The Americas and Time Keeping: Crash Course History of Science #5

The Americas and Time Keeping: Crash Course History of Science #5

Let’s recap the history of science so far:
systematic knowledge-making has probably occurred as long as humans have been around. Unfortunately, historians rely primarily on
written records, and those are only a few thousand years old. Although ancient Egyptian, Sumerian, and Chinese
cultures had writing and useful sciences, we started with classical Greek and Indian
cultures that developed systems for understanding the cosmos and all the stuff in it. Today, we’re going to jump through space
to see how other cultures made knowledge at roughly the same time without any contact
with the peoples of Africa, Asia, or Europe. This is a story about the planet Venus, breathtaking
pyramids, and most of all the question “when are we?” What is time, and how do you measure it? [Intro Music Plays] The classical civilizations of Mesoamerica,
or what is now Mexico and Central America, didn’t “leave behind” as many paper
sources as those of the Indian or Greco-Roman linguistic worlds… Because after CE 1500, Spanish imperialists
destroyed those records. Of all the Mayan books made of folded-up bark
cloth—called codies—only four survive today. Luckily, stone tends to stick around. There are thousands of Mayan stone engravings. Archaeologists are still working to learn
what role monumental stone works served in ancient Mesoamerican society. And linguists have only recently decoded many
hieroglyphs found on Mayan engravings. But stone carvings mostly concern gods and
wars. Historians struggle to understand what daily
life was like and—in the case of science—how ancient Mesoamericans produced knowledge unrelated
to the divine stars. To paraphrase archaeologist Michael Coe, imagine
that everything we knew about English came from only three prayer books… The earliest Mesoamerican writing comes from the Olmecs, who lived in what is today southern
Mexico from 1500 to 400 BCE. Their carvings included human–jaguar hybrids. But the Olmecs are best known for their colossal
human heads cut from volcanic stone. From an early date, Mesoamerican cultures
traded goods and knowledge. Over time, sites elsewhere took on Olmec features. In addition to an art style and a writing
system, the Olmecs invented a mathematics, including the number zero, and a calendar
system that influenced later Mesoamerican civilizations. Ancient Mesoamerican civilization reached
a height of astronomical knowledge under the Maya. They ruled over what is now all of Belize
and Guatemala, western El Salvador and Honduras, and southern Mexico from 2000 BCE until the
1600s, in the common era. The Maya built great step pyramids. These were temples devoted to kings as well
as sites for making astronomical observations. The Caracol or Observatory of Chichén Itzá,
for example, was built to align with the extremes of Venus’s rising
and setting in the year CE 1000. That’s cool! The Maya had a base-twenty or vigesimal mathematical
system that included zero, but no fractions. And they created very large tables for calculations. These tables came in handy because one of
the principal cultural obsessions of the Maya priesthood was calculating future calendar
dates—and we’re talking very far future. You may have heard a sort of history of science
urban legend—that the Maya thought the world would end when their calendar calculations
ran out on December 23, 2012… Which, I think we can confirm, didn’t happen. We aren’t sure what the ancient Maya thought,
but it’s true that they made of lot of calculations about time for religious purposes. To understand Mayan time-keeping, let’s
head to the ThoughtBubble: “When are we?” To answer this question, the Maya used an
extraordinarily complicated system of five interlocking calendars of different lengths. This provided them with very accurate timing
regarding both the solar and lunar years… and the Venusian year. Because, to the Maya, Venus was the most important
heavenly body. The primary calendars were the tzolkin,
a 260-day sacred cycle that developed by CE 200, and the “Vague Year” solar calendar. The Vague Year has eighteen 20-day months
with a period of five unlucky corrective days to bring the year to 365 days total. But vaguely. The tzolkin and Vague Year together made the
Calendar Round, which repeated every 52 years. Also, the 260-day tzolkin was made up of two
smaller calendars, marking a 13-day numbered and 20-day named cycle of days.
But also the Maya kept track of the “Long Count”—a calendar made of different units
ranging from one day to sixty-three thousand years. Using the Long Count, the Maya reckoned time
in the millions of years. Thus every single day of the Maya year served
a specific sacred function defined in relation to Venus, which mattered in Mayan astrology
and medicine; and gave the average person a useful sense of time, for example in relation
to the harvest; and also answered the question “when are we?” accurately across literally millions of years. Perhaps no other people in human history have
cultivated such a complete understanding of time. And this isn’t just history. In Guatemala, there are Mayan priests called
Day Keepers who still keep the sacred calendar. And you can buy tzolkins in your local mini-mart. Thanks Thought Bubble. The Maya developed a writing system of hundreds
of square glyphs depicting natural elements such as jaguars, fish, and people. These carry both symbolic and phonetic meanings. That is, they can indicate sounds and directly
represent ideas. The complexity of the system points to a priest–scribe
caste. And there was an academy for them at Mayapán. From the few Mayan codices that remain, we
know that the scribes determined the lunar month to three decimal places and predicted
eclipses. They also actively undertook research to improve
the accuracy of their tables, improving their understanding of Venus’s movements over
time. They may have worked on astronomical tables
for Mars, Mercury, and Jupiter as well. Why did the Maya undertake a long-term research
program about the planets? We don’t know for sure, but we know they
had a complex astrological system that generated prophecies by correlating the positions of
Venus and other heavenly bodies with historical events. With this system, the Maya coordinated military
campaigns and how your individual daily life would work out… and what would happen millions
of years in the future. You know, small stuff. How do you build all of those temples to Venus? You need a lot of people. In pre-industrial times, that meant you needed
good farmers. In addition to swidden or shifting agriculture,
the Maya also practiced intensive cultivation of crops
such as maize, sunflower, cotton, chiles, chocolate, and vanilla using irrigation. They domesticated dogs and ducks, and penned
up wild turkeys and deer. Is agriculture a science? It definitely encompasses lots of knowledge-work,
including crop improvement and the management of large-scale production systems involving
canals and multiple harvests. In fact, historians are only today coming
to understand just how densely populated the Mayan world was. Central America is tropical, so many Mayan
ruins lie buried underneath the forest. But recent archaeological evidence uncovered
using LiDAR—light detection and ranging—at the metropolis of Tikal, in what is now Guatemala,
has shown that Mayan civilization was perhaps three times as populous as previously thought. By the way, LiDAR a good example of how modern
science can help us understand history, including the history of science. Without the wheel or the horse, the Maya cities
were for a while united in a true hydraulic empire. Maya civilization was not only much larger
than, say, the equivalent one in medieval England, but on the same scale as the great
dynasties of medieval China. Mayan culture came under stress in CE 800,
and the Long Count fell into disuse after 1200. The fragility of the Mayan food system probably
played a role in collapse. Deforestation to make lime for stucco, or
plaster for decoration, may have played a role in changing rainfall patterns, leading
to famines. Then, after 1500, Spanish genocide definitively
crushed high Mayan culture. The 260-day sacred tzolkin persisted, but
the Maya didn’t maintain a class of astronomer–priests. After the decline of the Mayan states but
before the arrival of the Spanish, tribes from what is now northern Mexico moved south
and established new kingdoms. The largest group of peoples who settled in
central Mexico were the Nahuas. The Nahuas called the Aztecs were the great
builders of central Mexico. They planned the great capital of Tenochtitlán in 1325, on Lake Texcoco, and this city is still around: you might know
it as Ciudad de México, or Mexico City. Building a big stone city on top of a lake
and growing enough food for its citizens involved a lot of hydraulic engineering. The Aztecs created a system of canals, floodgates,
and aqueducts. They used dikes to separate fresh and saltwater. This allowed them to practice intensive lake-marsh
agriculture, growing maize, amaranth, fish, and ducks. In this way, Tenochtitlán supported a population
of maybe three hundred thousand. Here, the Aztecs supported a full-time priest
caste, as well as a large army and many merchants. Aztec bureaucracy included tax collection,
judiciary system, and censuses. The Aztecs used the 52-year Mayan Calendar
Round but aligned their great temple with the setting sun, not Venus. And the Aztecs built other buildings on equinoctial
lines—or the lines along which the plane of Earth’s equator passes through the center
of the Sun’s disk, once in the spring and once in the fall. The Aztecs collected a wealth of botanical
and medical knowledge, maintained by priests who also served as astrologers. They believed in a complicated humoral system
that linked plants, the human body, and the heavens. Which was oddly similar to the Greco-Roman-Islamicate
one we’ll talk about in a few episodes. Aztec healers seem to have been specialists,
focusing either on surgery, bloodletting, childbirth, creating herbal drugs, or treating
sick turkeys. Aztec physicians had an extensive anatomical
lexicon. They even treated dandruff! No wonder Aztec life expectancy exceeded that
of the Spanish colonizers. Like the Mesoamericans, the people of South
America traded widely. Very widely: a new genetic study of sweet
potatoes shows that Polynesians traveled to the Americas around CE 1000 at least once,
traded for these vegetables, and then possibly came back. They may have also introduced chickens to
the Americas ahead of the Europeans. The South Americans forged empires, featuring
monumental stonework and carefully planned agriculture. The Inka developed an empire in the Andes
Mountains from roughly CE 1100 until the Spanish conquest. The most famous Inkan site is Machu Pichu,
in what is now Peru. This city of polished, carefully fitted stone
was built around 1450… on the top of a mountain. The Inkan state involved tax and census records,
standard measures, medical specialists, and astronomical and calendric data recorded into
the very architecture of their cities. But, unlike the other original empires, no writing system. This makes the story of Incan knowledge making, difficult to recover. The Inka did, however, use a sophisticated
system of tying strings of knots, called khipu to keep records. Khipu used a decimal system and allowed the
Inka to share data related to taxes, the census, the calendar, and military organization… And the khipu might have worked a bit like
a writing system, too, at least some of the time. Just as linguists are still decoding the hieroglyphs
of the Maya, researchers are still trying to understand just what the khipu mean. In fact, the latest breakthrough, linking
khipu record-keeping to a colonial-era Spanish census, was made by an undergraduate! The Spanish and other colonizers devastated cultures native to the Americas. Reducing the complexity of thousands of years of history into a small number of paper sources and a few dozen monumental stone buildings and artworks. Nature reclaimed entire cities, and historians
are left to scratch their heads. Many people of Mayan, Aztec, and Inkan heritage
are alive today, but the Spanish genocide created a decisive break with ancient Mayan,
Aztec, and Inkan civilizations, distinct from those of Europe and elsewhere. Next time—we’ll explore the infrastructural
engineering with the ancient Romans. Crash Course History of Science is filmed
in the Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney studio in Missoula, Montana and it’s made with the help of all
this nice people and our animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production. If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly
with us, you can check out some of our other channels like Nature League, Sexplanations,
and Scishow. And, if you’d like to keep Crash Course
free for everybody, forever, you can support the series at Patreon; a crowdfunding platform
that allows you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making
Crash Course possible with their continued support.


  • Britney Thorns says:

    That poor undergrad.

  • Pierre Pagé says:

    why #4 got deleted ?

  • Simon Jensen says:

    Damn Hank. Button that collar!

  • Josh Greening says:

    where is #4????

  • Superior Lancers says:

    vague year…. sounds like Vaegirs. lol

  • Lee Haber says:

    Your map at 2:35 has 'El Salvador' where 'Honduras' should be

  • Memo Arango says:

    Thank you for making a video on the Americas and their Native Inhabitants!

  • Amerhomsxman Amerhomsxman says:

    You be so good channal if make some other language translation

  • zehh172 says:

    Spain did nothing wrong

  • Christopher Ramirez says:

    We are doomed to wonder the history of mesoamerica because of the spanish and conquerers egos.

  • Ashish Gupta says:

    It's interesting that Mayans used base 20 instead of base 10

  • XanderGo says:

    gotta get a better Central America map next time, you know, like one that includes Honduras instead of having El Salvador twice

  • Nikolay Bakalov says:

    The map shown @2:36 is wrong. Honduras/El Salvador messed up

  • BaneLoki says:

    Where did episode 4 go?

  • Teaching and Learning Online says:

    My husband got a Masters in History by taking Duke University's then history of science curriculum back in the late 1980s/early 1990s and I got to doctoral candidacy (then we both went back to psych and got our PhDs in psych), anyhow we're big fans of history of science and you're doing a great job, and great to see a history of science that's really diversified since we were at Duke. How cool! By the way, what happened episode #4?

  • Luke Zuzga says:

    CrashCourse, if we slowed it a bit and did a bit more mathematical things, why go to school. At least K-12.

  • Michelle Stoa Evertsson says:

    Why are no 5 and 6 in the playlist removed?

  • Yonatan Lopez says:

    Bro in 2:33 you have Honduras names as El Salvador. Hondurans and Salvadorans are not the same

  • Mario Rafael says:

    Hank the Map is wrong El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America the only one that doesn't have a coast in the Altantic. So it's the opposite Honduras is where El Salvador was labeled. Greetings from the shithole country of El Salvador and DFTB.

  • Noah Webster says:

    So episode 4 got deleted, does anyone know why?

  • Azraie Ruslim says:

    Europeans, right?

  • miguel rosario says:

    Thank you Crash course
    I love history
    And I love scince in same time

  • o_o says:

    "You're welcome for all the best foods"
    – Mexico

  • The Path To Knowledge says:

    Hank Zero was founded in India by AryaBhatta

  • oldcowbb says:

    i don't know why i though i was watching CC mythology midway

  • Martin Kunev says:

    CE1000? Yep, they knew about christ all along.

  • tiowey says:

    WHY IS THE SOUND SO BAD?!! On other videos in other series, there is no irritating echo or reverb, why did y'all spend all this money on animation, research and salries and overlook how bad the sound is??!! good content but it's hard to listen to it, PLEASE FIX! thank you

  • After Skool says:

    7.7 million subs. Incredible content. Why do your most recent uploads have low views?

  • Intescy Avenger says:

    Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition!
    Aka Spain kills a few million people in the name of Lord o mighty and because dues veult!

  • Joshua Coronel says:

    3:24 the prediction was December 21st, 2012 not December 23rd

  • HugoFauzi says:

    The map in 2:31 is wrong you put "El Salvador" in what is actually Honduras.

  • Pablo Callizo says:

    you forgot to mention the only culture that is still influential until today: the Guaraníes

  • daedra40 says:

    Shame on brutal colonizers.

  • Brian Hutzell says:

    When I was growing up and going to school, American history classes always began with Columbus. Everything that happened in the Americas prior to the Columbian Exchange has always been something of a mystery to me. I’m glad you’ve dedicated at least a little slice of this course to the cultures who were on the continents before 1492. Two books on my To Read list are "1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus" and "1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created," both by Charles C. Mann. Has anyone here read them? If so, what did you think? I’ve heard rumors that the Oxford History of the United States series will eventually include a book on Pre-Columbian America, but I have not heard anything definite about it.

  • napo1174 says:

    The map at 2:31 is wrong. Honduras has been replaced by El Salvador.

  • alessandra padilla agurcia says:

    the maps i wrong, it names el salvador were it should be honduras

  • Issac newton says:

    the "najuas" hahahha im dead lol………. "na-oo-as"

  • jacob Fertleman says:

    Do one about south America and Africa

  • Joel R Montfort says:

    Inca with a k?

  • Barton Mahaffey says:

    The map of the Maya at 2:31 has Honduras labeled as El Salvador.

  • Michael Tkaczevski says:

    Nuh-HOO-uh?! lmao, bro, it's "Na-wa"
    great episode love you guys

  • Juandiego Calero says:

    Great video but…the mayan calendar is wrong…that is the mexica calendar

  • George Washington says:

    Lucoa is best dragon

  • Aldo Ojeda says:

    3:46 that's Aztec, not Mayan.

  • Brian Colson says:

    Hank is starting to look more like John

  • Kevin Chan says:

    Can you actually buy a Tzolkin at a minimart in Guatemala?

  • faithnoelle5 says:

    whos that undergraduate

  • Alexis Castro Robles says:

    Big typo hehe. You put two countries as 'El Salvador' in your map. The small one is correct but the big one is not correct. It's Honduras!

  • Benjie Leshansky says:

    Of course all of these Mesoamerican civilizations also had slavery, but let's not bring it up here so we can single out the Romans next episode for their slave trade and make it seem like an inherently Western practice.

  • Soy Yoli says:

    I'd love to see a crash course about mexican and latinamerican history, I think it would help to build more understanding among americans (and by americans I mean everyone that lives on the continent).

  • Gabriel Bran says:

    At no point did the Maya believe the world would end in 2012, that is a western world misconception. Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then – just as your calendar begins again on January 1 – another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

  • Demetrius Botyuk says:

    Could khipu be a system of storing information like in computer programming?

  • Victor Von Void says:

    You guys put an Aztec calendar in the Mayan section

  • Barbara Debel says:

    El CONTINENTE se llama AMERICA no "the americas"

  • Arief Rakhman says:

    Damn Spaniards

  • harry cuff says:

    D §

  • Sophi XRU says:

    I wont comment the Nahua pronunciation thing, but I'll say that the last "e" in "codices" is pronounced like the "e" in "cent".
    Chichen Itza was almost perfect, just lacking the emphasis in the last "a"

  • ciervo42 says:

    Couldn’t help but noticing the inaccuracy at 3:46 since that Calendar Face is Aztec, not Maya. Such a common misconception :/

  • Daniel Mendez says:

    Nahuas is pronounced like nah-wahs 👍

  • Entdecker says:

    These videos have gotten better. In the Presocratic video you claimed that "written sources make history possible," and proceeded to give a poor Great Man history. I still have my critiques, but now you have at least dismissed the idea that historians need written records to do history. That's something.

  • Reno learns! says:

    Mexican here.
    I need to point out a mistake. The "mayan calendar" is not the calendar the mayans used. The graphics here are from the "Piedra del sol" ("Sun's stone") a Mexica calendar (a civilization from the center of mesoamerica)

  • Bogdan Dumitrescu says:

    trust crashcourse to grab every small opportunity to bash the europeans, either by underselling their accomplishments or by overselling those of the less lucky civilisations

  • ParoAcharya1860 says:

    this is like history

  • Nisha Pan says:

    Do you have the source of the LiDAR project? I would like to check that out!

  • green bastard says:

    The plagues Europeans brought caused the destruction of American Civilizations long before the imperialists genocide the remaining populous. Hence why they underestimated the population by a significant margin, because they allready killed em before they killed em.

  • CelestialVulpes says:

    It is NOT NA WHO Archs

  • Barbara Debel says:

    El CONTINENTE se llama AMERICA no "the americas" ignorante

  • Minaam Qamar says:

    I wonder why you dont see any spanish people in the comments section objecting to the term 'Spanish Genocide'.

  • CornHub Premium says:

    Actually the world ended in 2012 and the simulation started

  • Creamofthecrop says:

    Nahua is pronounced /na.wa/ not /

  • Spike says:

    What Spanish genocide? It was the Tlaxcaltecas, Xochimilcas… who defeated the Aztecs. Yes, they were allied with Cortez and his 500 Conquistadores against the, conservatively, 25, 000 Aztecs. Read up on the Laws of Burgos. The history of New Spain is very different to the history of the 13 Colonies.

    Mayan & Olmec civilizations were long gone before the Conquistadores.

  • Yesica Alejandra says:

    Thank you for calling it Spanish genocide instead of ‘discovery’ or ‘encounter’.

  • Katherine Albee says:

    With so many other agricultural societies who also observed the stars and depended on the harvests, why were the Americans so uniquely interested in time?

  • BeethovensCunt says:

    Is there a source for the claim, that aztec life expectancy was higher then thise of the spanish conquerors?

  • mdiem says:

    The little woo-woo sound between paragraphs is kinda annoying.

  • jesusfakincraist says:

    Fun fact: while Spaniards mixed with the natives since at least Cortés, giving way to "mestizos", interracial marriage was forbidden in the US till 1961. Ever wondered why there is so much people in central and south America and so few in the North?

    There is no denying of the brutality of history, but North Americans should be careful when accusing others of genocide.

    Also, strange that there is no mention to conflict and violence between American empires, which is what explains the conquest. Otherwise, cool program and wonderful channel!

  • Ko Chi says:

    After twelve minutes,I just forgot everything said at the video. It’s so many contents in Maya, Inca,Aztec culture

  • Jomari Roxas says:

    So glad you uses BCE/CE instead of BC/AD

  • Rakanna says:

    Is it weird that this is what I play to my baby in utero?

  • Wilfredo Santamaria says:

    the map that includes central america is inaccurate it labels "honduras" incorrectly as "el salvador" around the 2:30 mark

  • Liam Jones says:

    Just noticing that at 10:30 in the video he spells the Inca "Inka", all though i really love the video

  • Brick Stonesonn says:

    The thought that records about mesoamerican civilizations themselves we’re destroyed makes me wince as much as the thought that the library of alexandria burnt down.

  • CSHallo says:

    Y'all should backtrack and do a segment on Polynesian navigational sciences and supporting knowledge bases.

  • Yana Espadilla says:

    2:57 he's so enthusiastic about this Crash Course and I'm loving it

  • Jade de Milo says:

    Spanish Empire is truly a destroyer. Here in the Philippines, we have also lost a lot of our ancient knowledge because of them. They destroyed a lot of our documents written in an ancient script, demonized our practices, and left our knowledge about our precolonial past in fragments. Perhaps, a form of "cultural cleansing" on their part.

  • spaceb0b says:

    Thought Cafe’s brilliant animations disappear far too quickly to appreciate their depth of creativity!

  • speed draws says:

    Suppose to be studying for my ethics class… 6 episodes deep into this crash course playlist.

  • Mad Monkee says:

    "A mathematics" Now there's a word combination that makes no sense. singular marker + plural noun = confusion and nonsense.

  • lucky1adrastus says:

    Very good. One correction though: the Maya did not cultivate vanilla. It was exclusively grown by the Totonac peoples of west-central Mexico until the Spanish arrived.

  • Chris K says:

    Nice, nice to see you didn't forget the pre columbus Americas or the East

  • Andrew Hundt says:

    Do they have citations somewhere?

  • Jai Parwani says:

    Hindustani invented number 0

  • Barbara Debel says:

    El CONTINENTE se llama AMERICA no "americas" IDIOTAS

  • Zaid says:

    What is thyme and how do we measure it

    Thyme is a vegetable. Quantities of thyme are mostly measured in cups, kilos, pounds, and grams

  • Pokemoneuro says:

    And everything is lost… So sad, all of this is so interesting

  • joe allen says:

    you create the impression of some kind of pre-columbian utopia when the mesoamericans practiced slavery, human sacrifice and weren't more virtuous than their conquerors. For a scientist, you sure get preachy.

  • D El says:

    2000 bce to 1600 ce? I googled Olmec civilization and couldn't find anything saying they lasted nearly that long, like 400 bc at best.

  • iateaplumandifeelweird says:

    If China hadn't discovered gunpowder by accident, we'd be living in a different world – possibly a world that has the Inca, Maya, and Aztec nations in it.

  • Manraj Singh says:

    oh my god

  • Augustus McGovern says:

    I really have to point this out that you said around 8 minutes that they did not keep a calendar class to keep track. I would have to beg to differ insofar as if died out of 10 people are dead they did not have the resources of people or teachers to maintain all of their classical positions. The way you categorize it seems to make it by choice bank made. I think it was a situation they found themselves and that they had to deal with. In other words it was not by choice! I understand you try not to be hyperbolic but the outcome of the genocide does not fall into the definition of hyperbole, merely the definition of fact.

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