Ancient Mayans gods
On the edge of a small cornfield near the ruined Maya city of Chichén Itzá, in the sparse shade of a tropical tree, a voice ricochets wildly up the mouth of a well. “¡Lo vi! ¡Lo vi!” the shout proclaims. “I saw it, I saw it!” “¡Sí, es verdad! Yes, it’s true!”
Leaning over the mouth of the well, underwater archaeologist Guillermo de Anda needs to make sure that this is what he has been longing to hear for so many months. “What is true, Arturo?” And his fellow archaeologist Arturo Montero, floating down at the bottom of the well, yells up again, “The zenith light! It really works! Get down here!” Then he whoops ecstatically.
What de Anda has been waiting anxiously for his friend Montero to determine is whether the water at the bottom of this nondescript natural well, or cenote, had acted as a sacred sundial and timekeeper for the ancient Maya on the two days of the year, May 23 and July 19, when the sun reaches its zenith. At that moment it is vertically overhead, and no shadow is cast. The fact that the cenote is directly northwest of the main staircase of El Castillo, the famous central pyramid of Chichén Itzá, and within that mysterious city’s urban limits, made de Anda’s question particularly intriguing.
Centuries earlier, had Maya priests waited in this very well to observe and correct their measurements of the sun’s angle when it reached the zenith, as it does only in the tropics? Did they come here during times of drought to deliver anxious offerings and at other times to give thanks for a plentiful harvest? Did they believe this was a place where the sun and the generous waters met and brought forth life? These and other questions involving the Maya people’s relation to their gods, their sacred city, and their extraordinarily accurate calendar were what the two archaeologists were investigating.
De Anda, renowned for his skills as an underwater archaeologist, had been able to work in the Holtún cenote only occasionally and with minimal financing. Montero, from the University of Tepeyac, was at the well on his own money. He had been in the nearby city of Mérida on May 23, leading an archaeoastronomy seminar at the University of Yucatán, where de Anda was teaching. This morning, the day after the zenith, they were at last heading for the Holtún cenote. Their start had been disastrous—a flat tire, a shortage of gasoline, and sundry other hindrances had landed them at the well just as the sun was about to reach its near-zenith position. With minutes to go, Montero and Dante García Sedano, an undergraduate student, had struggled into their diving suits, clipped themselves into harnesses, and been lowered into the well by a crew of local Maya farmers.
Now Montero was yelling and whooping, and the farmers were lowering first a rubber raft and then me into the well. De Anda, drenched in sweat in the grilling Yucatán heat, was having a hard time with his rubbery suit. But finally he too was lowered 72 feet into the well, making the four of us in all likelihood the first persons in centuries to watch the path the sun god was tracing across these waters.
Mayan Civilization: Explore the History and Mystery of the Ancient Mayan Ruins, Religion, Calendar, and More (Mayan Ruins, Mayan Religion, Ancient Civilization, Mayan Calendar)