The Mayas: The Equinox and the Solstice
The Dresden Codex, one of three paper-bark books that survived the mass destruction of documents by Spanish zealots in 1562, is filled with numbers—mostly calculations for lunation cycles and Venus tables. And one of the Maya’s main calendars, the haab, is tied to the earth’s rotation cycle. They calculated it at 360 days, with five “extra days” at the end that were considered unlucky time.
It’s known that the number four held great importance to them. Although there is no firm reason for this, archeologists suggest it could be because the body has four limbs with the heart at its center; a house has four corner posts; a milpa or cornfield has four entrances; and the sun has four paths that takes it on its seasonal journeys—two solstices and two equinoxes.
The Maya also had what was known as four cosmic points, which may relate to the four points of the sun’s daily journey: sunrise, noon, the sun on the horizon at dusk, and lastly the nadir just before the sun moves into the underworld. Scholars call these the four points of the Maya cosmos, and emphasize these are not like our cardinal directions of north, south, east and west.
The most relevant positions of the sun are the equinoxes and the solstices, even to us today. For the Maya, sky gazers that they were, these were of supreme importance, and they paid homage to these positions.