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The Mayan's astronomical observations were outstanding given the tools they had, and investigations of the Dresden codex published by Harvey and Victoria Bricker in 1983 predicted the July 11th, 1991 eclipse according to the Mayan text. Given that the Mayan's didn't have true model of the mechanics and scale of the solar system, could they have done this just with extrapolations from their observations? Lunar eclipse, sure, but I'm not familiar enough with the variables you would need to know in order to predict a solar eclipse 500 years ahead of time to know if it would have actually been possible. The publication says it is so, but in 1983 modern astronomers could predict the 1991 eclipse and it would have been easily accessible knowledge so you wonder if the Brickers could have set out looking so hard for something that they saw it. There are certainly other debates over interpretations of the meanings in the codex so maybe, you know, are they are getting too much credit? But maybe it's totally legitimate interpretation, I can't read Mayan hieroglyphics and interested to know.

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  • $\begingroup$ It depends on the exact meaning of the word "predict". If the statement that an eclipse is "likely to occur somewhere on the Earth during such and such year" is called prediction, then they probably could "predict". $\endgroup$ – Alexandre Eremenko Jan 2 '18 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ Plenty of comments appear in Google scholar. From a cursory reading I gather that they had a cycle of some 30 years which after a few turns needed reajustment; without correction its precision detreriorates but after many many turns it falls back in line (like a systematically retarding clock which once in a while is exact). $\endgroup$ – sand1 Jan 2 '18 at 22:00
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Yes, they really predicted the 1991 solar eclipse. I suggest that you read Classic Maya Prediction of Solar Eclipses, by Harvey M. Bricker and Victoria R. Bricker, together with comments and replies (Current Anthropology, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Feb., 1983), pp. 1–23).

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    $\begingroup$ Thank-you! Having now read the Bricker paper and comments (available on jstor.org), it seems that the Mayan's did not predict 1991 eclipse. Although their counting of the eclipse cycle now looks reasonable to me in terms of short term predicting, it was the Brickers actually who used their interpretation of the codex to make the 1991 "prediction". They attribute parts of the text as instructions for correcting over time but it is not entirely convincing. This is pointed out in the comments by the Mathematician (and fellow Mayan scholar) Closs as a "Modern construct of non-Maya origin". $\endgroup$ – Ben Storey Jan 3 '18 at 6:57
  • $\begingroup$ @BenStorey Then I will read the comments carefully, in order to form my own opinion. $\endgroup$ – José Carlos Santos Jan 3 '18 at 7:13

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