ASTR 121 (O'Connell) Supplement



EL CARACOL: A MAYA OBSERVATORY


"El Caracol" (or the "snail," named for its internal winding staircase) is one of the most prominent buildings at Chichen Itza, the major Maya city in the northern Yucatan. There is good archaeological evidence that it was used as an observatory, using internal wall and window alignments to mark the motions of the Sun and Venus in the sky.

El Caracol. The round tower is built on the roof of a larger low-rise building.
(Image from A Tour of Chichen Itza by J. Perez de Lara.)


Another view, with the Kukulcan Pyramid in the background (image by J. Q. Jacobs)


Astronomical alignments in El Caracol (drawing from M. Seeds' textbook)



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Text copyright © 2004-2008 Robert W. O'Connell. All rights reserved. These notes are intended for the private, noncommercial use of students enrolled in Astronomy 121 at the University of Virginia.