The Old Ball Game at Yaxchilan

Although some dates at the Maya site of Coba give dates counted from an era base that seems to be back from the time of the monument by a 20-term interval, they are badly eroded and neither the period glyphs nor the context can be determined. At Yaxchilan, a Maya site on the Usumacinta river, a 13-term date incorporates the normal 5-term date of an initial series, although the normal era base would appear in this system at rather than at The glyphs used in the calculation are shown in Figure 12.5. We cannot read the Maya names for any period longer than the katun, but Mayanists have used the pseudo-Maya terms baktun for the 400-tun period, pictun for the 8000-tun period, calabtun for the 160,000-tun period, and kinchiltun for the 3,200,000-tun period. Variant forms of the glyphs for these periods are known from a number of inscriptions. No one has devised names for the glyphs of the longer periods known only from this Yaxchilan inscription. The longest period in this inscription refers to 10,240,000,000,000 tuns. The date is that of a ball game, played by the ruler of Yaxchilan, and the cosmic implications of ball games in Mesoamerica are clear in the illustration. The giant balls were put into play by rolling them down the steps of a pyramid. In the illustration, one can see a captive apparently bound to the ball. Among the subordinate figures in the scene are two dwarf-like "star-birds," marked by star glyphs on their wings. Aside from the tremendously remote era base, a number of dates in the text are separated by long intervals within the historic period. No one has yet thrown light on the context of these dates.

One of the factors involved may be lunar. The number 13 is associated with the Moon, as are extremely large parameters. The introduction to the Dresden (codex) eclipse table contains a series of thirteen 13s. In the light of the Yaxchilan inscription, DHK would suggest that this is a date counted from the same base and going into the future. The interval from the base of the eclipse table, 12 Lamat 1 Muan to 4 Ben 1 Kankin, is an interval of (or 557,705 days). A modern calculation of 3218 eclipse half-years is 557,708.58 days. Now 18376 mean lunations (i.e., synodic months) are equal to 557,720.22d. Therefore, if we start at a lunar eclipse, after this interval we will have a solar eclipse, and vice versa.3 The coincidence of the eclipse interval with such a numerologi-cally important date may have provided important confirmation to the Maya of the validity of their systems.

3 We do not know, of course, that an eclipse occured on the date at the base of the eclipse table. To clarify the intervals, the tabular interval is 557,705;the nearest eclipse half-year multiple is 557,708.58d; and the number of mean lunations is 557,720.22 days, 15 days or about half a lunar cycle later.

Table 12.6. Proposed Maya correlations.

In the correlation The Maya date Correlation constants of corresponded to: of continuity correlations Miscellaneous correlation constants

Joyce Bowditch

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