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Indigenous Astronomies and Cosmologies: Deciphering Prehispanic Maya Texts and Textile Designs
September 27, 2017 @ 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Dr. Gabrielle Vail, visiting scholar from UNC-Chapel Hill will be presenting at the Abrams Planetarium at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, September 27th.
Among the cultures of the Americas, the prehispanic Maya developed the most complex calendrical system as a means of making sense of the cosmos, which was populated by deities that personified the celestial bodies, natural forces, and features of the landscape. Creation stories describe the interaction of these supernaturals in the formation of the earth and the beings that inhabit it, understood in terms of an indigenous astronomy that highlights the appearance and disappearance of celestial luminaries. Their disappearances relate to their journeys through the underworld, a realm associated with birth, regeneration, the moon, and feminine powers. This presentation explores prehispanic Maya conceptions of the cosmos through a consideration of painted and sculpted media that highlight creation events and key moments in their cyclical recurrence. Of special interest are astronomical tables from the Postclassic Maya codices, likely painted in the 14th or 15th century, and woven or painted textiles depicted on carved stone monuments from the 8th and 9th centuries. Like the textiles of today, they situate their wearer within the three levels of the cosmos and define their role within this ideological system. While hieroglyphic texts were most often the domain of men, textiles were created by women and served as cultural texts to be passed along from grandmother or mother to daughter, a practice that continues in parts of the Maya area today.