2012 Q & A --- John Major Jenkins responds
academic misconceptions and factually incorrect assumptions
In October of 2009, David Stuart wrote the following brief Q & A treatment of 2012 on his Word press blog. Some of his observations are spot on, but he applies a wide and undiscerning net when he criticizes various ideas related to 2012. He also attributes the origin of the 2012-apocalypse meme to "New Age hacks" when, in actual FACT, it was Maya scholar Michael Coe who first enunciated that specious association. My responses to David Stuart's supposedly clarifying, but actually muddifying words, are below in blue.
2012 Q & A by David Stuart:
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
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 22.214.171.124.0
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 126.96.36.199.0. 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.
Yes, it's true that the Maya calendar doesn't end in
2012. This is obvious to anyone who has done a little research into Maya traditions.
I've been saying this in print for twenty years.
What did the Maya say about 2012?
They actually said very little, if anything. Only one ancient inscription refers
to the upcoming 188.8.131.52.0 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
The general tenor of this is misleading. The Tortuguero text actually provides Distance Number connections between 2012 and other dedications and events described elsewhere on the monument. This tells us a lot about how 2012 was being conceived. And the astronomy of those interconnected dates, which most epigraphers conveniently ignore, provides a statistically compelling argument for how the astronomy of 2012 (the alignment of the sun with the dark rift) was recognized and noted by the Maya at Tortuguero. See my recent post at Aztlan (this post was rejected by the Aztlan moderator, so I duplicate it here):
Elaine and Ivan,
As Stephen Houston himself pointed out in his blog article from late 2008 (http://decipherment.wordpress.com/2008/12/20/what-will-not-happen-in-2012/), the 2012 date on TRT Mon 6 is tied by a Distance Number to a building dedication in the 7th century. As Mark Van Stone pointed out, events tied by DN's are often connected because they are like-in-kind events. You can read my own responses to Houston's article at the above link, pointing out that this DN associated strongly suggests that a house or building dedication (or birth) is analogous to the birth (or rebirth) of the cosmos in 2012. This would simply be the worldrenewal at a cycle ending --- no doomsday or automatic spiritual ascension implied. The key is that "house" and "cosmos" are analogies in Maya thought, a concept that Houston himself explored elsewhere. So, it is unwarranted to assert that the TRT text is "a bit boring" (Houston) or "doesn't tell us much" (Stuart), just because two glyphs are half effaced.
There is too much attention being focused on those glyphs when they probably just say something typical like "the bundle is tied", the "cycle is completed." Many people forget that there is a huge main section to Monument 6, which contains almost 200 glyph blocks. It is in this section that we find a nework of Distance Number connections to the 2012 date (including the 7th century building dedication refered to by Houston), which are laid out in Sven Gronemeyer's dissertation on Tortuguero, and which Michael Grofe has been exploring (see Aztlan post http://www.famsi.org/pipermail/aztlan/2009-July/006438.html - VERY important). Most interesting is the astronomy associated with these many dates. A statistically large number of these dates, as well as the implicated birthday of Bahlam Ajaw, share one odd parallel with the 2012 date --- they are dates when the sun was positioned within the dark rift in the Milky Way. Hmmmm ... interesting. The sun's alignment with the dark rift in 2012 coordinates with the solstice, which is what makes this a precession-specific era of alignment (i.e., the alignment of the solstice sun with the dark rift in the Milky Way is a function of the precession of the equinoxes and happens in era-2012). The other dates, going back to 510 AD, occur in varying number of days prior to the solstice, depending on the precessional drift, but the sun is always within the dark rift. This strongly suggests that 1) the "sun in the dark rift" was an important image for the Classic Period Maya at Tortuguero, 2) precession was being accounted for, 3) they knew that a like-in-kind alignment would also be occurring at the end of the 13-baktun cycle in 2012. This alignment, or "galactic alignment", is what Stuart says astronomers dismiss out of hand (without even summarizing what it is) in his recent blog post.
It's unfortunate that many epigraphers are not interested in astronomy. I think that epigraphic work needs to have a greater sensitivity to how astronomical references and patterns in the inscriptions can serve as a meta-text, revealing otherwise unclear intentions of the Maya. Clearly, the LC dates on TRT Mon 6 have astronomical meanings (there's also a lunar eclipse in the dark rift), and they are tied to 2012 in specific ways which reveal how 2012 was conceived and thought about.
John Major Jenkins
Note on Aztlan's double standard censorship of my posts: The above post was rejected by the Aztlan moderator, Michael Ruggeri. Apparently he is insisting that all posts to Aztlan involve new archaeological data. The statements above highlighted in red have never before been ennunciated on Aztlan, and were offered before the official release of my book The 2012 Story, where they are described. Therefore, they are the first appearance of new archaeological and astronomical ideas in a public forum. Ruggeri's rule is also quite the double standard as most posts do not abide by this rule (a lengthy recent thread went on about sexuality in Mesoamerica). In fact, he allowed an abrasive and opinionated tirade against my work a few days before he rejected my posts. It's quite clear that a self-serving double standard is being applied to my posts. My post in response to the tirade wielder was to honor Aztlan's request to not belabor 2012 debates and redirect him to the comment page on my website. Another of my posts (see end of this page) responded to Ivan L.'s notice of the Associated Press piece. I simply expanded upon the importance of Maya voices and my role in facilitating the journalist's non-doomsday perspective. It was rejected. My next post, above, obviously provides some important contexts for a 2012 thread already in progress. It was rejected. My third rejected post (see below) was in response to Elaine Schele's anouncement of David Stuart's Q & A. Since his Q & A contains several factually incorrect statements, I wanted to direct Aztlan readers to my response page to Stuart's 2012 Q & A, which is the page you are reading now. Stuart's Q & A blog continues:
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.
Stuart claims the connection between apocalypse and the
upcoming 13-baktun cycle ending originated with "New Age hacks" and
cites "novelist and mystic Frank Waters." In point of FACT, it was
Maya scholar Michael Coe who was the first to note in print, on page 149 in
his 1966 book The Maya, that a 13-baktun cycle-ending in the Maya Long
Count calendar was approaching, and he interpreted it through the apocalypse
lens of Christian imagery! THAT is where the doomsday-2012 meme began. Waters's
1975 book, as the subtitle suggests, is oriented to adressing the possibility
of the emergence of a new consciousness, not a final doomsday. Likewise, Arguelles's
ideation around 2012 involves a mystical shift of consciousness to a new kind
of time perception, not doomsday. So, Stuart asserts many things here, none
of which is factually correct. Bottom line: the specious doomsday-2012
fantasy originated from within the hallowed Halls of Academe.
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.
Stuart fails to summarize what the galactic alignment
is, but is happy to dismiss it as meaningless and, more probably, as not even
being a fact of astronomy. The so-called "galactic alignment" is defined
in my 1994 article on the astronomy of 2012, in my 1995 book The Center of
Mayan Time, in my 1998 book Maya Cosmogenesis 2012, in my 2002 book
Galactic Alignment, as well as on my decade-old web page "What
is the galactic alignment?" It is, quite simply, the alignment of the
solstice sun with the dark rift in the Milky Way, which factually culminates
with the galactic equator passage in era-2012 (1980 - 2016 AD). It is interesting
that many of the dates on Tortuguero Monument 6 are highlighted by the fact
that they involve the sun's alignment with the dark rift (one is a lunar eclipse),
and they are linked via Distance Numbers to the 2012 date found in the small
right flange of the monument. On this date, December 21, 2012, the sun is also
positioned in the dark rift, on the solstice. All of those "coincidences"
are apparently meaningless to those scholars who prefer to dismiss 2012 as having
no relevance to the ancient Maya, a shockingly unwarranted and irrational position
in light of these facts.
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.
That is a true statement, but Stuart fails to distinguish the real work that is being done to reconstruct how the Maya conceived of date with this pop culture carnival. He is basically throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
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
Blah blah blogs are apparently no place for engaging rational discussions. Therefore my post will be relegated to Tribe2012 and Update2012.com. Since Elaine Schele posted an annoucement about Stuart's new Q & A, I have attempted to respond by providing a link to this response page, but most likely my post, like some of my recent posts, will be rejected by the Aztlan moderator. My post sent October 13, 2009 reads:
Elaine and Aztlan,
In the interest of fairness and so that interested Aztlan members can have access to relevant and important factual corrections (such as his assertion that the 2012-apocalypse meme was originated by "New Age hacks"; it actually began with Michael Coe), and to honor the list's preference to not engage lengthy 2012 exchanges, my response to David Stuart's Q & A blog is here: http://Update2012.com/responsetostuartsblog.html.
John Major Jenkins
We'll see if this announcement is rejected or allowed --- John Major Jenkins, October 13, 2009. Update: it was rejected, with the added comments: "we will be automatically filtering out any posts related to content that readers could easily find on your blog (those posts will be discarded without comment)." This position is ridiculous. Aztlan is very frequently used as a reference point for material that can found elsewhere on the web. Michael Ruggeri is clearly wielding his veto power as a double-standard bearer of academic censorship.
Note: An example of one of my Aztlan posts that was never approved and posted by the Aztlan moderator is my response to the anncouncement by Ivan L about the AP piece by Mark Stevenson:
I'm glad you were appreciative of the AP piece on 2012 with Mark Stevenson. I spent two hours on the phone with him in August and encouraged him to not go down the predictable runnel, launching off from the misconception that the Maya predicted the end of the world in 2012. I suggested he talk directly with contemporary Maya leaders and sent him contact info. I also described the new decipherments that show Distance Number connections on Tortuguero Monument 6, revealing that the 2012 date was being used in specfic ways (see previous Aztlan posts on Tortuguero by Michael Grofe). Unfortunately, despite defining the solstice-galaxy alignment for him and directing him to my ancient webpage on the astronomical basis of the solstice-galaxy alignment (http://www.alignment2012.com/whatisGA.htm), his write up on this important astronomical concept was rather botched. And invoking debunkers like Dr Plait to cast aspersions on demonstrable facts of Maya astronomy is misleading. But it's great that he highlighted a contemporary Maya leader to deliver the goods --- to report that the Maya didn't predict a doomsday in 2012, a rather obvious conclusion to anyone who has studied Maya time philosophy, and one which I have wrestled the mass media on for about 15 years.
John Major Jenkins