Science of measuring time and space in the ancient Americas



Early astronomers encrypted their knowledge of the universe in regard for the manner they believed the Creator avoided full disclosure. My 40 years experience as an engineer and mapmaker with the U. S. Geological Survey have allowed me to recognize a tangible trail of evidence that combines astronomic observation with physical alignment to crack the code. An ancient path of discovery not only reveals the decoding key, it explains the origin of the calendar as well as why synodic cycles are featured in the records. A previously unacknowledged convention of geometry quantifies linear dimension to a linear scale, relating how time was counted. Amazingly, the partnership between geometric convention and the calendar appears to have remained stable for as long as 7,000 years and links practices in North America with those in Mesoamerica.

The cyclic appearance of planets at specific locations on the horizon would have been readily known to ancient Americans, simply from counting days. Using no more than stakes, cord and a keen eye, the next step would have been to note the direction of shadows cast at solstice sunrise and sunset. These azimuths could be combined with extremes of the Moon’s appearance on the horizon to draw a simple grid-like geometric pattern that conforms to Archaic mound site plans in Louisiana. While the proportions of the diagram could easily be repeated, a standard unit of measure was needed to give the drawings meaningful scale and to reliably communicate unambiguous numeric information. Understandably, the earliest numbers to be communicated were day-counts of cycles for planets. Standardizing intervals of distance made it possible to transfer data between cultures and even perform arithmetic operations without the need of notation. Such elementary observations led logically to a remarkably accurate system that integrated astronomy, mathematics, calendrics, astrology, geometry, and linear measurement.

Rather than developing over time, this ancient graphic system has maintained a capability for decimal-level precision from the beginning, even though Mayan glyphs use only integer numbers. The idea that Mesoamericans inherited a fully-developed system of time reckoning from more than two thousand miles to the north completely overturns assumptions of when and where calendric understanding in the Americas began. The principles that guided early geometric expressions appear to have contributed to the Mayan spiritual philosophy that virtually everything reflects attributes of many other things.

Measurements show that the grid used to determine Archaic mound locations may be interpreted as a graphic memory aid, or mnemonic, recording solar and lunar cycles by geometric constructions, and positioning features by consistent rules to convey numeric information. Logical dimensional values associated with specific portions of the grid make it possible to define scale and compare data content of particular site plans. Such mapping shows that sites, and even artifacts, should sometimes be regarded as coded documents that speak to knowledge their makers thought to be most vital. Reading the data requires superimposition of a geometric key developed from bearings of important astronomic sightings. Such encryption has cloaked “special knowledge” from the uninitiated for thousands of years, much earlier than writing and other assumed trappings of “advanced” civilization might indicate. The knowledge is not only difficult to recognize, it may have actually been deliberately disguised.

While such an unusual mode of relating numeric information might seem easily dismissed as chance or coincidence, I have used a suite of techniques to back it up. By superimposing similar Archaic site plans, registration to the reference grid becomes apparent, also indicating the inherent precision of construction. Joining significant virtual points of the geometric key reveals radial intersections of three-point lines. Techniques I developed to evaluate the likelihood of three-point lines reinforce the conclusion that mound placements were intentional rather than coincidental. Comparing scaling factors used to construct similar mound arrangements at different size helped quantify a standard unit of measure. Independent proof that the Maya shared the same standard unit was provided by statistical extraction from a large set of data. The values generated by applying this standard consistently produced numbers known to be or accepted as significant to the Maya, particularly those that appear repeatedly in the calendar.

It appears that many of the ancient geometric conventions evolved from a style of graphic math that was very different from modern methods of calculation. By reconstructing the rules of reference grids, we can effectively reveal how the ancient code was encrypted. Redundant patterns, multiple pointers, and integer scaling factors that use significant calendric values help confirm the intended message. The documented tendency of the Maya to use puns and dual messages may actually have its origin in some of the redundant characteristics seen in early graphic constructions. Data coded through standardized lineal measures should help quantify how accurately people tracked planetary movements and demonstrate how early that knowledge was present. Labor-intensive monumental structures erected by early foragers without evident social hierarchy might be interpreted as a communication to their Creator that His plan was understood. Later motifs made by the Maya appear to be intended as messages coded in the manner of the Creator, requiring the reader to apply a “key” to make the message complete.

The oldest mound layouts in Louisiana utilize astronomic alignments observable only within a limited band of latitude. More than 3,000 years ago, at Poverty Point, Louisiana, a specialized depiction seems to signal a watershed in astronomical understanding that would have facilitated sharing of the concepts to other latitudes. Earliest Mesoamerican glyphs to record time occur shortly thereafter. Independent of language, it appears that the representation of time by lineal dimensions has shaped cultures for at least 7,000 years. How could such a simple, practical system have evaded decipherment for so long? The answer may be that we have too readily discounted ancient ingenuity. If so, we now have a responsibility to give them credit long overdue.