|What Maya Prediction?|
The Maya actually never made a single prediction related to an apocalypse, but it is claimed by 2012 proponents that the Maya could predict future events. The accuracy of this claim appears to hinge on the type of prediction that is claimed. One problem with proponents is that they generally fail to cite references, so that the claims of various predictions being made are difficult to impossible to reference and check.
Rohaan Solare1 stakes out a definitive position, stating:
Contrary to popular understanding, the ancient Meso-Americans, be they Aztec or Maya or any other group, left no oral or written “prophecy” record about what would or could happen on or about the year 2012 other than a great age of 5125 years would end and another commence.2
Mayanism and the apocalypse
As we said on the Why 2012? page, the the idea of an apocalyptic event on December 21st, 2012 is intimately tied to the Mayanism belief system. This belief system assigns the Maya culture with almost god-like properties. Some of the things that are frequently claimed are that the Maya invented the Mesoamerican calendar, that they understood the precession of the equinoxes, and that they made predictions (or prophecies) which have come true. Since the belief system of Mayanism relies heavily on the calendar of the Maya, an examination of that calendar should help us determine the accuracy of some of these claims.
The first book to suggest that end of the Long Count calendar might have apocalyptic implications was The Maya (1966) by Michael D. Coe,3 in which he said:
There is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [baktun]. Thus … our present universe … [would] be annihilated on December 23, 2012, when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.
This apocalyptic interpretation of the Long Count calendar end-date is widely disputed, with most scholars insisting that it simply marks a resetting of the calendar to Baktun 220.127.116.11.0.4
Here is an example you can try: Begin counting seconds. Note what happens at 100 seconds. Is that moment more or less significant than any other moment? What about 1000 seconds?
A final word of caution about Mayanism: before we ascribe superior knowledge and insight to the Maya, we should carefully examine their entire culture. If we do so, we learn that the Maya had many beliefs that we find ridiculous today. For example, that if a child is born during the Uyaeb, it would be doomed to a miserable life. The Maya also practiced ritual bloodletting and human sacrifice.5
It appears to be true that the Maya could predict certain astronomical events (such as eclipses and transits) but this skill is not unique to the Maya. The ancient Babylonians could make those predictions as well, and did so much earlier than the Maya. The MUL.APIN lists the names of 66 stars and constellations and further gives a number of indications, such as rising, setting and culmination dates, and it dates to 1000 BC.6
What the inscriptions actually say
We are told7 that the only ancient monument that references the "end date" 13 Baktun8 is the Tortuguero Monument 6. On the Maya Decipherment blog of Dr. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin, Stephen Houston, a well-known epigrapher gives us his most recent thoughts on it, saying:
In 1996, Stuart and I discussed part of the text on Tortuguero Monument 6, suggesting that, on 18.104.22.168.0 4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in, Julian Dec. 10, AD 2012, a god will “descend,” ye-ma or yemal, in what was held to be a nearly unique example of Classic-era prophecy. Why unique? …because when the Classic texts refer to the future, they typically encompass “impersonal temporal events that are safely predictable” (Houston and Stuart 1996:301, fn. 7)9
He then discusses some of the technical issues of deciphering Maya inscriptions, and concludes:
Whatever Monument 6 has to tell us pertains to the dedication of the building associated with the sculpture. It has nothing to do with prophecy or the supposed, dread events that await us in AD 2012. About that the Maya are notably silent…or, truth be told, a bit boring.10
Mark Van Stone, PhD with the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. has presented the most scholarly debunking of the so-called Maya prophecies I have ever seen. PDF copies of his PowerPoint presentation are online at the above link. His conclusions:
… current debate about 21 December 2012 results from contemporary confusion from projections, assumptions, and misunderstanding about the science and beliefs of several ancient cultures of the Americas.11
The 13.13.13….22.214.171.124.0.0 Long Count dates [of creation] imply that the Maya considered this Creation to be unique. Its enormous time spans (billions of billions of times longer ago than the Big Bang), will “never”again all line up to be all 13’s.12
The Palenque Maya did not expect 2012 to be the end of days. They calculate a piktun‐ending with a piktun of 20 bak’tuns. This could not happen if the bak’tun reset again after it reached 13.13
Some authors have claimed that the Maya understood the precession of the equinoxes, and that their long count calendar was deliberately designed to 'end' on the December solstice, 2012. As best we can tell, the evidence for this claim is that the long count calendar ends on the December solstice, 2012. Even that is in question, as Stephen Houston (above) places the 13 Baktun on December 10th! One might as well claim that the designers of the Gregorian calendar designed it so that January 1st, 2000 fell on a Saturday, therefore Saturday was of significant importance to them.
Mark Van Stone disputes the supposed importance of solstices and equinoxes:
When faced with a choice of an auspicious day on which to schedule an important event, Maya almost never chose a solstice or an equinox.14
The Maya track record as far as other events appears to be more subjective. For example one proponent claims that in 755 AD, Maya Priests prophesied that the total solar eclipse of July 11, 1991 would herald two life altering events for humankind - Cosmic Awareness and Earth Changes. While there was in fact an eclipse on that date,15 the other part of the prediction would appear to be a judgment call. However, they claim that this prediction was fulfilled by UFO sightings!
Misconceptions of the Maya
Regardless of the issues discussed above and on the maya calendar page, various authors of books promoting New Age, Mayanism and other mystical beliefs have proposed that the Maya predicted a catastrophic apocalypse at the end of the current long count16. There are a few problems with this.
First, mainstream Mayanist scholars consider this a gross misinterpretation. There is no evidence that the Maya thought anything was going to happen on this date (other than a big party):
Despite the publicity generated by the 2012 date, Susan Milbrath, curator of Latin American Art and Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, stated that "We [the archaeological community] have no record or knowledge that [the Maya] would think the world would come to an end" in 2012.
"For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. in Crystal River, Florida. To render December 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in."
"There will be another cycle," says E. Wyllys Andrews V, director of the Tulane University Middle American Research Institute (MARI). "We know the Maya thought there was one before this, and that implies they were comfortable with the idea of another one after this."17
We also note that this calendar is still being used by some cultures in the highlands of Guatemala! There are no reports of preparations for doomsday.
Second: The B’ak’tun date 126.96.36.199.0 is not the “end of the calendar” we’ve heard so much about. It is the end of a cycle of 144,000 days, or 394 solar years. It may or may not also be the end of a higher-order cycle. If one piktun is 13 baktuns, then the 2012 solstice is also the end of a cycle of 5125 years. If one piktun is 20 baktuns (as most scholars think) then the current cycle does not end in 2012. The calendar is mostly base-20, except in the second position, which clicks over to zero when it reaches 18.
Third: Some Maya inscriptions reference dates after 2012! What? Wait? How is that possible? Because, dear reader, the Maya Calendar also has four “rarely used” (which is not the same as “non-existent”) higher order cycles!
As mentioned in the Syntax section, there are also four rarely-used higher-order periods above the b’ak’tun: piktun, kalabtun, k’inchiltun, and alautun.
It is a matter of dispute whether the first piktun occurs after 13 or after 20 b’ak’tun. Most Mayanists think that in the majority of inscriptions, where only the last five Long Count positions are used, the count recycles at 13 b’ak’tuns, whereas, if longer cycles are used, the count continues to the end of the 20th b’ak’tun (b’ak’tun 19) before a piktun is registered. In the same way, the fact that a 13-katun cycle was used, didn’t negate the fact that there are 20 katuns in a b’ak’tun.18
In the book The Ancient Maya authors Sharer and Traxler19 lay out a simple table of the Maya calendar elements:
|Base Element||Next Element||Days||Solar Years (365.25 days)|
|20 K'in||1 winal||20||_|
|18 winal||1 tun||360||~1|
|20 tuns||1 k'atun||7,200||~19.7|
|20 k'atuns||1 bak'tun||144,000||~394.25|
|20 bak'tuns||1 piktun||2,880,000||~7885|
|20 piktuns||1 kalabtun||57,600,000||~157,700|
|20 kalabtuns||1 kinchiltun||1,152,000,000||~3,154,004|
|20 kinchiltuns||1 alawtun||23,040,000,000||~63,080,082|
So, according to these authors, we have not even reached the end of the current bak'tun cycle, and will not do so until the year 4772.
Other authors extend the calendar even further. Schele and Freidel20 contend that the current calendar does not 'end' until the day 188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.220.127.116.11.18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.0.0.0.0 ( counting from the theoretical end of the previous world in 3114 BC ). Each column is equal to twenty times its predecessor, so that date lies some 41,341,049,999,999,999,999,999,994,879 years in the future!
It should be noted here that there are several unanswered questions with regard to interpreting the Maya calendar dates, and that this is a field of ongoing research. It should also be noted that some authors hedge their bets when they talk about the date. It may be (according to both Argüelles and Jenkins) that 2012 is not a cataclysm after all, but the beginning of a ’spritual awakening’.21
What the Maya actually say
Apolinario Chile Pixtun is a Maya Indian elder, and he is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Maya calendar supposedly "running out" on Dec. 21, 2012. "I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff."22
In conclusion; We have shown that the majority of Mayanist scholars ( as opposed to proponents of Mayanism and the 2012 doomsday ) do not think that the 2012 date relates to a prediction of an apocalypse.