My friend is a Maya Archeologist and she sent me the following, which i share with you all:
Seems the whole “end of the world in 2012” brouhaha is stirring again with the upcoming release of the special effects disaster film, 2012. While topics on this blog are often meant to be pretty scholarly and technical, I thought it useful to offer a simple run-down of important points about what the ancient Maya really had to say — or not — about the “end” of their calendar.
Does the Maya calendar end in 2012?
No it doesn’t. What will happen is a recurrence, an anniversary of sorts, of a key mythological date in the distant past. The Maya wrote this as 184.108.40.206.0 in their “Long Count” calendar (an abbreviation of a much bigger number), which fell on August 11, 3114 B.C. (some correlations of the two calendars say August 13, but I don’t really care). This “creation date” was not the beginning of everything, however. Maya mythological texts tell us that plenty was happening long, long before this starting point of the current
era. On December 21, 2012 (some say December 23) we come again to a numerological recurrence of 220.127.116.11.0. The Long Count calendar continues well beyond this date, too. In fact, the numerology of the calendar demands that there will be other similar recurrences of this same date in the far distant future, on a scale of octillions of years. The scale of Maya time reckoning dwarfs anything in our own cosmology by many orders of magnitude.
What did the Maya say about 2012?
They actually said very little, if anything. Only one ancient inscription refers to the upcoming 18.104.22.168.0 date in 2012, from a now destroyed site named Tortuguero. The question we scholars have struggled with is whether the final few hieroglyphs of that text describe anything about what will happen. A few years ago I put forward a very tentative and incomplete reading of these damaged glyphs, including a possible use of a verb meaning “descend” and a name of a god, Bolon Yokte’. Much of it was iffy and remains so; I’m not sure I believe much of what I wrote back then. More recently my colleague Steve Houston
has pointed out the glyphs may not even pertain to that date anyway. So there’s considerable ambiguity just in the reading of the glyphs and the rhetorical structure of the Tortuguero passage
. What we can say with confidence is that the ancient Maya left no clear or definite record
about 2012 and its significance. There is certainly no ancient claim that the world or any part of it will come to an end.
Who came up with this crazy idea?
New Age hacks and, now, Hollywood producers. The idea can be traced largely back to the novelist and mystic named Frank Waters, who in the 1960s and 70s wrote a number of novels and cultural treatises on Native Americans of the American southwest, including his 1963 work, Book of the Hopi (he was not an anthropologist). One of Waters’ last works was Mexico
Mystique: The Coming Sixth Age of Consciousness (1975), an odd pastiche of Aztec and Maya philosophies wherein he proposed that the “end” of the calendar would somehow involve a transformation of world spiritual awareness. Waters’ ideas got picked up and expanded upon by Jose Arguelles in his insanely misguided but influential book The Mayan Factor: Path Beyond Technology (1987). Many different writers have followed with their own strange books
and essays on the “meaning” of 2012, mostly contradicting one another.
What about the astronomy?
The Maya were fine astronomers, but the 2012 date has little if anything to do with astronomy. Despite claims about the appearance of a “galactic alignment” in late December three years from now, modern scientific astronomers reject this notion pretty much out of hand. Besides, no ancient Maya text or artwork makes reference to anything of the kind.
What do the present-day Maya have to say about 2012?
Although the 260-day round of the ancient calendar system has survived in a few areas of highland Guatemala
, the 2012 date has nothing to it. It’s only associated with the Long Count, which ceased being used well before the conquest. So, any mention of 2012 by modern Maya peoples is probably an example of media or New Age influence.
So, in sum, what’s been widely circulated in the popular imagination about 2012 has little to do about true ancient Maya belief or notions of prophecy.
My brief comments will probably instigate even more endless 2012 discussion and debate, but I respectfully request that such exchanges be taken elsewhere. What more I have to say on the subject, mostly on the nature of the Maya calendar as a whole, will appear in my upcoming book on Maya time, to appear sometime next year.
on October 12, 2009 at 5:24 AM | Reply Stanley Guenter
One thing that I find interesting is that Tortuguero Monument 6 records that the day 4 Ahau 3 Kankin is the ending of 13 baktuns. It doesn’t say the end of 1 pictun, which one would expect if the Maya actually counted 13 baktuns as forming 1 pictun. I think this is quite important as the Maya, when talking about Period Endings, don’t relate the ending of smaller units; they invariably describe the PE as the ending of the highest unit that turned over on that date. Katun endings, for example, aren’t described as the ending of a tun, or a winal etc.
Given how regular this pattern is, I think we can state that the only Maya text that mentions 2012 not only does not describe it as the end of the world, and not only does not describe this date as the end of the Maya calendar, it doesn’t even describe this event as the end of the Maya baktun cycle. From Palenque ’s Temple of the Inscriptions we know that the scribes at that site counted 20 baktuns as forming a single
pictun and Tortuguero Monument 6 conforms to this calculation. There is thus, as far as I know, not a single
Maya text that indicates that 2012 is anything other than a normal “millenium” change for the Maya calendar. It isn’t even a point where the Maya calendar turns to 1 with a bunch of zeros after it.
Thus I think we can not only say that the Maya didn’t describe 2012 as the end of their calendar, we have evidence that it wasn’t even the mother of all Period Endings that 2012ers would have us believe. For that, the end of 1 pictun, we’ll have to wait another 2700 years.
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THERE ARE NO EVIDENCES THAT THE MAYA USED THE LONG COUNT AS A 5,126-YEAR “GREAT” CYCLE
Due to the mathematical principles underlying all Maya calendars, and particularly the Long Count, and since this system is based on twenty, it is not appropriate to say that a 5,126-year (13 Baktun) cycle was conceived by the Maya.
Some scholars interpreted the Long Count date recording this last creation out of its mythological context, and unwillingly generated a misinterpretation that is at the base of the whole problem. Mayanists in Mexico
, as Maricela Ayala and Laura Sotelo, among others, never joined the confusion. For the prominent Mexican scholar, Alfredo López Austin, specialist in Mesoamerican mythology, the issue always was clear. Myths are to be studied according to their structure, and in this case, the ancient Maya used a very poetic manner to represent “eternity”, illo tempore, the time of the gods, and to differentiate it from the time of man (winik in Maya), which runs in cycles of 20 (winal), for as it is still explained to apprentices today, man has ten fingers and ten toes to count.
The 13 Baktun creation date doesn´t stand alone in the myths, it is part of a series of cycles all closed at 13, a number related to sacredness, and which in these records have no mathematical value, thus symbolizing eternity, where “time doesn´t move”. The Long Count that started in 3114 B.C. which now runs registers the time of man, and it doesn´t end in 2012.
In the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque , king Pakal left a statement declaring that he would still be remembered when the first Piktun was to be reached, which will happen in the year 4772 A .D.
There are no evidences that the ancient Maya placed any importance on the year 2012.