The problem is this notion has permeated to academia.
Denying it is useless — people rely on how Hollywood portrays ancient cultures, especially Ancient Mexico. One can imagine scared natives running amok as the solar eclipse (for some reason it is more cinematic that lunar eclipses) unfolds above a blood-drenched pyramid. The problem is this notion has permeated to academia, not surprisingly if you ask me, having a dangerously distorted of what people in this side of the pond think and acted in general. So, a Vanderbilt undergraduate or a University of Texas graduate has this notions, man, were are doomed. And maybe modern-day Mexicans (and Central Americans) are the ones that should be running amok in utter freight — after all, these are the guys writing our history.
Yes, there were books.
To the point — indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America did know about solar (and lunar) eclipses. The knew about them so much that they were obsessed about them, yes, though not in a sanguinary Mel Gibson-esque sort of way. They created complex calculations (without calculators, by the way) that they were able to predict celestial occurrences. Not only eclipses were predicted and recorded (no, not with a camera, on books — yes, there were books) for further study, but also Venus transitions, planetary movements, and perhaps even supernovas.
Many books were burned… how much more interesting data might have been lost.
Codex Dresden is a Maya document where such cosmic happenings were plotted. Bear in mind many books were burned by the Hispanics (how did you figure Torquemada and his Spanish Inquisition gained its foul notoriety). If the few books (pre-conquest and during conquest) talk about such things, how much more interesting data might have been lost not only in the Maya jungles, but also in the Mexican high plains, or the Mexican west coast (in Nayarit there are ruins of cities with amazing cosmic alignments). Actually a new line of thought (which may be the correct) has begun to surface where the so-called gods and goddesses were in fact present in nature in the form of rain, as the Sun, or as a constellation. This intensifies when you see the “devilish” works of the ancients by portraying the sun and the moon copulating — it is simple portrayal of astronomical phenomena (or earth-bound processes in the case of other “gods”)
Temples, widely known as pyramids, were erected in some cases as astronomical clocks like the main pyramid (dubbed El Castillo) in Chichen Itza. Most pyramids were like that. While mosques and cathedrals have served to orient themselves to a place, in Mexico and Central America they were in tune with the whole cosmic machinery. In other cases temples, called teocalli in Nahuatl or ku in Maya, recreated (and continue to recreate — at least as ruins) fixed phenomena in the skies.
These scientists worked in cities inside the pine-filled forests of Central Mexico, or near the Caribbean Sea.
Suddenly the notion of screaming barefoot natives begins to disappear. To gain such knowledge there had to be scientists — and scientists not only work in neat white labs that look like something out of Steve Job’s Apple marketing. These scientists worked in cities inside the pine-filled forests of Central Mexico, or near the Caribbean Sea. And in order to have scientists, there had to be learning institutions, established to the continuation of science. May I remind you that Astronomy is a science (just as photography and video editing is art).
People already had knowledge of eclipses.
So what happened when a visually awe stricking solar eclipse occurred over the skies of North and Central America. Well, for one people were NOT running because they already had knowledge of such eclipse for years, even generations like in the case of the Maya. Although… probably ancient astronomers where stumbling with their artifacts to study the event and amatl paper to take notes (there was no Instagram to upload it immediately, but neither in Europe or Middle East). We have accounts of superstitions with eclipses and shooting stars, and still this were not generally regarded. Just as today people continue to have superstitions, and yet we all understand the basics of earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes, and hurricanes.
In my novel, that is why I don’t focus on such things, because eclipses were as normal as for us nowadays.