Did the Maya Build Cities According to the Stars? Plus: Doubling Down on "Book of Og"
I have two topics to discuss today, the first of which is interesting but incomplete and the second of which appears to be outright fraud. Our first story is making the rounds of the mainstream news and fringe history websites, which are extremely excited by a claim about Mayan cities coming out of Quebec.
According to Canadian news reports, a 15-year-old named William Gadoury located the potential site of an unknown Maya city by projecting images of the Mayan constellations onto a map of the Maya lands. Gadoury had become interested in the Maya several years ago because of the 2012 Maya Calendar doomsday hype, and he wondered why Mayan cities were not located in the most favorable locations. Therefore, he decided to compare the locations of Maya cities to the Maya constellations. By overlaying 23 constellations on to a map of the Maya lands, he claimed to have found a 90% correlation between 117 Maya cities and the stars of these constellations.
In turn, Gadoury noticed that the constellation of Orion was missing one of its stars on the ground, so the Canadian space agency provided him with satellite photographs that allowed him to locate a square shape on the ground that might or might not be a Maya pyramid associated with a large city. The teen’s work received praise from Dr. Armand Laroque, a geologist and remote detection specialist at the University of New Brunswick.
Fringe history supporters were thrilled at the news reports, and Greg Taylor of the Daily Grail compared the find to the work of Robert Bauval, the amateur Egyptologist who proposed that the Giza pyramids represented the constellation Orion. But before praising Bauval, it’s important to note that he didn’t develop the program of thought that he celebrates as his own invention. Indeed, Bauval didn’t invent the idea that architecture represented the stars: He borrowed it from Robert Temple, as he admits in The Orion Mystery. Nor did he invent the idea that buildings may have targeted stars, and idea that predated him by a century or more. Temple had suggested in The Sirius Mystery (1976) that the Egyptians and the Mycenaeans worked together to lay out sacred cities to create the form of the constellation Argo across Greece and Egypt in honor of amphibious aliens from Sirius. Bauval took his inspiration from that claim and looked for other constellations. Again: Bauval said that himself.
Gadoury’s idea is interesting, but neither mainstream nor fringe historians have so far detailed some of the problems with the idea. First, no one knows exactly which stars the Maya used to represent their constellations. As Heather Irene McKillop wrote in The Ancient Maya: New Perspectives (2004), “However, even the basic details about the number and positioning of the Maya constellations, the timing of their zodiac, and their constellations’ place in the night sky are the subject of some disagreement.” The constellations differ in various Postclassic Maya codices, on buildings, on paintings, and in monuments. Susan Milbrath, writing in Star Gods of the Maya (1999), concurs and adds that the Postclassic constellations from after 1000 CE can only partially be correlated with what constellations may have existed in in the Classic period, when the majority of Maya cities flourished, and especially in the Preclassic, when many were founded. Some constellations were certainly the same, but others may have been very different.
Gadoury used a list of 22 constellations from the Madrid Codex, representing 142 stars. He correlated these to 117 Maya cities, and he suggested the existence of a 23rd constellation not in the codex to account for cities that did not fit his scheme, according to the Journal de Montreal. The Madrid Codex is a Postclassic codex, so it is not easy to correlate its list of constellations with what the Preclassic and Classic Maya may have seen in the sky.
Beyond this, there is the question of how Gadoury selected constellations and mapped them onto the ground. What level of accuracy did he assume? Were the city groupings accurately located in relation to one another, or were they separate? As Taylor noted, it might be a case that there are simply so many cities that you can connect the dots however you choose. This seems perhaps more likely since Gadoury was looking for a particularly common shape—a triangle—that represents, he said, part of Orion, and added that shape to the Madrid Codex’s list of constellations without explaining why one from a different and contradictory index of constellations should be arbitrarily added to the Madrid list.
So, while this was an interesting hypothesis, it is incomplete as presented in the media and needs much more information before we can evaluate whether Gadoury’s claims are correct. I personally would doubt it since he also claims that his method proves that the Inca, Aztec, and Harrapan civilizations all built cities to match various constellations. It sounds more like a case of cherry picking, especially since it would require warring and feuding city states to coordinate across space and across centuries.
King Og Speaks (Again)
Last month I wrote about an apparent April Fool’s Day prank in which a blogger alleged that he was publishing the translated text of an Aramaic manuscript of a book written by the giant Og, of Bible fame. The text had been published by a person writing under the name Peter Demmon, who is not just a blogger but also an aspiring writer of online horror fiction. He is the son of New York fanzine editor, science fiction writer and journalist Calvin W. “Biff” Demmon (1942-2007), who had become a born again Christian later in life. The younger Demmon, who is now an ex-Christian with the explicit goal of trying to get readers to question their faith, discovered my criticism of his allegedly ancient book by Og, and he has doubled down on the claim that it is true, arguing that I am somehow wrong for doubting (a) that the book exists and (b) that were it to exist that it was actually written by a giant named Og.
Demmon apparently believes that rehabilitating the giants will undermine Christianity, and he is using the supposed Book of Og in an online anti-Christian werewolf novel he is in the process of writing.
Demmon implies that he feels that I have erred in not accepting his assertion than an otherwise anonymous Father Martin exists and provided him (and him alone) with the translation of this ancient text from the Vatican archives. He alleges that the Og text must be real because it is referenced in a 1693 book, A New History of Ecclesiastical Writers. Nice try, but no. This only shows the underlying poverty of Demmon’s research in creating the hoax. The New History says “There is also a Book of King Og placed in the number of Apocryphal Books by Gelasius.” This is not proof that the book exists, but it is proof that the writer was following the well-established conflation of the postdiluvian King Og the Giant with the antediluvian giant Ogias, who is the featured giant in the Decretum Gelasianum, a Catholic list of canonical and non-canonical books. In that list, attributed (falsely) to Pope Gelasius, we read of an apocryphal “Book of Ogias, Called a Giant, of Whom the Heretics Assert He Fought with a Dragon after the Flood.” It’s an easy enough error to make, to the point that many English translations of the Decretum give “Og” for the Latin’s original “Ogias,” and the conflation goes back to Late Antiquity when Jewish sources identified Ogias as Og and proposed that Og therefore had survived the Flood. (The Babylonian Talmud differs and makes Ogias the father of Og.) See for example the discussion in Henning’s famous article on the Manichean Book of Giants. His other piece of evidence for the existence of the book, the transcript of the blasphemy trial of Charles Southwell (mistakenly given as “C. Howell” by our author), similarly is no independent confirmation. It provides a partial transcript of the list of canonical and non-canonical books from L. E. Du Pin’s History of the Canon from 1699. Du Pin’s list as given in the original 1699 printing is simply a table cross-referencing discussion elsewhere in the book. He cross-references the listing for Og to page 28, where Du Pin explains that he learned of the “Book of Og” from “Gelasius,” which is to say from the Decretum Gelasianum. Oh, well. It was a nice try. At any rate, the Book of Ogias is almost certainly the Manichean Book of Giants, which is known only from fragments.
So whatever Demmon claims to be publishing, it is not the Book of Ogias unless he has sections of the Manichean text unknown to any other scholar. His superficial understanding of apocryphal literature and the academic literature on it laid bare his hoax quite easily, but even if the text were somehow based on a real ancient source, it does not prove the existence of Og. Enoch did not write the Book of Enoch; Dares Phrygius did not compose the history of the Trojan War that passes under his name, and Orpheus did not write the Orphic Argonautica, despite it supposedly being a first-person account of his time aboard the Argo. There is a long tradition of writers ascribing texts to ancient figures to make them seem more important, and there is no reason to suspect that any surviving papyrus passing under Og’s name would be any different.
5/10/2016 12:12:30 pm
It appears that Gadoury has learned the Ancient Aliens research methodology well. Develop a theory that has been around for decades, if not centuries, then apply that theory using available data. In this case constellations and Mayan cities. When the data does not support you theory, in this case Mayan cities do not conform to the theory of constellation alignment, simply create a whole new constellation that conforms to the Mayan cities in question. BINGO! Theory proved! Now he needs to write a book and get himself on AA as yet another talking head. I wonder if he has crazy hair?
5/10/2016 12:31:04 pm
I'm pretty sure I could use the same constellations as Gadoury and show all the modern cities that line up with them.
5/10/2016 12:44:38 pm
They've been debunking this crap for decades and decades. Peter Lancaster Brown provided examples in one of the chapters of his books from the 1970s.
5/10/2016 06:02:52 pm
I was looking up at the sky one night, and I noticed that, by playing connect-the-dots with the stars, I could trace the words "Hail Enki". So, naturally, I've been doing that ever since.
5/10/2016 06:01:45 pm
David Stuart from UT Austin says it's a milpa. I can understand a teenager running with this, but it's unfortunate that journalists didn't contact Maya experts before reporting. https://www.facebook.com/david.stuart.520?hc_location=ufi
5/10/2016 06:32:35 pm
A Canadian newspaper asked me for comment, and told me I was the only person they could find who was skeptical of the story. Good to know the experts are now on the case!
5/10/2016 07:02:04 pm
The version of the Gadoury story on Popular Mechanics has a late day update saying several experts are throwing cold water on it.
5/11/2016 08:54:45 am
If you look at the location using Google Earth's timeline facility, imagery from 1970 shows the main rectangular feature standing out very clearly from the surrounding vegetation, as if it is bare earth.
5/11/2016 01:46:30 pm
PS: The smaller pair of photos in articles about the find, one with a pond in the lower right corner, are of an area some 8 km (5 miles) south-east of the main rectangular feature, which would make the city very big indeed (Longitude -90.111014°; Latitude 17.893324°). Like the first rectangle, they show signs of being bare earth (or maybe ripe corn) on Google Earth timeline imagery from 1970.
5/10/2016 06:39:25 pm
When will they quit?!
5/10/2016 07:21:24 pm
They won't quit because they are believers and religions never perish.
5/10/2016 07:43:27 pm
Religions never perish... because they change; but not necessarily with the times
5/11/2016 01:14:04 am
Superimposition of patterns over landscapes, like number crunching (as well as the combination of both) - never change -- and the promoters of such rubbish never realise that such "computations" are idiosyncratic and only special to them and to nobody else.
5/11/2016 04:19:25 am
Two things with Gadoury: like so many others with limited data but a preconceived endpoint, the first thing he does is approach other astronomers for validation. Why not approach archaeologists first and ask them what they think? Taking this solely from an astronomical view means missing out on the broader and probably better understanding of placement of cities. Second is that you don't announce discovery of a city to the world based solely on what you can tell from satellite images. Face on Mars a great example of how topography, lighting, angle, and psychology can mislead people.
Donald B. Miller
5/11/2016 09:16:07 am
I am impressed that in the few days since this news broke, you, Jason, have researched, applied some critical thinking, and developed a well thought out critique of the story. The main stream media have done nothing but accept and spread this story, as given, without any further thought. Well done.
5/11/2016 11:32:59 am
5/11/2016 08:28:28 pm
Snopes has done a good job of looking into the claims and thinks they are distinctly overblown, sadly as you have noted the major media outlets did not even attempt fact checking.
5/12/2016 11:39:36 am
I read scientists think what the intrepid young 15 year old identified as a pyramid is actually a field.
Your comment will be posted after it is approved.
Leave a Reply.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
Enter your email below to subscribe to my newsletter for updates on my latest projects, blog posts, and activities, and subscribe to Culture & Curiosities, my Substack newsletter.
Terms & Conditions
Please read all applicable terms and conditions before posting a comment on this blog. Posting a comment constitutes your agreement to abide by the terms and conditions linked herein.