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Open Access Thesis

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First Advisor

Thomas Killion


For decades, Maya scholars have associated the Mayan ―Shell-Star‖ (also referred to as ―Star-War‖) hieroglyph with Maya warfare. Put forward by scholars such as Floyd Lounsbury and David Kelley, and later advanced by Linda Schele, David Freidel, Ian Graham, Peter Matthews, Anthony Aveni and others, there are now dozens of published articles and chapters relating the hieroglyph to Venus and warfare. Venus is one of the most notable celestial objects outside of the Sun and Moon and was highly visible to the inhabitants of the Maya world. The Dresden Codex (an astronomical almanac) contains important information about the planet Venus, and the calendar section was deciphered by the librarian and mathematician, Ernst Förstemann in the late 1800s. In his decipherment, he deduced that the numbers contained in the tables must be connected to the orbital period of the planet. There is no other planet with the same orbital period


as Venus. Förstemann suggested that the decoded astronomy tables were used by the Maya to determine when to wage war. This interpretation, along with others, like Floyd Lounsbury`s study of Venus and the Long Count date at Bonampak were the seeds that have led to methodological errors that first began to take root in Maya research. The idea of the Venus association with warfare took hold and continues to propagate. Many scholars continue to assert that the ―shell-star‖ glyph is related to warfare events. Others, like Gerardo Aldana, and Stanley Guenter, have recently come forward to reexamine and question the hieroglyph and its relationship, if any, to Maya warfare. I suggest, further, that methodological errors may have occurred along the way. I propose that these errors include data lost in translation, and inaccurate translations. In addition, the statistical analysis of Venus cycles has weak points. If this identification of the errors is correct, we need to re-evaluate the weakened foundation on which we are building our assertions about the role of Venus in Maya warfare. In this work, I examine the initial and subsequent interpretations of the Mayan ―shell-star‖ hieroglyph, a symbol that has begun to generate an increasing amount of discussion among Mayan scholars over the last several years. In addition, I discuss new arguments (like that of Gerardo Aldana) regarding the role of Venus in Maya warfare. Finally, I would like to provide some suggestions for future research regarding this subject.