Response to Counterarguments
Appendix 5 to Maya Cosmogenesis 2012
by John Major Jenkins
"A lot of the educational system, if you think about it, is designed for obedience and passivity. From childhood, a lot of it is designed to prevent people from being independent and creative. If you're independent minded in school, you're probably going to get in trouble very early on. That's not the trait that's being preferred or cultivated."
- Noam Chomsky (1995)
This appendix grew out of a need to respond to "Comments on the Creation Date," posted on the Mesoamerican Archaeology Homepage website by Linda Schele, April 1996. The so-called "end-date" of the thirteen-baktun cycle of the Maya Long Count in A.D. 2012 has been the subject of internet discussions, and in early 1996 Linda Schele responded to a question regarding the Long Count. She addressed the importance the Maya applied to the date in A.D. 2012, and reiterated her viewpoint as found in A Forest of Kings (1990): "The Maya, however, did not conceive this to be the end of creation, as many have suggested" (82). This basically sums up her position on the meaning of the 13-baktun cycle end-date in 2012. The statement is essentially correct, because the Maya believed that time is cyclic, but continuing ambiguities demand that we clarify our terms and ask some more pointed questions regarding this date. I have always made an effort to refer to this date more specifically as "the end-date of the thirteen-baktun cycle of the Maya Long Count calendar," and I do not concur with the Neo-Atlantean pole-shift cataclysmologists on the idea that the world will literally end in 2012. With this distinction in mind, I admit that I still occasionally write, as a shorthand note, "end-date" or "end-date in 2012." This does not mean that I believe the Maya calendar or the world will end in A.D. 2012. However, as I will show, it is clear that the 2012 date was singularly important for the people who created the Long Count calendar.
In comparison, the sense of Schele's position, as it has filtered out to become a kind of conventional wisdom, is that the date in A.D. 2012, though an important baktun shift, is just another somewhat ambiguous cycle ending, and is ultimately less important than a proposed twenty-baktun cycle. Schele writes, "Pacal, the great king of Palenque, predicted in his inscriptions that the 80th Calendar Round anniversary of his accession will be celebrated eight days after the first 8000-year cycle [20 baktuns, actually = 7885 years] in which the Mayan Calendar ends... October 15th, 4772 A.D." (1990:82).
Schele uses this as her primary argument that "the Maya did not conceive this [the thirteen-baktun cycle end-date in A.D. 2012] to be the end of creation." I submit that a twenty-baktun cycle had little importance for those who created the Long Count, and that the thirteen-baktun cycle end-date in A.D. 2012 was, in fact, considered to be the end of a World Age, a large cycle of time. The important question to ask is, what were the intentions of the creators of Long Count? The latter-day political machinations of one Maya ruler (Pacal) are less important; neither Pacal nor his era developed the Long Count calendar. The first Long Count date appears in the archaeological record in the first century B.C. Edmonson (1988) and Hall (1989-1993a) have even argued that the inauguration of the Long Count actually goes much further back, to the fourth century B.C. or the sixth century B.C. The intended meaning of the Long Count and its subsequent baktun-endings must derive from those who placed it in real-time, not to a king who appeared on the scene some seven hundred years after the fact.
But what about Pacal's era? Was a cycle of thirteen-baktuns recognized by Pacal's contemporaries? Yes, and there are three examples from three different Maya kingdoms: Coba, Quirigua and Palenque. Dated inscriptions at these sites, erected during the Classic Period, call the end of the previous era (in 3114 B.C.) 220.127.116.11.0, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku. These are the so-called "Creation monuments," and they reveal a lot about exactly when the Maya calendar clicks back to zero (i.e., at what interval the great World Age cycle repeats). The Creation monuments demonstrate that thirteen is the final baktun place-value to be used when counting ages of creation. The previous era ended after the completion of thirteen baktuns, after which the baktun place value reset. If that was not the case, then, for example, the Hauberg Stela which contains the Long Count date 18.104.22.168.0 would really be dated 22.214.171.124.0. Since all Long Count dates ever found were recorded with the assumption that 126.96.36.199.0, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku (August 11, 3114 B.C. according to the 584283 correlation) equals zero, the early Maya clearly understood a cycle of thirteen-baktuns to be the significant creation cycle. We may presume that the current cycle was intended to follow the same pattern; after all, why should one creation cycle be thirteen baktuns long and the next be twenty baktuns long? Pacal's twenty-baktun period is an exception; it does not speak for how his contemporaries understood when the creation cycle begins anew, nor does it reflect what the Long Count's inventors apparently had in mind (which we will get to shortly). A thirteen-baktun creation cycle was clearly the consensus belief.
The questions that the end-date debate distract us from examining involve the astronomical nature of the 2012 end-date. The people who put the Long Count system in place, some seven hundred years prior to the birth of Pacal, were apparently targeting the date in 2012 A.D. as one they thought would be an appropriate "end" of a great time-cycle of creation. On what grounds do I say this? Three reasons: thirteen baktuns = 260 katuns, 188.8.131.52.0 = an accurate winter solstice, and 3) The astronomical alignment in A.D. 2012.
I will treat these points one by one. The first reason is just a suggested rationale for thirteen baktuns being a valid period. As Hall (1989-1993a) proposed, katun periods were probably recognized prior to the full-scale development of the Long Count. Thirteen baktuns equal 260 katuns, and this mirrors (in the typical holistic cosmovision of the Maya) the 260 days of the tzolkin calendar.
Schele (1996) suggests that twenty baktuns is preferable to thirteen baktuns because it is in accordance with the vigesimal counting system used in Mesoamerican mathematics. The end-date of the twenty-baktun cycle certainly has value as a benchmark in time, but there are exceptions to the strict use of multiples of twenty. As we know, the uinal period (of twenty days) is multiplied by eighteen (rather than twenty) to give us the 360-day tun. In addition, thirteen was just as important a number as twenty, so there is no reason to argue against a thirteen-baktun cycle. At any rate, I do not believe that the length of the so-called Great Cycle is as important to look at as is the date in 2012. There are unique astronomical qualities to this date which, for whatever reason, have not been acknowledged by most Maya scholars, which brings me to point two.
The second point gets us down to some details on the thirteen-baktun cycle end-date in 2012 A.D. According to the 584283 correlation, the 184.108.40.206.0 end-date falls on December 21, the winter solstice. I will anticipate and address a common argument against this date and then return to my point. Following the work of Floyd Lounsbury (1983), Linda Schele and David Freidel report the end-date of the thirteen-baktun cycle in A.D. 2012 as December 23 (Schele and Freidel 1990; Freidel et al. 1993). (By the way, many other people, including scholars (Coe 1992) and popular writers (Hancock 1995), have followed.) In my correspondence with professional academicians, some have argued, rather absurdly, that this is not "close enough" to be considered a December solstice, thus disqualifying my point. I offer the following clarification as a much needed and little acknowledged correction on a fine point of the correlation question. Erroneous "conventional wisdom" can delay advances in any field of study for decades, until someone eventually comes along to point out the obvious. I explored this problem in detail in my study of the Maya Venus Calendar (1994a:23-82). A rundown follows as briefly as possible, and then we will continue with point three.
Lounsbury (1983) argued for resurrecting the old 584285 correlation value (Thompson 1930) by way of his brilliant identification of a heliacal rise of Venus in the Dresden Codex. The date recorded in the Dresden was 1 Ahau 18 Kayab, which was November 18, 934 A.D. (Julian Calendar) according to the 584283 correlation and November 20, 934 A.D. (J) according to the old 584285 correlation. Venus actually rose as morningstar precisely on the latter date, supposedly "confirming" the old 584285 value. Using a "zero deviation" criterion, Lounsbury based his argument for the 584285 on this event. However, the requirement of "zero-deviation" is erroneous; the synodical cycle of Venus in fact varies between 580 to 588 days from cycle to cycle. As Dennis Tedlock reported (1985:238), Lounsbury's astronomical argument for the 584285 value could, according to astronomer John B. Carlson, "easily be two days off." Bricker (1988) writes that Lounsbury's theory is based on "a misinterpretation of the astronomical data" (82). And there is another reason why Lounsbury's position points us to December 21 (which we will address shortly).
Lounsbury's follow-up (1992) on the same argument used a curious bit of circular logic to support his theory, but was not at all convincing when examined closely. This close examination was something that few did, and I direct the interested reader to my essays posted on my Four Ahau Press website for a complete and detailed analysis. Unfortunately, Lounsbury's position, though erroneous, was passed along to his students, causing confusion on this point of a two-day discrepency on the "end" date.
The major challenge to Lounsbury's hypothesis (1983) that quickly emerged (D. Tedlock 1985:238) is the fact that the surviving day-count followed by many different Maya groups in Guatemala all confirm the 584283 correlation (LaFarge 1947; Lincoln 1942; Oakes 1951; Sexton 1981; B. Tedlock 1982). Lounsbury explained this by proposing that there must have been a two-day shift in the day-count sometime between the time the Dresden Venus information was recorded and the Conquest. This would have had to have been a two-day shift orchestrated simultaneously throughout Mesoamerica, a scenario almost impossible to imagine. However, if we accept all of the explanations offered, including the two-day shift which in effect brings the 584285 into line with the 584283 correlation after the Conquest, then we still arrive at December 21, 2012 A.D. as the 220.127.116.11.0 date. So, even if we support Lounsbury's theory, we cannot use an "unshifted" 584285 correlation number to calculate any post-conquest dates, including the end-date in 2012 A.D. The bottom line then, is that whether one follows the widely accepted 584283 correlation or Lounsbury's theory, the end of the thirteen-baktun cycle of the Maya Long Count calendar occurs on December 21, an accurate December solstice.
On February 19, 1994, I met my Quiché daykeeper friend Diego in Antigua, Guatemala. With great humor at the impending serendipity of it, we both pulled out our Cholb'äl Q'ij (1994) calendar books and pointed out to each other that the day of our first meeting was 1 Hunajpu (1 Ahau, the ancient Sacred Day of Venus). This is in accordance with the 584283 correlation, which, of course, is supported by the numerous ethnographic studies cited above. The Quiché and Cakchiquel Maya who attend the annual Hieroglyphic Conference in Austin as honorary guests set up a book table in the foyer and sell these Cholb'äl Q'ij calendar books. Meanwhile, much of the University literature and conference flyers downstairs reveal use of the wrong correlation. February 19, 1994 equals 1 Ahau, and projecting forward from this date to December 21, 2012 A.D. yields, appropriately enough, 4 Ahau, the traditional tzolkin date on the thirteen-baktun cycle end-date. Although this whole clarification may seem petty or minor, it should be made because, without it, doubt will remain in the minds of those requiring absolute accuracy regarding the veracity of calling the 18.104.22.168.0 end-date a December solstice.
So, having addressed the sources of conflict on this point, we can now, without suspicion, ask some appropriate questions about the end-date in A.D. 2012. First of all, the very fact that it is an accurate December solstice is quite striking. This means that the people who created the Long Count system of timekeeping and defined its placement in real time, were able to calculate an accurate December solstice some 2,000 years into the future. It also suggests that the fixing of the thirteen-baktun cycle in "real" time was determined by its end-date. Why would they choose to highlight a December solstice, and how did they do it? To answer the last part first, according to Edmonson (1988) this was accomplished with the "year-drift formula," in which 1507 solar years (of 365.2422 days each) equal 1508 haab (of 365 days each). This in itself reveals a level of scientific sophistication not commonly granted to cultures of this era (circa 200 B.C.). As to "why," it could be argued that a December solstice is an appropriate "end" or "beginning" marker because it basically has that meaning within the annual cycle of the seasons. This is certainly true, and can remain an adequate explanation until we ask the next question: "Why 2012?" By now we have learned to avoid answering these questions with such trite inconsequentials as "no particular reason" or "just a coincidence" and accept that Maya cosmology has much more intentionality lurking within it than previously thought. The 2012 date is not an arbitrary calculational artifact derived from fixing the "beginning" date back in 3114 B.C. Because the end-date is a December solstice, and for other reasons we will address shortly, it appears to have been the primary and intended "anchor" of the thirteen-baktun cycle. If anything, it is the "beginning" date in 3114 B.C. that we should consider an ambiguous back-calculation.
To state this simply, the thirteen-baktun cycle was fixed in real time for an astronomical reason (the December solstice), and the end-date was the anchor. As such, we might be willing to generate more questions by assuming that A.D. 2012, as well, was an intentional choice. This brings me to my third point, not really a surprise after all we have been discussing: the astronomy in A.D. 2012. As argued throughout this book, on 22.214.171.124.0, the December solstice sun will be in conjunction with the Milky Way. We can call this an alignment between the galactic plane and the solstice meridian. This is an event that has slowly converged over a period of thousands of years, and is caused by the precession of the equinoxes. As such, December 21st, 2012 A.D. identifies a rare alignment in the cycle of precession, using the Milky Way and the dark-rift "road to the Underworld" as the marker. This alignment is perfectly evocative of the culmination (the "end") of a Great Cycle of creation. We really have two facts that occur at the same time, the thirteen-baktun cycle end-date (the December solstice of 2012 A.D.) and a rare alignment in the cycle of the precession of the equinoxes.
If we do not allow these ancient skywatchers to have been sophisticated enough to notice precession, we relegate the alignment of 2012 A.D. to the unexamined bin of "coincidence." To conclude that this is coincidence pushes our thoughts beyond credible bounds of reason. The alternative, as resistant as many will be, is that the creators of the Long Count calendar calculated the rate of precession over 2,000 years ago. Few Maya scholars are as qualified to comment on this point as archaeoastronomer Anthony Aveni, who wrote, "Ancient astronomers easily could detect the long-term precessional motion . . . Through myth and legend the earliest skywatchers transmitted their consciousness of the passage of the vernal equinox along the zodiac from constellation to constellation" (1980:103). In the interest of clarity, I will mention that it would be more accurate to say that the alignment occurs in the era of A.D. 2012; because precession is such a slow phenomenon, fifty years on either side of 2012 might be appropriate. Of course, this wider timespan strengthens the position of the coincidentalists.
In summary, it is true that December 21, 2012 does not represent "the end of the Maya calendar." Such generic phraseology rarely results in clarity. Though I continue to occasionally use "end-date" as a casual convention, the more accurate identification, one that is perfectly true, is "the end-date of the thirteen-baktun cycle of the Maya Long Count." Schele's argument that a twenty-baktun cycle had precedence over the thirteen-baktun cycle is not well founded, confusing what one seventh-century Maya ruler said about the nature of the Long Count with what the original creators of it intended. A repeating thirteen-baktun cycle is implied wherever Creation monuments have been found-for example, at Coba and Quirigua. Rather than looking at Classic Period examples to define the nature of the Long Count, we need to look carefully at who created the Long Count system, and where and when it arose. This consideration sends us back to the little understood Middle Pre-Classic period of the Izapan civilization, 500 B.C. to 50 B.C.
If we accept my model as a working hypothesis, questions are generated regarding the role of the dark-rift, the Milky Way, the Sacred Tree Cross, and the December solstice sun within Mesoamerican mythology and cosmology. In essays previously cited, my monograph The Center of Mayan Time (1995a), and in Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, I have already explored some of these questions, as a "first reconnaissance" into a realm well-nigh unexplored. My website is open for perusal (see bibliography), and criticisms, questions, and challenges to my work are welcome.
Note: Schele also wrote a response to Milo Rae Gardner.