The article of Gregory Zaro and Jon Lohse, “Agricultural Rhythms and Rituals: Ancient Maya Solar Observation in Hinterland Blue Creek,” mainly discusses the various and highly effective agricultural practices in Mesoamerica during times when sophisticated equipment and instruments were not yet available.
The authors mainly focused on the ancient Mayan civilization whose settlements are now collectively known as Latin America. Basically, it was evident that much of Mesoamerica was highly successful in terms of agricultural production and the planting and growing of crops, among others.
However, the authors stressed that it is important to not that the ancient civilizations that lived in the past had little to no knowledge of soil types, regulation and moisture levels, fertility, the growing cycles, and other requirements and that are essential in crop production, yet they still were able to have successful and sustainable agricultural conditions.
The authors point out that the main reasons behind their success are their ancient rituals, practices and beliefs which mainly focused on the cosmos and are used to mark the passage of time and the seasons relative to their agricultural production.
These practices rituals include sacrifices, rituals that are associated with water management and fertility and the civilizations ability to monitor seasonal changes by observing the movements and changes of the celestial bodies in the sky.
In addition, these practices, rituals and other agricultural behaviors, according to the authors, are possibly the most overlooked reasons by most archaeologists who are attempting to have a deeper understanding of ancient civilizations.
The authors, in their investigations of these ancient races, found their first evidence at the Quincunx site, an architectural complex in Belize. At the site, they discovered an unusual structure which is unlike the Mayan houses and residential patios.
It mostly comprises of central masonry room blocks but the most notable structure of the complex, according to the authors, are the four broad, low, circular cobble platforms that are situated intercardinal directions (which means that the four platforms are placed in southeast, southwest, northeast, and northwest each). Each platform is also located approximately 20 meters from a central structure.
The authors noted that initially, it can be surmised that these five-point or quincuncial structure was designed mainly to monitor the movements of the sun in the sky every year. But upon closer scrutiny, it is actually closely associated with the Mayan civilizations high regard for astronomy and their dependence on agricultural production.
In addition, the authors claimed that the evidence which they use to support their claims include ethnographic and ethnohistoric accounts, particularly the Mayan behavior towards astronomy and agriculture;
Tthe five-part or quincuncial design of the site; and the solar observations at the said site during times of summer solstice on June 21, which are further assessed in relation to architectural elements and features that denote important events in the civilization’s history and way of life.
Based on the authors’ accounts, in order to have a better understanding of the Mesoamerican agricultural behaviors and practices, it is first necessary to closely examine symbolisms in their structures, particularly the quincuncial design of the site.
Basically, according to historical evidence and studies of Mayan cosmos or their belief in astronomy, the five-part complex mainly represents the universe. Historically, the Mayans believe that universe is composed of four corners and one center, similar to the quincuncial structure.
The corners represented what they called the vaxakmen or the race’s standard bearers or spokespersons. In addition, the positioning of these corners also designate and give rise to the center, which more or less represents the Mayan communities themselves.
Moreover, the positioning of the quincuncial complex are also closely associated with fertility and famine, which are essential aspects in Mesamerica as these play major roles in determining their way of life.
For example, according to the authors, one Mayan Tribe believed that the north is associated with the color white and the god maize/cereal grain, the south is associated with the color and the god of wind, the east is associated with white and the god of rain, and the west is associated with black and the god of death.
Meaning to say, the positioning of the quincuncial complex they found may strongly indicate that it is meant to determine their timing in planting crops and other agricultural activities that they Mayan civilization practice during that time.
Another example that indicates their strong reverence for astronomy relative to their agricultural production, based on the authors’ article, is the rituals that the civilization practiced. In one ritual, an altar is situated in a center with four corners. In each of the corners, four men sat and imitated the sound of thunder.
The entire ceremony is mainly done to pray to the gods to bring rain during times of famine or drought. Moreover, the authors noted that places that are socially significant such as plazas, homesteads, and cornfields also followed the quincuncial rule mainly due to their perception of the universe.
Furthermore, the authors also noted that the quincuncial structure is also used in actual agricultural production. Basically, the four corners represent solar events: two zenith passages, in which the sun is directly above the earth, and two summer solstices, in which the sun is either towards or away from the earth, depending on the planet’s tilt.
In this regard, quincuncial symbols, especially in places rice in agriculture, help the civilization determine the sun’s position and, in effect, their timing for successful food production.
Finally, in order to further support and validate their claims, the authors documented a devastated quincuncial architectural site in Belize and recreated it to show the sun’s possible position in the sky and how the Mayan civilization used this to time their agricultural activities.
In their excavation, they were able to discover that during the June summer solstice, a person’s shadow was cast from the central structure’s south doorway to the north edge of the southwestern area. From this finding, the authors concluded that the quincuncial structure was indeed crucial to the lives of Mesoamerica as it affects their agricultural production.
However, they emphasized that the passage of time has caused a lot of changes in the structures which is why it is hard to assume that all of Mesoamerica used the same quincuncial symbols described above in their lives. But nevertheless, they surmised that all communities in the area shared the same belief that prominent spaces and areas must divided into five parts and four corners in order to represent the universe.