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Maya Architecture and Urbanism, a holistic approach from the fields of astronomy and landscape

This work represents the final results of several years of research within the Maya region. It deals with the relations between architecture and urbanism with landscape and astronomy.

Manuel May Castillo
14 October 2014

In the first part, we built a theoretical and methodic foundations which support our subsequent arguments, discussions and interpretations. The theoretical background founds our academic attitude. We speak from an inner perspective, where Maya Worldview is an important issue since it represents our own view. Then, the methodic foundations for architectural and urbanism studies are exposed, starting from the interpretation of landscape data and architectural orientations. To reinforce this, precolonial, colonial and contemporary data are added. Later on, the state of the art is exposed in relation to astronomy, landscape, urbanism and architecture, in order to offer a critique vision about previous studies and also deconstruct some of them for extracting the Maya knowledge covered by western and Christian veils.

A key discussion was started before the study cases, where the E Group, as archetypes of the astronomical hypothesis, were reviewed considering the contemporary Maya knowledge and religion. An alternative interpretation was proposed in the light of similarities between the architectural arrangement of E Group and the arrangement of contemporary altars: E Group seem to represent the religious space par excellence instead of being observational apparatus for solstices and equinoxes. Actually, we argue, solstices and equinoxes are western concepts impeding a better understanding of the Maya religious space and time.     

In the second part, ten study cases are carried on from an integral perspective. Related to this, we can highlight the analysis using new technologies, working together with traditional techniques and landscape studies around ancient Maya cities. Landscape analysis were based on data from NASA via the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission project. Related to the astronomy issue, the archaeoastronomical methods are implemented in order to understand the architectural orientations in terms of Worldview and the calendar. By seeking a holistic approach, other disciplines, such as ethnography, epigraphy, geography, archaeology and religion studies  were integrated as well.

Finally, this dissertation concludes that architectural orientations can be understood not exclusively in terms of astronomical phenomena, but in terms of Maya calendar. Orientations are also as indicators of symbolic meanings such as political and dynastic relationships or in a more deep meaning, as indicators of sacred places. So, it seems that astronomy, the perception of landscape, architecture and urbanism were working together in order to attend not only scientific needs, but also social and religious needs. By doing this, a comprehensive development of Maya society was sought.

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