4 Ahaw 3 K'ank'in It's Not the End of the World:
What the Ancient Maya Tell Us About 2012

by Mark Van Stone

The Maya Cosmic Prophecy: From Sensation to Sensibility

Maya Scholars, in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and North America, have been watching with amusement and dismay as self-styled experts proclaim that ancient Maya prophets foretold an earth-shattering happening to occur December 21, 2012. This predicted phenomenon gets described in contradictory but often cataclysmic fashion--as an ecological collapse, a sunspot storm, a rare cosmic conjunction of the earth, sun, and the galactic center, a new and awesome stage of our evolution, and even a sudden reversal of the Earth's magnetic field which will erase all our computer drives. One even predicts the earth's initiation into a Galactic Federation, whose elders have been accelerating our evolution with a "galactic beam" for the last 5000 years. In sum, the world as we know it will suddenly come to a screeching halt.

These predictions are alleged to be prophecies by so-called "Ancient Mayans" whose "astronomically precise" calendar supposedly terminates on that date. According to such accounts, these mysterious Maya geniuses appeared suddenly, built an extraordinary civilization, designed in it clues for us, and then suddenly, inexplicably, vanished, as if they had completed their terrestrial mission. These same experts claim special credibility for the Maya prophecies by asserting that these historic sages, with their possible extraterrestrial origins, had tapped into an astonishing esoteric wisdom.

Could any of this be true?

The credibility of those claims deserves rational attention-which is what I intend to provide. Neither mystic nor prophet, I am a Mayanist. More specifically, I am a professional art historian and an epigrapher (less formally, a glypher), one who can read and write Maya hieroglyphs. For over a decade, I have focused my scholarly research specifically on Maya culture and writing, making some surprising discoveries that can present a more definitive perspective on the prophecies of the ancient Maya seers. As we approach the critical year, it is time to offer a more viable account of the Maya prophecy and expose both the fallacies and ethnocentricism tainting the current sensational accounts.

Here I intend to explain what we actually know about (1) Maya knowledge and attitudes, both ancient and modern, (2) the date and (3) their many Creation stories and prophecies. I shall draw from recent decipherment, ethnography, interviews with Maya priests and knowledge-keepers, and especially from their surviving prophetic literature. That literature includes The Books of Chilam Balam, among others, the pre-Columbian Codices, and ancient inscriptions. The evidence is sometimes fragmentary and often puzzling to us moderns, at least at first. But I believe the effort will be worth it.

First, let me affirm that the year 2012 does hold particular significance in Mayan scholarship. Those of us who study the ancient and modern Maya — anthropologists, archaeologists, art historians, linguists, historians, amateurs, collectors — have been anticipating the end of the Maya Great Cycle for some time. We write it 4 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in. We have known for half a century that this date probably correlates to December 21 (or December 23) in the year 2012 in the Gregorian calendar.

It's Not The End Of The World
Part I – Introduction to the "2012 issue" (4.36 MB)
  • What is the 2012 issue?
  • Precession: How rare is the "2012 Galactic Alignment?"
  • Precession: Did the Maya know about it?
  • Solstices: How important were they?
Part II – A look at the Creation (14.2 MB)
    The past and future cycles
  • Aztec Leyenda de los Soles & Stone of the Sun
  • What Ancient Maya records actually say about the upcoming in 2012 (Chilam Balam & Tortuguero Monument 6)

    What Happens at the "End of the Calendar?"
  • Ancient Maya accounts of the last  (Quirigua Stela C, Naranjo Creation Vases, Coba Stela 1, Dresden Codex, "Jerusalem Panel", Rio Azul Mask)
  • Comparing Ancient Maya accounts of both's
  • Ancient Maya accounts of the next Reprise of Tortuguero Monument 6

    Is Really the "End of the Calendar?"
  • Will the Long Count Always Reset to Zero - a look at Yaxchilan Hieroglyphic Stairway 2, Step 7, Palenque Temple of the Inscriptions West Panel, and Tikal Stela 10
  • Local Variations in the Creation Myth of various Maya cities: the "Triad gods"
  • Summary: "Long Count Calendars Don't Stop at 13"
Part III – Maya Conceptions of Time & Truth (14.0 MB)
  • The Maya Conception of Time is Different from Ours - Snake Lady Vases, World Trees, and Three Stones
  • Summary
Part IV – Appendix: Technicalities of the Calendars (5.02 MB)
  • How the Maya Calendar works
  • 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk'u and what it means
  • Correlation
  • All the Aztec calendrics you need to know
  • Two 260-day cosmograms

Links to other material

Numerical Factors and Periods Important in Maya Calendrics
2012: It's Not the End of the World — Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
Collected Articles and Interviews about 2012
Sources Cited & Further Reading
Mark Van Stone's blog
Questions & Comments

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