Comments on the Maya Creation Date


Linda Schele, April 1996.

(posted at the Mesoamerican Archaeology Group online)


Note: A slightly earlier web post was addressed to Milo Rae Gardner and involved the calendar correlation issue. The original correspondence for this happened in 1994, which Schele alludes to in that post. I also received those same questions from Gardner in 1994 and responded to him. See and, and related links.


Linda Schele writes:

   To Steve Stearns:  You asked about the page of dates I put in "Maya Cosmos" and why I had 4 Ahaw 3 K'ank'in. I think a discussion of the dates and how the calendar works in these matters would be helpful.

        If of all, we associated 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u  with because we have a large number of texts (about 15) that record <tzutzah oxlahun pi> with the era event. Nikolai and I have written a "Texas Note" showing that the <pi> glyph (the double kawak sign and the bird with the hand on its lower jaw) is a word for a 'bundle.' That's why it shows up as the glyph for both 400-year and 20-year cycles.  The era date, therefore, corresponded to the "ended or closure of 13 bundles," but the size of the bundle is usually not specified. We take ithem to be bundles of 400-years.

        At Quirigua we have a lc notation of on Stela C and at Coba we have two lcs that have 20 units above bak'tun all set at 13. Furthermore, the lc dates from the TC and TFC tell us that the bak'tun count cycled from 13 to 1 because we have lcs of and These lc dates are essentially the count of days after the beginning of the era. On the other hand,  Lady Huntan's birth is written in an lc on the TC as, so that we know that the lc just before the era was in the 12th cycle.

        I suspect that the Maya thought of all of the other numbers in the huge Coba dates as having had accumulated 13 completed cycles, but no dates are written that would let us test this assumption. They cast dns that far into the past to reach calendar round dates, but they never wrote lc positions for the crs. Therefore, any lc further back that 13 bak'tuns before 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u is a modern reconstruction-- until we find one that the Maya themselves wrote in ancient times. Nevertheless, this data shows the way the numbers worked. After 4 ahaw 8 Kumk'u, "13" changed to "1" after the passage of 400 tuns, and dates in the last 400-year cycle before the era date were in the 13th cycle.

      If you add 13 bak'tuns to the same 4 Ahaw 8 Kumk'u, you get 4 Ahaw 3 K'ank'in. This is the famous 2012 date that everyone treats as the end of the world. Well, Pakal wrote something in the west panel of the Temple of Inscriptions that does not agree with this interpretation. I think you've probably worked both of the passages out yourself. In one passage he said explicitly that the 1st piktun will end on 10 Ahaw 13 Yaxk'in. Check it out. If you add 8,000 tuns to 4 Ahaw 8 K'ank'in you get 10 Ahaw 13 Yaxk'in. And notice that he recorded the ends of the nine k'atuns of his history, then the end of the current  k'atun 13, then the current bak'tun of 10, then the current piktun of 1. He was creating a symmetry of every larger cycles.

        But he went further. He added a long dn to connect his birth date ( 8 Ahaw 13 Pop) to the 80th cr anniversary of his accession. Furthermore,  he said that this date will be celebrated 8 days after the end of the 1st piktun.  If the 2012 date were a new era date, the count would have to start all over again with everything "zeroing"--that is, if it is to work the way the ancient Maya treated their era date.   According to Pakal, it will not "zero".

        But we can learn more from what he cause to be written. The numbers in the dn tells us that one must add 20 units of any cycle in this creation to click the next higher unit by one.  If you apply these principles to the Coba dates: that the lc number click from 13 to 1 in each place unit, and that 20 units of the lower place is required to accumulate 1 in the next higher one, then it will take 20 to the 20th power years (that's 142 with 36 zeros) to click all of the thirteens to one. I once figured it out and it will take about 142 nonillion years  [I did that from memory . . . so if you want to check it, please do. I discovered my computer can't do it in real integers. I had to do it by hand.].

      For me, Pakal's information is unequivocal evidence that they did not view the coming 4 Ahaw 3 K'ank'in as a world ending date, but rather just another terribly important date that would have been celebrated much like we are going to celebrate the millennium. I'm sure there would have been prophecies of doom just as there are now--but just as we contemplate that time will simply continue to 2001 etc (or we would not have Startrek and Starwars), so they contemplated that time would also continue in their concept of the world or Pakal would not have written what he did.

     The 80 cr anniversary is also a very special number and one of those things Floyd calls fortuitous beyond the bounds of expectation. The 80 Cr number is one critical to the Venus pages. It is an even number of tzolkins (5,840), of haabs (4,160), of Venus cycles (2,600), of the five Venus-8 haab cycle (2,920 *520), of the Grand Venus Round (37,960 *40) of the calendar rounds (18,960 * 80), and of the 520 day number (520 * 2,920) that tracks the lunar nodes. That the addition of this number to his accession hit just 8 days after the end of the first pictun must have tickled their fancy. The dn they wrote, however, does not tie his accession to the later date, but his birth. They managed to tie two birds to one dn.

     Playing with numbers like this was the primary way that the Maya structured the symmetries of time. Floyd first figured it out in this paper on contrived numbers. My graduate student Christopher Powell is finding out even more. He has especially investigated the way profound geometries fall out naturally of the process of using a cord to measure and to square space.

     The Maya had a magnificent and subtle system combining  numbers like these with the geometry of coming from the use of cords to measure the world. Combining these two system locked together the symmetries of time and space in a very special way. As other have noted, these same symmetries occur in the Borgia and the Vendobonensis so that it is probably a Mesoamerican way of understanding the world. Manipulating the numbers may have taken some learning, but the use of the cord was something that every farmer did when he measured his milpa or laid out a new house. If you have other questions, let me know.


Linda Schele



Comments from John Major Jenkins. December 5, 2014.

I've already responded to this, in a piece that was published as an appendix in my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012. The unabridged version has been online: But there are some further comments that can be made now with the perspective of years. Note that this Steve Stearns specfically asked about the 4 Ajaw 3 Kankin (2012) date "listed" in Maya Cosmos. But Schele never mentioned in her two letters the fact that the 2012 date (4 Ajaw 3 Kankin) is mentioned on Tortuguero Monument 6. This is a curious omission which certainly improves her case about the importance of Pakal's 20th Baktun reference. She must have known about it since it is listed in her 1982 book The Maya Verbs, and it is mentioned in an end note in The Forest of Kings (1990).


There is a fallacy in Schele's argument that I've addressed in many publications and emails. See, for example, my comments to Dr. Ed Barnhart in 2010: In a nutshell, Pakal adapted a strategy used earlier by Lord Jaguar; he was trying to upstage Lord Jaguar by invoking a 20th Baktun period ending that fortuitously coordinated with an 80th CR anniversary of his birthday (though it was stated to link to his accession). He might have used a 40th Baktun ending, a 65th --- anything that could be coordinated with something from his personal biography. Lord Jaguar, who commissioned the 2012 inscription on Monument 6 decades before Pakal's Temple of the Inscriptions was finished, had an inborn connection to the 13th Baktun ending, which was an authentic artifact of the tradition, and he used it because of the parallel situation between the sun's sidereal position on his birthday and the sun's sidereal position on the 2012 period ending. Michael Grofe noted this first, his other work supports it, and I presented it in my 2009 book The 2012 Story and at the 75th SAA conference in St Louis, April 15, 2010.


Pakal fans in academia have gone to great lengths to use Pakal's 20th Baktun to render the 2012 period ending meaningless, which simply does not logically follow. Sure, one can say that the 20th Baktun usage indicates the Maya of Palenque didn't believe "the world was going to end in 2012" --- but that's such a stupid over-used trope anyway. I mean, seriously, scholars have not been able see beyond this stupid trope --- they pose as experts assuring us that storks don't deliver babies. Well, thank you very much --- I didn't believe they did anyway. For neither did Lord Jaguar believe that about the 2012 period ending he used. In the light of these considerations, we can understand why the 13th Baktun is skipped in the listing of future Baktun endings in the Temple of the Inscriptions text --- it was Lord Jaguar's and they didn't want to give it power by acknowledging it.


It's also curious to note the timing of the letters that happened in May of 1994, when Schele first responded to Gardner. My letter to Schele, detailing my work on the 2012 alignment with emphasis on the Dark Rift and Crossroads, was sent to her in May, and is excerpted here: She never responded, but she responded to Gardner that same month. I talked to her ten months later at the Austin Hieroglyphic Conference after-party at her house, and she seemed to remember or recognize my comments about my work on the 2012 alignment, but quickly directed me to her student, Julia Guernsey, regarding Izapa. I met Barb MacLeod at that get together, and sent materials to Schele (my book The Center of Mayan Time) and a few other student-scholars after I got home to Colorado. But a dialogue didn't develop. Interestingly, there was a note in Newsweek Magazine, in February 1997 (Feb 4?) that reiterated Schele's views on 2012, which was possibly picked off the UT Meso Forum or perhaps Aztlan.


Sadly, there was a block in the transmission of the simple fact of the 2012 date from Tortuguero, and it wasn't until 2006 --- 12 years after these early communications --- that Tortguero Monument 6 was being openly discussed in recognition of its importance for helping us understand what the ancient Maya thought about 2012.