Slovenian archaeologist finds Maya calendar over 3,000 years old

Ljubljana, 9 January - Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Šprajc has played a key role in a groundbreaking study on the Maya calendar, in which researchers found that the Mayan timekeeping system is hundreds of years older than previous research indicated and might have been used as far back as in 1100 BC.

Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Šprajc.
Photo: Bor Slana/STA

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Advances, the study used aerial laser scanning (lidar images) of buildings or sites in an extensive area along the south coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

Šprajc, head of the Institute of Anthropological and Spatial Studies at the research centre ZRC SAZU in Ljubljana, Takeshi Inomata from the University of Arizona, and Anthony F. Aveni from the Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, found that many examples of the earliest monumental architecture in Mesoamerica in that area, built approximately between 1100 and 750 BC, are aligned with a specific solar orientation, meaning they are largely oriented to sunrises or sunsets on specific dates,

The orientations of these ceremonial complexes represent the earliest evidence of the use of the 260-day calendar, centuries earlier than its previously known use in textual records.

By using lidar technology, the research team was able to obtain more accurate data and images of certain areas, which helped discover archaeological sites beneath the vegetation. However, "a machete is still needed," Šprajc said.

The Maya calendar is one of the oldest day-keeping systems known to man, and Mesoamerican civilizations, especially the Maya, are known for their in-depth knowledge of astronomy.

Important civic and ceremonial buildings in Mesoamerica were constructed so that they faced either sunsets or sunrises on specific days which had a ritual significance in the agricultural cycle.

Šprajc, who works predominantly in Yucatan, is one of the world's leading researchers in archaeoastronomy, an interdisciplinary study of how early civilizations used skygazing to site buildings and their ritual and cultural importance.

The article is available at:

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