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The Three Hearthstones and the Birth of the Sun: The Orion Nebula in the Cosmology of the Maya

Overview

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Presented by City of Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center Lecture Series on Cultural Astronomy. Cultures worldwide have observed and utilized celestial events for millennia. Archaeologists, anthropologists, historians, astronomers, and other scholars have examined the materials left by peoples to better understand their cultural world views. This series will explore astronomy through a cultural lens of observation.

For the K'iche' Maya, the Orion Nebula (M42) represents the smoke from a hearth fire, in the center of a triangular asterism of three stars that represent the three stones of the cosmic hearth. Known as the Central Three Hearthstone Place, records of this asterism date back to the Classic Maya inscriptions in Copan, where two stelae on either side of the Copan Valley form a baseline that points to the rising position of both the Orion Nebula and the rising sun on the turn of K'atun 9.11.0.0.0 in 652 CE, when the 12th King of Copan, K'ahk' Uti' Witz' K'awill, is said to have witnessed the Three Hearthstones "at the edge of the sky" on this date. The Three Hearthstones are prominent in the cosmological texts throughout the Classic inscriptions in which they represent the place in which the sun was born as a self-sacrificing deity who gives his energy and his life so that all may live. Extraordinarily, we now know that the Orion Nebula is a stellar nursery where 700 new suns and solar systems are forming, the largest of which will one day become supernovae, creating new matter, and ultimately new solar systems.