Archaeologists working at the Mayan site of Acanceh in the Yucatan have unearthed a building that was used as an observatory by ancient priests during the Early Classic period (A.D. 300-600). One of the oldest observatories found to date, the semi-circular structure is aligned with the sun and Venus, a planet of immense symbolism for the Maya.
The archaeologists discovered that when Venus reaches its maximum brilliance in the north every 584 days the building’s alignment marks the planet’s location with light and shadows on the southern wall. It also records the moment when the sun reaches its zenith and shadows disappear for a short time.
During the spring and autumn equinoxes in March and September, the setting sun is visible through the two doorways of the observatory and the rays also hit the Pyramid of the Masks, the largest and most important building in Acanceh. Five masks on the Pyramid façade portray Kinich Ahau, the sun god, reinforcing the temple’s symbolism.
The archaeological site of Acanceh, which means “cry of the deer” in Maya is located in the village of the same name on Highway 18 (the Convent Route), 45 minutes to the south of Merida.