The Apotheosis of Janaab' Pakal takes up anew the riddles within a number of Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions first recognized by Floyd Lounsbury. Gerardo Aldana unpacks these mathematical riddles using an approach grounded in a reading of the texts made possible by recent advances in decipherment. Using a history of science methodology, he expands upon (and sometimes questions) the foundational work of archaeoastronomers.
Aldana follows three lines of investigation: a reading of the hieroglyphic inscriptions of the Classic period (a.d. 250-900), mathematical analysis to recover Classic Maya astronomical practice, and a historiography of Maya astronomy. Quoted hieroglyphs appear throughout the text for cross-examination. Aldana reveals the social and political context of Maya astronomy by explicating the science and calendrical calculations found in the tablets of the Temple of Inscriptions and the Cross Group from the city of Palenque. He offers a compelling interpretation of an 819-day count, demonstrating its utility as an astronumerological tool that Maya scribes used to simplify complex calculations.
During troubled times in Palenque, Aldana contends, Kan Balam II devised a means to preserve the legitimacy of his ruling dynasty. He celebrated a re-creation of the city as a contemporary analogue of a mythical Creation on three levels: monumental construction for a public audience, artistic patronage for an elite audience, and a secret mathematical astronomical language only for rulers-elect. Discussing all of these efforts, Aldana focuses on the recovery of the secret language and its historical context.
To the modern eye, the architects at Chich’en Itza produced some of the most mysterious structures in ancient Mesoamerica. The purpose and cultural influences behind this architecture seem left to conjecture. The people who created and lived around this stunning site may seem even more mercurial.
Near the structure known today as the Great Ball Court and within the interior of the Lower Temple of the Jaguar, a mural depicts a female Mayan astronomer called K'uk'ul Ek' Tuyilaj. Weaving together archaeology, mathematics, history, and astronomy, Calculating Brilliance brings to light the discovery by this Mayan astronomer, which is recorded in the Venus Table of the Dresden Codex. As the book demonstrates, this brilliant discovery reverberated throughout Mayan science. But it has remained obscured to modern eyes.
Jumping from the vital contributions of K'uk'ul Ek' Tuyilaj, Gerardo Aldana y Villalobos critically reframes science in the pre-Columbian world. He reexamines the historiography of the Dresden Codex and contextualizes the Venus Table relative to other Indigenous literature. From a perspective anchored to Indigenous cosmologies and religions, Aldana y Villalobos delves into how we may understand Indigenous science and discovery—both its parallels and divergences from modern globalized perspectives of science.
Calculating Brilliance brings different intellectual threads together across time and space, from the Classic to the Postclassic, the colonial period to the twenty-first century to offer a new vision for understanding Mayan astronomy.