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Centering the World: Astronomy Architecture and Cosmology at Palenque, Chia...

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The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture

141 Convent Avenue

Room 107

NY 10031

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This study examines the astronomical alignments in architecture and mythology at the site of Palenque Chiapas, The writing and images expressed in the texts and sculpture of Palenque, comprise one of the truly outstanding corpuses of ancient American art, and one that provides us with a unique window into the indigenous American worldview and cosmology. It is within the texts and art of Palenque that we find a rare description of the creation myth as well as a detailed account of the dynasty that ruled over Palenque during the Classic Period (c. 250-800 AD) The Architecture, Iconography and Literature provide a unique insight into some of the principles of Maya space and the use of ritual architecture to evoke a primordial concept of creation and renewal.

Palenque's architecture places emphasis on the Zenith and Nadir passages of the Sun. Zenith and Nadir passages are, by definition, polar opposites. In northern latitudes, summer and winter solstices mark the waxing and waning of the solar year. In the tropical regions of Mesoamerica, Zenith and Nadir divide the rainy season from the dry (Milbrath 1999:14). Like the summer and winter solstices, zenith and nadir are metaphors for the course of human life and the natural cycles of birth, death and regeneration.

Carol Karasik and Alonso Mendez . 2014. "Centering the World: Zenith and Nadir Passages at Palenque." In Archaeoastronomy and the Maya, by Geraldo Aldana y Villalobos Edwin Barnhart, 97-110. Oxbow Books.

Alonso Méndez is a Tzeltal Maya cultural astronomer who has spent more than fifteen years researching the astronomical knowledge of his ancestors and his people.Born in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Alonso spent much of his youth surrounded by the vibrant highland Maya culture of the Tzeltal and Tzotzil. as well as the emergent movement in anthropology and ethnography that occurred during the 60s and 70s. His Father, Alonso Mendez Ton a Tzeltal Maya of Tenejapa Chiapas participated prominently in these studies as a cultural informant, translator, and liaison, while his Mother, Francisca T Mendez, also played a key role in the Maya Communities as an historian, facilitator, and participant in the social and ritual life of the Highland Maya.

In this atmosphere of dynamic contact between cultures Alonso grew and witnessed critical changes that altered the physical and cultural landscape of Chiapas. Alonso attended Middlebury College. Graduating in 1987 with a degree in Fine Arts. His skill as an artist would prove critically useful when in 1997 he joined the archaeological projects in Palenque first as project artist with the Palenque Mapping Project and subsequently with the Proyecto Grupo de las Cruces and the Proyecto Arqueologico Palenque. During this time Alonso produced drawings that documented the new discoveries and developed 3d reconstructive drawings of the site. In this atmosphere of discovery, he began to conduct astronomical investigations at Palenque and other important sites in the area, and discovered many new astronomical alignments in the mayor temples as well as new understanding of the hieroglyphic texts. He has published these findings, and has participated in educational programs with focus on Indigenous science and knowledge through NASA and the Smithsonian NMAI . His most recent participation is as co scriptwriter for the full dome planetary production of Maya astronomy for the Chabot Planetarium in San Francisco, and advisor to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry exhibit Lenses on the Sky.

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The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture

141 Convent Avenue

Room 107

NY 10031

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