20 October 2021

By Lucrecia de la Puente Morales

The Centre for Mexican Studies, UNAM-UK, had the pleasure of virtually hosting Dr Rubén Morante López’ lecture, “Natural and cultural calendars, the Mesoamerican example.” Dr Morante works as a professor and researcher at the Universidad Veracruzana. His lecture was part of the third module of the series “Tláloc, the Jaguar and the Serpent: Art and Archaeology in Indigenous America.” This module’s focus is on the study of the notion of time in Mesoamerican cultures and its relationship with archaeoastronomy.

In his introduction, the speaker explained the differences between natural and artificial cycles, and presented a general view of the relationship between the calendar and astronomical observation in various cultural and historical contexts. Afterwards, he spoke about different aspects of the way ancient peoples, specifically Mesoamericans, organized time. The core of Dr Morante’s lecture is precisely this; in his own words, a calendar is “the organization of time for cultural purposes.” He went over the different techniques Mesoamerican people used to make their observations and calendars. An example of the extraordinary development these techniques reached in Mesoamerica is the layout of the structures that make up astronomical commemoration sets. Several of these sets were built in such a way that, if one stands on the designated observation point during important dates such as equinoxes and solstices, the buildings line up perfectly with the Sun’s location at sunrise or create wonderful visual effects with the light and shadows.

One of Dr Morante’s intentions is to communicate the extraordinary precision with which the people of Mesoamerica made their calendars, which were based on the observation of the apparent movement of celestial bodies, as well as the need to internationally revalue the importance this knowledge holds for the history of science. For these reasons, his explanations are full of dates, numbers and calculations so abundant they can seem overwhelming to some. But in spite of the detailed and thorough way in which Dr Morante presents his knowledge, he also highlights those general aspects of his research that bring us closer to topics we are unfamiliar with, even in the face of how far the scene of Mesoamerica seems. “We share a horizon with practically all the peoples of the Earth, which could be used as a calendar with the same principles”, the speaker assures us, reminding us that we are dealing with shared human activities that connect us across time and territory.