband Bench at Copán plays a key role in laying credibility to the argument for archaeoastronomical content in Mesoamerican cultures. In their paper they write, “The Skyband Bench at Copán is a bicephalic raptorial bird (panels 1 and 9) rather than a serpent, but all the body panels bear celestial imagery. Panels 2, 5, and 8 are frontal views of the head of the personified Sun or Sun god. Panel 3 is a personified Moon and panel 7 a personified Venus. Panels 4 and 6 are personifications of, respectively night and day.”(Bricker; 435). This evidence cannot be ignored. The fact that the Mesoamericans are creating art that depicts celestial bodies and, moreover, personifying them shows that they had a deep connection with the bodies up in the heavens. The Skyband Bench is a great example of early Mesoamericans showing their consciousness of the heavens above and the celestial bodies that are held within. The Brickers’ paper is a good example of how a part of Mesoamerican architecture can offer a plethora of knowledge and credibility for archaeoastronomy. As in any other discipline the more papers that become published on a certain topic the more the scientific community will notice and, hopefully, work towards accepting these hypotheses.

The Mayas weren’t the only Mesoamerican civilization to incorporate celestial imagery into their structure, and subsequently, into their culture. David Carrasco talks about the Aztec culture in his article, “Star Gatherers and Wobbling Suns: Astral Symbolism in the Aztec Tradition”. In his essay he explains spatial orientation and symbolism. He writes, “The Aztecs observed stars, measured them, and calculated them into their social and agricultural cycles.” (Carrasco; 284). Can you see a trend appearing? In virtually all of the examples of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy one of the prime components is agriculture. Without agriculture of some sort a civilization will surely perish. The ability to produce a bountiful harvest could mean the difference between a thriving civilization and one that is in ruins. There are a few factors to think about when agriculture is concerned. First, the sun can be both a godsend and a curse. Its warmth and ultraviolet rays are needed by the plants in order to grow and flourish. Too much or not enough heat, as well as too much or not enough ultraviolet rays and the harvest will suffer. Secondly, water is needed for agriculture to thrive. Without life-giving water a crop can dry up and the civilization will suffer. Too much water and the crops can be flooded, which will affect the yield, and the people will suffer as well. The ancient Mesoamericans thought that gods controlled all of these facets of agriculture. Rituals were held in order to appease the gods. By appeasing the gods the people were hoping that the gods would look generously down on them and grant them a bountiful harvest which would help to sustain them for another season. It is only logical that they wanted to be as well-equipped as possible when it came to the planting, overseeing, and harvesting of the crops. By incorporating a way in which to predict the best times to plant, and harvest, these people could help to ensure the sustainability of their civilization for a future generation. Many of these ancient Mesoamerican shamans could be viewed as early scientists without them even knowing that they were. In their eyes they were simply being messengers, or arbitrators, for the gods. In fact, they were using the scientific method and applying it to various measuring tools (architectural structures) in order to show a means of scientific replication year after year. These shamans knew that the solstices and equinoxes happened at specific times of the year, every year. By being able to reproduce these results they were not only helping out their people, but also laying credibility to themselves as being messengers to the gods. These structures were essential tools in order for the shaman to effectively do their divine duties.

All of these examples of archeaoastonomy are linked by certain imagery and celestial bodies. In almost every instance there are depictions of the Sun, Moon, and various other celestial bodies. Even though they may be associated with different gods, these celestial bodies were highly regarded by the Mesoamericans as key elements for their survival. Without the sun the crops would, undoubtedly, fail. Without the moon the tides wouldn’t crest and ebb and thus navigation and fishing would be inconsistent. These all-important celestial gods make up an integral part of Mesoamerican ideology.

To explore this point further one can look at Weldon Lamb’s paper entitled, “The Sun, Moon and Venus at Uxmal”. In this paper he describes elements of many mosaics in Uxmal. By looking at these mosaics one can see how they are loaded with archaeoastronomical data. Sheldon delves into this topic by explaining facts concerning the moon, sun and Venus that are found in the mosaics at the site. He writes, “that these features taken together preserve knowledge of eight facts about the sun, moon, and Venus: the moon’s synodic period is 29.53 days; the lunar sidereal period lasts nearly 27.33 days; the Venus synodic mean is almost 584 days; the observed Venus synodic can vary between 581 and 587 days; any five consecutive Venus synodics equal or come to within one day of eight vague years of 365 days each; one sun-moon correlation has five short years and three long ones together equal to eight vague years or eight true solar years or 99 lunations; the Venus sidereal period is nearly 224 days long; and finally, 13 Venus sidereals virtually equal five Venus synodics.”(Lamb; 79). Even though this looks as if it is simply a bunch of scientific data because of the vocabulary in which the information is housed one has to take into consideration that these mosaics were made around 750-1000 A.D. Taking that into consideration one can see how the Maya were very interested in celestial bodies and were very technologically in tune with the heavens. This kind of data gathering would not be done over a period of days or months, but over years and generations. That kind of dedication can only mean that the Maya were very engrossed in archaeoastronomy. These mosaics also have animal like figures, mostly bird serpents, portrayed on the walls of some of the buildings as well. This shows that astronomy was integrated and meshed very tightly with their religion. Having deities alongside astronomical data shows a strong correlation between the religious beliefs of these people and how closely knit it was in astronomy. The Maya were definitely interested in astronomy and were even more interested in trying to preserve their civilization by understanding their gods. To better understand their gods is a way to better be able to serve their gods, and appease their gods. If the gods are appeased, the Maya thought that there would be a more bountiful harvest, more successful war campaigns, and the fruition of their civilization.

In conclusion, there are many anthropologists out there that may not totally agree with the various interpretations that some archaeoastronomy researchers have made concerning the architecture and ideology of the Mesoamerican people. Much of it is just that: up for interpretation, but enough scientific data is coming through to show that there is, in fact, correlation between the events that happen in the heavens and the theological, agricultural, and cultural ties that bind many of these Mesoamerica people to various celestial bodies. Looking up at the modern sky it is no wonder that so many cultures were fascinated by the marvels in the sky both in the day time and at night. Today we have astronomers and advanced technology to compute, calculate, and make sense out of all of the data that is extracted from the heavens. Back in the time of the Aztec, Maya, and other Mesoamericans it is mind blowing to imagine that they made very scientific calculations concerning celestial bodies without the aid of computers or other pieces of modern technology. Add that with the awesome looking nature of the heavens and it is no wonder that these people often associated heavenly bodies with that of their gods —the Sun, the Moon, and other celestial bodies. Across the world there are similar beliefs from pole to pole and hemisphere to hemisphere. The next time you look up at the sky and pick out your favorite constellation, or other heavenly bodies imagine what the Maya, or the Aztec, saw. Looking up into the heavens is like looking into a window leading out to the past.

Work Cited
Aveni, A. F. “Archaeoastronomy in Mesoamerica and Peru: Comment.” Latin American Research Review. 16. no. 3 (1981): 163-166.
Aveni, A. F. “Tropical Archeoastronomy.” Science. 213. no. 4504 (1981): 161-171.
Aveni, Anthony, Lope Carlos, and Susan Milbrath. “Chichén Itzá’s Legacy in the Astronomically Oriented Architecture of Mayapán.” Anthropology and Aesthetics. no. 45 (2004): 123-143.
Baity, Elizabeth. “Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy So Far [and Comments and Reply].” Current Anthropology. 14. no. 4 (1973): 389-449.
Bricker, Harvey, and Victoria Bricker. “Astronomical Orientation of the Skyband Bench at Copán.” Journal of Field Archaeology. 26. no. 4 (1999): 435-442.
Carrasco, Davíd. “Star Gatherers and Wobbling Suns: Astral Symbolism in the Aztec Tradition.” History of Religions. 26. no. 3 (1987): 279-294.
Lamb, Weldon. “The Sun, Moon and Venus at Uxmal.” American Antiquity. 45. no. 1 (1980): 79-86.