March 18, 2006
A good and not too common critique
against my work is the following: If the end of the 13th Baktun was
so important for the Maya, then why is there so very little in the
way of recorded statements concerning what they thought about it?
Similarly, of all the Long Count dates preserved in the
archaeological record, why are there only one or two that could be
construed as referring directly to the 2012 end date?
When I identify the evidence that does
relate to what the ancient Maya “said” or “believed” about 2012,
critics will probably dismiss it as secondary evidence that can’t be
allowed. But there would be a double-standard in such a dismissal,
as the following explanation should make clear.
Although this is a possibility, it would be highly
unlikely, since the Mesoamerican calendar was intimately involved
with religious beliefs about the inviolable sequence of sacred days
and deities. In the manuscript tradition of the Yucatan, Long Count
dating via the Katun prophecies seems to have continued up to the
time of the Conquest.
Scholars now know, via the established 584283 correlation, that this 13-baktun period began on 0.0.0.0.1, August 12, 3114 BC and will end on 126.96.36.199.0, December 21, 2012 AD. We should note right away that the 2012 cycle ending date is a solstice date.
This indicates that the early Maya creators of the Long Count system — those who inaugurated it and fixed its placement in real time — must have intended the end date to target the December solstice. This is an important indicator, because then we can strongly suspect that the cycle ending was not just a mathematical consequence of the beginning date; no, some kind of intentionality is very likely.
The alternative explanation is
“coincidence.” Mayan scholars have been almost universally unwilling
to consider this strange circumstance as a vector for deeper
inquiry. Instead, they have often, incredibly, dismissed it as a
It contains migration legends as well as cosmological beliefs about the World Ages. The transformations of previous World Ages are briefly sketched, and great attention is given to the demise of a World Age ruler named Seven Macaw, and the culture heroes who would succeed him by reinstating their father, One Hunahpu.
As Dennis Tedlock showed, the mytho-cosmic topography of these events corresponds to astronomical features and processes scheduled by the sacred 260-day calendar. The Creation Myth of the Hero Twins also involved the sacred ballgame, journeys to the underworld, and events to occur at the end of the World Age.
Whether this is a previous World Age or
the current World Age is unclear and, ultimately, irrelevant. In
folkloric narratives of the Maya, time is mythic time; the message
is perennial and the events “happen in” or “apply to” the past,
present, and future. In other words, the teachings and beliefs
recorded in the Popol Vuh reveal what the Maya believed about the
transition between World Ages. They reveal insights and beliefs
about cycle endings. As such, they apply to the end of the 13-Baktun
Her assertion was seized upon by the media as long ago as 1997 (Newsweek, February 17th issue), but the logic is paper thin, and I treated it thoroughly in an appendix to my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. Those interesting in doing this entire topic justice must be willing to avail themselves of clear, thorough, and careful analysis of motives and content.
Paradoxically, that kind of cogent
analysis is not offered by academes themselves, who often do not
evince an understanding of what they are quoted as authorities on;
for example, Schele professed to unquestioningly follow her
mentor Floyd Lounsbury on calendar correlation issues, and
also professed to be an inept numbers person.]
For example, Maya epigraphers made progress in deciphering the hieroglyphs because they took clues from modern Mayan linguistics, from modern phonology, from modern and ancient iconography, and from ethnographic data on Mayan concepts. These sources are all SECONDARY to using the internal evidence within the hieroglyphic texts themselves. But they were helpful in making breakthroughs. Similarly, archaeoastronomers look at a site like Uaxactun and find central, prominent, key alignments to the sunrise positions on the equinoxes and solstices.
They thereby conclude that the temple builders at Uaxactun were aware of these solar quarter-positions and considered them important. Notice that the archaeologists did not find hieroglyphic texts stating, “We the builders of Uaxactun consider the equinoxes and solstices to be important.”
No, but the
evidence is there, secondarily. So, if we can allow such a
methodology in these other realms of Mayan studies, then how can we
not allow it when it comes to understanding what the Maya thought
Those monuments, and the three primary monument groups, are oriented to the solar horizons in specific, meaningful ways. For example, the December solstice sunrise position is pointed to by the lengthwise axis of the Izapan ballcourt. The ballcourt’s monuments depict events in the stories of Seven Macaw, the Hero Twins, and the resurrection of their father, One Hunahpu.
These are stone “documents” and “statements” that are as valuable for understanding the Mayan World Age doctrine, and therefore 2012, as any Rosetta stone clearly spelling things out. Perhaps more so, because the site and monuments of Izapa are integrated in a unified paradigm that touches upon mythology, prophecy, religion, and astronomy.
In fact, because of this, the Izapan monumental corpus IS a Rosetta stone, since it integrates different representational "languages" into a unified whole; it shows how we can cross-reference symbols and motifs from different representational categories used by the Maya (mythology, prophecy, religion, and astronomy).
We should not try to fit the data into a
preconceived methodology, but should instead learn how to see the
data for its full import and worth, to see the message that was
intentionally put there by its creators. (Please see my brief
summaries of Izapan monuments and cosmology,
The Classic Period 188.8.131.52.0 dates from Coba and Quirigua were carved seven or eight centuries after the first Long Count dates appear (cycle 7 dates, 1st century BC). The preoccupations of the Maya Classic Period were, in general, far removed from the activities of the Izapans.
Although it seems that several Izapan innovations were centralized within institutions adopted into Mayan civilization (e.g., the Creation Myth and the Long Count), we should suspect that the core insights encoded into those traditions could easily have been layered over with reinterpretations, redactions, modifications, and localized socio-political agendas.
This is exactly what happened to Christianity, when early gnostic and hermetic aspects were occluded and even rejected at the Council of Nicea. So, although the core galactic references remain embedded in the Mayan ballgame and the Creation Myth, the import of those references for the Classic Maya may have been severely muted.
The galactic alignment references may
have been as relevant to the Classic Maya as the visionary ascent of
the Poimandres was to a ninth-century Pope. In this sense, the
recovery of early Christian hermetic texts in the 1940s (the
“Nag Hammadi” library) was as revolutionary and upsetting
establishment Christianity as the reintegration of the core
teachings at Izapa might be to our picture of Classic (and modern)