We always tend to think of people from the distant past as members of a strange, alien species... but the discovery of this Mayan astronomy workshop really brings home how similar all we humans are.

On an adjacent wall are numbers indicating four time spans from roughly 935 to 6,700 years. It's not clear what they represent, but maybe the scribes were doing calculations that combined observations from important astronomical events like the movements of Mars, Venus and the moon, the researchers said.

Why bother to do that? Maybe the scribes were "geeks ... who just got carried away with doing these kinds of computations and calculations, and probably did them far beyond the needs of ordinary society," Aveni suggested.

Experts unconnected with the discovery said it was a significant advance.

"It's really a wonderful surprise," said Simon Martin, co-curator of an exhibit about the Mayan calendar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

While the results of the scribes' work were known from carvings on monuments, "we've never really been able to identify a working space, or how they actually went about things," Martin said.

I bet these Mayan astronomy geeks would have fit right in with my modern engineer friends.

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