Photos by babaktafreshi | This impressive Maya temple in Tikal is called the Great Jaguar, and you can hear the big cat if you spend enough time in this jungle at night. Protected in a national park in Guatemala, jaguars freely roam around the temples after dark, when tourists have departed. When I visited recently with special permission to document the site at night, the tropical sky had cleared after thunderstorms. Taurus (the bull) and the Pleiades star cluster (also known as the Seven Sisters) were rising above the 47-meter (154 feet) pyramid, which dates to 750 A.D. There are both old stories and new studies on the importance of the Pleiades to the Maya (swipe for a closer view). One myth is that the people of Tikal believed they came from Pleiades, and the seven important pyramids of the Grand Plaza in Tikal represent the pattern of Pleiades. There is no doubt that some Maya pyramids were built to reflect astronomical events, and from atop Tikal’s pyramids, perhaps ancient astronomers tracked the movements of celestial objects, keeping time for rituals and agriculture. The Maya calendar was one of the most advanced of the ancient world, thanks to astronomical observations. When Pleiades rises at sunset and is visible for the entire night in November, that’s when the dry season and harvesting begin. Tikal is one of the largest sites of Maya civilization, and at its peak was home to at least 60,000 Maya. Explore more of the world at night with me babaktafreshi.

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