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The Maya myth of the morning star

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Chak Ek’, the morning star, rose from the underworld to the surface of the eastern sea and on into the heavens. His brother K’in Ahaw, the sun, followed. Though Chak Ek’ had risen first, K’in Ahaw outshone him, and the resentful Chak Ek’ descended back to the underworld to plot against his brother and his allies. Gabrielle Vail details the Maya myth of the morning star.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Gabrielle Vail
  • Director Basa
  • Narrator Nishat Ruiter
  • Creative Director Diego Huacuja
  • Art Director Diego Huacuja
  • Storyboard Artist Enrique Sañudo, Cris Lugo
  • Illustrator Enrique Sañudo
  • Designer Enrique Sañudo
  • Lead Animator Cris Lugo
  • Producer Melissa Lopez Ley
  • Sound Designer Igor Figueroa, Mono
  • Production Company Little Ugly
  • Collaborator Jonathan Tharin
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
English
The movements of Venus as recorded by Maya astronomers in the ninth through thirteenth centuries are the subject of the Venus table of the Dresden Codex. To learn more about the Maya codices, read Dr. Vail’s article on Mexicolore and visit her Maya Codices website. The search page on the website allows users to access the calendrical, divinatory, and scientific knowledge of prehispanic Maya cultures and to learn more about their understandings of the natural world. To search for particular content, simply type in the word or phrase you are interested in exploring. Examples from the video include Venus, maize, K’awiil (spelled K’awil on the website), turtles (enter as turtle), and jaguars (enter as jaguar).

As the video explains, prehispanic Maya cultures developed sophisticated calendars and used a system of bar-and-dot numbers, along with the concept of zero and positional notation, to track the movements of the stars and planets and to record historical dates. To learn more about the Maya calendar and numbering system, visit the website “Living Maya Time: Sun, Corn, and the Calendar” by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Maya cultures also developed a complex writing system that is recorded in the Maya codices, believed to date to the thirteenth through sixteenth centuries, as well as on painted vases, the walls of structures, and stone monuments dating from the second century BCE until the tenth or eleventh centuries CE. An excellent introduction to some of the steps involved in deciphering the Maya script is provided by Night Fire Films’ website

Creation stories similar to that related in the video were an important component of prehispanic Maya culture from the earliest texts and art to those written after the Spanish Conquest of the region in the sixteenth century. One of the best known, called the Popol Wuj (also spelled Popol Vuh), comes to us from the K’iche’ Maya culture of highland Guatemala. An animated film version is available on YouTub. K’iche’ is one of approximately 30 different Mayan languages spoken today. Estimates suggest that between six and eight million Maya people are living today in Mesoamerica, other parts of Central America, the U.S., and elsewhere. They are direct descendants of the people who wrote the Maya codices, lived in or near cities like Tikal and Chichén Itzá, and viewed Venus emerge from its underworld home in its different aspects as the Morning Star deity.

Teacher's Note:
-Chapter 4 in Anthony Aveni’s book Stairways to the Stars: Skywatching in Three Great Ancient Cultures provides an excellent discussion of Maya astronomy, with particular reference to Venus.
-An enlightening resource on contemporary Maya cultures and recent history was written by Richard Leventhal and colleagues
https://www.penn.museum/documents/publications/expedition/PDFs/54-1/The-Modern-Maya-and-Recent-History.pdf)
-Additional classroom activities are available as pdfs and may be requested through the “Contact Us” button on the Maya Codices website (mayacodices.org). Activities are available in both English and Spanish.

Español
Los movimientos de Venus registrados por los astrónomos mayas en los siglos IX hasta XIII son el tema de la tabla de Venus del Códice de Dresde. Para aprender más sobre los códices maya, lea el artículo de la Dra. Vail al sitio de Mexicolore y visite su sitio web sobre los Códices Mayas (mayacodices.org). La página de búsqueda en este sitio web permite a los usuarios acceso al conocimiento calendárico, adivinatorio y científico de las culturas mayas prehispánicas para aprender más sobre su comprensión del mundo natural. Para buscar contenido particular, simplemente escriba la palabra o frase en que está interesado explorar. Ejemplos del video incluyen Venus, maíz (escrito maize en el sitio web), K’awiil
(escrito K’awil en el sitio web), tortugas (escrito turtle), y jaquares (escrito jaguar).

Como explicado en el video, las culturas mayas prehispánicas desarrollaron calendarios sofisticados y usaron un sistema de números de barras y puntos, junto con el concepto de cero y notación posicional, para rastrear los movimientos de las estrellas y planetas y para registrar fechas históricas. Para aprender más sobre el calendario maya y su sistema de números, visite el sitio web “Viviendo el Tiempo Maya: Sol, Maíz y el Calendario” del Museo Nacional del Indio Americano al Smithsonian.

Las culturas mayas también desarrollaron un sistema de escritura complejo como registrado en los códices mayas, que se cree que son de los siglos XIII al XVI así también en vasos pintados, las paredes de estructuras, y los monumentos de piedra desde el siglo II a.C. hasta los siglos X u XI d.C. Una introducción excelente a algunos de los pasos involucrados en descifrar la escritura maya se encuentra en el sitio web de Night Fire Films.

Las historias de la creación similar a las contadas en el video fueron un componente importante de la cultura maya prehispánica desde los primeros textos y arte hasta los escritos después de la conquista española de la región en el siglo XVI. Uno de los más conocidos, llamado el Popol Wuj (también escrito Popol Vuh), viene de la cultura maya k’iche’ del altiplano guatemalteco. Una versión de esta historia en forma de película animada está disponible por YouTube. K’iche’ es uno de aproximadamente 30 idiomas mayas diferentes que se hablan hoy en día. Las estimaciones sugieren que actualmente viven entre seis y ocho millones de personas mayas en Mesoamérica, otras partes de Centroamérica, los Estados Unidos, y otros lugares. Ellos son descendientes directos de las personas que escribieron los códices mayas, que vivieron en o cerca de las ciudades como Tikal y Chichén Itzá, y vieron a Venus salir de su hogar en el inframundo en sus aspectos diferentes como la deidad del Lucero del Alba.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Gabrielle Vail
  • Director Basa
  • Narrator Nishat Ruiter
  • Creative Director Diego Huacuja
  • Art Director Diego Huacuja
  • Storyboard Artist Enrique Sañudo, Cris Lugo
  • Illustrator Enrique Sañudo
  • Designer Enrique Sañudo
  • Lead Animator Cris Lugo
  • Producer Melissa Lopez Ley
  • Sound Designer Igor Figueroa, Mono
  • Production Company Little Ugly
  • Collaborator Jonathan Tharin
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-checker Eden Girma
  • See more