Archive for the ‘Maya’ Category

A new Maya-interest conference debuts: “Maya at the Lago” in Davidson, NC (North of Charlotte)

April 6, 2011

Mat Saunders, creator of the excellent conference series “Maya at the Playa” in Palm Coast, Florida, is launching another archaeology-for-the-masses conference in North Carolina. The debut of this event comes a week from this writing, from 14-17 April 2011.

 The lectures and workshops bring first-class Maya scholars and archaeologists into contact with the interested public, in a friendly and informal setting.  This is a great opportunity to meet  and learn from world-reknowned experts in the Ancient Maya such as National Geographic archaeologist George Stuart, the eminent Norman Hammond, and Marc Zender, a rising star in Maya Decipherment, co-author of the just-published “Reading Maya Art” (highly recommended)… and of course, Yours Truly, promoting my own book. 

Mat, the organizer, has some powerful friends.  He has the support of Archaeology Magazine, and has attracted to earlier conferences the likes of Bill Saturno, discoverer of the San Bartolo Murals; reknowned and beloved explorer Merle Greene Robertson;  justly-famous Michael D. Coe;  Jaime Awe, Director of Archaeology for Belize; and fine European epigraphers like Harri Kettunen and Christophe Helmke.  And many more, too many to list.  I heartily approve of Mat’s democratic and inclusive atmosphere, aiming to elevate and educate the general audience, and humanizing the greats of archaeology for us all.  Our field is full of fascinating people and fascinating stories, and Mat deserves special recognition for exposing them to the world. 

Check out his website and links at

 http://www.mayaatthelago.com/index.php/program . 

My own lecture, “What the Maya Really Told Us About 2012” closes the conference. 

Here’s an unedited blurb about it:

What is going to happen in December 2012? Did the Maya really predict the end of the world? Does their calendar really come to an end? Why is everyone so worried? It is almost impossible not to have been confronted with these scary rumors, especially in High School, and the clamor is rising to a climax. What should we do?
Dr. Mark Van Stone has spent the last few years examining everything we know about Ancient Maya beliefs about prophecy, their calendar, and their concepts of Time, Creation, Re-Creation, and especially their ideas about 2012. His book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya” explores this topic in thorough and entertaining ways. His lecture will explain the way their complex calendars work — a little, just enough to help you follow their logic— and will examine all the relevant evidence they left us. You will be reassured to learn that, just like us, the Ancient Maya really did not predict, nor did they even expect, an “end” to their calendar.
But be not disappointed! Even if they were not Purveyors of Doom, The Maya are a fascinating people, with surprisingly different attitudes about Truth and the Cosmos, about Time and Reality, and about the Cosmic connections between geography, colors, trees, birds, time, and mythology.

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About Time: A New Film on 2012 That Gives a Balanced, Scientific Perspective

March 10, 2011

Inside page and blurbs for my 2012 book

Blurbs for my book and one inside page

Breaking news, as of 6th March 2011:

Finally, a television documentary to counter the Hysteria Channel’s constant refrain of Doom, Death, and Destruction about 2012! Respected filmmaker Graham Townsley (NOVA, National Geographic) has just inked a contract to produce a three-part documentary film about the Maya and 2012.
How do I know this? I am delighted to report that he has asked me, Yr Obt Svt, to appear and provide expertise in the first segment, which will focus on the Ancient Maya and what they actually tell us about their view of the upcoming “End of the Calendar”. As I write this, Graham is readying his crew to depart to Chichén Itzá, where he will film the popular Equinox festivities there (for a different segment, about modern beliefs about the Maya Calendar).

The modern idea that the Maya Calendar “ends” on 21st December 2012 derives entirely from a single peculiar fact. The Maya counted Time (in days) from a fixed point far in the ancient past, just as we count years from the Birth of Christ (supposedly; our calculations are actually off by a few years… Jesus was actually born sometime in 4 – 6 BC, which when you think about it, is a self-contradiction worthy of an Isaac Asimov story). We call this calendar the “Long Count”. They have been counting up for some 5,125 years, and by all rights, their “Day Zero” (also called “Era Day”) should be numbered 0.0.0.0.0. But, noooooo, they called it 13.0.0.0.0, after which, like a clock at midnight, the Calendar reset to 0.0.0.0.1 (or perhaps, again like a midnight clock, 13.0.0.0.1), which preceded the era 1.0.0.0.0, followed by 2.0.0.0.0, and so forth. This implies an even *earlier* Era date 5125 years or so *farther* back in the past, and maybe another, and another… But unfortunately the Maya record is entirely silent —so far— about what might have happened, calendar-wise, in 8239 BC.

The Maya penchant for dating *all* events, even mythological ones, provides us with some entertaining reading. Around the last Era Day the Three Palenque Patron Gods performed some peculiarly godly acts: One of these, whom Linda Schele nicknamed “Lady Beastie”, gave birth at the tender age of 754 years….

As I write this (on Thursday 10th March 2011), the Maya Long Count date is 12.19.18.3.8, with a “Calendar Round” of 2 Lamat 1 Kumk’u. In late December 2012, we will arrive again at 13.0.0.0.0.  I guess we will know soon if this ushers in a New Age or not. I prophesy a rancorous American presidential campaign and even higher gasoline prices.

I used the Maya date conversion program online at: http://research.famsi.org/date_mayaLC.php

If you want to learn how to understand the Maya Calendars, I explain them in some detail in Part 4 of my downloadable slide-shows at:
http://www.famsi.org/research/vanstone/2012/index.html.

I should also remind y’all that this website comprises a rough draft of my vastly improved book, “2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya”. In the book you will find a much-improved and -expanded examination of the cloud of issues surrounding this popular meme. There are now over 1000 books published about the Maya 2012 phenomenon, and only three or four even attempt to be scientific, or faithful to what the Maya themselves believed. Mine is the only one of the lot in full color, the only one that might be termed an art-book.

Discovering a parallel colleague is a little like suddenly finding Nibiru

January 8, 2010

Before I was a professor (that is, certified with a Ph.D. and a tenured teaching job), I was a professional calligrapher.  It takes some doing to earn the title of “professional educator”.  But unlike education, calligraphy in this country is completely unregulated; there exist no respectable institutes to grant us professional credentials, and all one has to do to qualify as a “professional” is to charge money for lettering something for someone.  (At least in the eyes of the IRS!)  The simplest regular work of this type is hand-addressing envelopes, beautifully, for a wedding or other fancy event, and it pays anywhere from a dollar an envelope to five dollars a line.  Higher-ranked scribes work for Hallmark or American Greetings, or letter book jackets for publishers (who do you think produces all those gushy titles for romance novels, or the manly lettering for Tom Clancy books?); or, in California, letter movie titles.  Now, calligraphy is a tragically undervalued art, and very few of us do it full-time, simply because we would starve to death.  Few towns have the critical mass of lavish parties, like Washington DC, New York, and Hollywood, to support a steady stream of envelope gigs.  And type design, an honorable and well-paid profession when Hermann Zapf was in his prime —you use Palatino or Optima or even Hunt Roman?— now is going the way of investigative newspaper reportage.  (Adobe, which used to employ a large stable of type designers, has laid off all but two, last I heard.)  So, like aspiring actors or painters-in-a-garret, most calligraphers do something else, some *real* job, to pay the rent, and practice their art, their passion, only part-time.

I write this by way of preface to introducing an “amateur” astronomer.  Professional astronomer jobs are far rarer than art-history professor positions; probably fewer than one for every hundred people called by the siren song of the telescope.  So, it is with some embarrassment that I am forced to refer to Bill Hudson as an “amateur” astronomer, because he is far more serious about it than, say, the average “Sunday painter”, or model-railroader, or the others we refer to as “amateurs”.  Like spelunkers, or car-customizers,  “Amateur” astronomers are a breed apart.  They occupy a kind of intermediate position between heaven and earth:  If professional astronomers like Carl Sagan are gods, the ranks of these serious amateurs are their genies or angels.

Like most such stargazers, Bill Hudson volunteers in schools, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the heavens with wondering children.  He often does this for free, simply because, in the infinite wisdom of our tax-supported educational system, celestial knowledge is esteemed about as highly as type design, and there is no budget for honoraria to visiting astronomers.

And, he tells us, a few years ago his audiences started asking him frightened questions about the End of the World in 2012.  So he started posting FAQ’s to his regular blog http://astrogeek.us , and eventually founded http://2012hoax.org , which has become a clearinghouse for astronomically-correct information about all the crazy claims made for the 2012 “event”.  He and his colleagues are willing to call a spade a spade, and I recommend this large and knowledgeable website with the highest praise.  Like the best informational websites, it is compendious and dense.  Sit down to it as you would the Sunday New York Times, with plenty of time to spend and refreshment close at hand.

Bill defers most of the credit for this site to his many colleagues, and lists contributors in this order:

*Bill Hudson, amateur astronomer and a professional computer geek,
*Alene Y., chemist,
*Emma T., astrophysicist,
*Dave M., student,
*PoshNinja, at NinjasAnswerbag@gmx.com ,
*Physicist Kristine Larsen at CCSU,
*Archaeologist Johan Normark,
*Astronomer Phil Plait,
*Astrobiologist David Morrison.

Highly recommended!

Why 2012? The Drunk Taxi Driver Model

November 2, 2009

Inaugurating a weblog, 1 November 2009

Whoever said “Well begun is half done” was thinking of someone like me. Except my grasshopper-mind offers such monumental impediments to getting started on large projects, that my version is more like, “Well begun is about 85.714286% done.” First impressions being so important, I’ve been dithering for days about the topic of my very first blog. I finally overcame the inertia with the comforting thought that only about six people in the world will read this, and three are family. You, dear Reader, are in very select company.

Like many questions, “Why 2012?” has answers on several levels. I shall address two here:
The first, the most specific: What did the Maya say to make us think that 2012 was the end of the world, or something?
And second, more generally: Why are people attracted to Apocalyptic prognostications like this?

I’ll speak to the latter issue first:
Interviewers always ask, “Harmonic Convergence in 1987, Y2K, and now 2012. So why do people keep predicting The End of the World As We Know It?
I think it springs from Christian ideology, coupled with a sense of helplessness and frustration. The former permeates our culture, religious and secular. Like our ubiquitous year-calendar, the visions of Revelation color all our thinking. Whether we be skeptic or Mennonite, these Apocalyptic visions resonate with us; they are saturate so deeply into our mental landscape we hardly ever notice them. We almost never consider what the world would be like, if as, say, in ancient Greece, we had no concept of End-Times.

(No doubt some alert Reader is going to quote some obscure bit of Diogenes to prove me wrong. Good. I welcome contributions of this type. But no way did Athenians spill as much ink about the End of the World as we do.)
Since Nero’s pogroms in 64 AD, Christians have been comforted by the notion that This World is not the one that counts. We shall be rewarded in the afterlife, if not in direct proportion to our suffering in this one, at least by eternal happiness. (Or, in some circles, 72 virgins.) Most apocalyptic prophecies embody this idea: at least a chosen few will be saved to start afresh in a cleansed world, or carried off in a silver spaceship, or perhaps we all shall be initiated into a Galactic Brotherhood. This comforts us, since we cannot escape tribulation, neither here and now, nor in a coming Deluge.

What is particularly frustrating to most of us is that WE can see the train wreck coming, and are helpless to stop it. From strip-mining forests to overfishing to bovine streroids to selling weapons to rogue states, we are aghast at stupid, stupid choices by powerful people. Those with their hands on our world’s steering wheel, and their feet tromping the throttle, are impervious to our cries of warning. We are riding in a taxicab whose driver is drunk, crazy, heedless. Despair seems our only option.

Along comes a soothing prophecy:
“Don’t worry; in 2012 this will all change. Powers set in motion, millennia ago, will rebalance the world. It’ll be OK.”

Who wouldn’t welcome this Deus ex machina? I wish I could. But I happen to believe that, if there are Creator Gods watching over us, they designed us to solve our own problems. They’re not about to step in and clean up our mess, like Noah’s Flood or the Popol Vuh destructions. Not this time.

The more specific answer to “What did the Maya say about 2012…” is a bit more technical, but simple enough. Bear with me:
1. The Maya had several calendars, as we do. Most are cyclical, again like ours.
2. Their uncyclical calendar, the Maya Long Count, counts time from a specified “zero date”, like our A.D. year-count.

So far, so good?  Nine more factoids:

3. While we count in a decimal system (“base 10”), based on our ten fingers, the Maya counted time in a vigesimal system (“base 20”), because these barefoot tropical-forest dwellers counted their fingers and toes. Our year “2009” counts years since the birth of Jesus (not exactly correctly, but never mind); the Maya counted the days since the gods “Manifested the Hearth”.  (Their metaphor for building World was building a house:  and a place to cook is foremost.)
4. While the Christian/Common beginning date was “1 AD / 1 CE”, we write the Maya “Era Date” as 13.0.0.0.0  4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u. They, of course, wrote it in their sublime hieroglyphs; our version is only a crude, convenient echo. They sometimes abbreviated the date to “End of the 13th Pik,” or, more usually, “4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u”. Don’t worry what all the Maya terms mean; I’ll explain them on a need-to-know basis. We call this latter abbreviated date a Calendar Round, or CR.
5. Like a clock just after midnight going to 12:01, then on to 1:00, the Maya Long Count apparently began this Creation at 13.0.0.0.1, then 13.0.0.0.2, and on up, but reset to 1.0.0.0.0 instead of 14.0.0.0.0.
6. The Maya and Aztec myths of Creation both describe several iterations of this world. We are in the fourth Creation, according to the Maya Popol Vuh (the most complete surviving Maya Creation mythology). But we are in the fifth Creation, according to the Aztec Leyenda de los Soles (“Legend of the Suns”: the Aztecs called each Creation a “sun”). Each of the previous Creations ended with annihilation of the population, of the sun and moon, perhaps of Time itself. This implies that they believed this World, too, —our world— was destined to end sometime.
7. The Leyenda de los Soles specifies that each Sun began on a specific cyclic date, such as 4-Jaguar, or 4-Water. This date itself prophesied the character of the era.  Each previous Sun ended on the same cycle date: the “4-Jaguar Sun” began and ended on the day 4-Jaguar, and the “4-Water Sun” began and ended on 4-Water. Likewise the “4-Wind Sun”, and the others. These beginning-and-ending dates were separated by multiples of 52 years, either 6 x 52, 7 x 52, or 13 x 52 years. (It is no accident that 6 + 7 = 13.)
7a.Specifically, the day-name of each Sun foretold the method of its destruction: at the end of the 4-Jaguar Sun, its population was devoured by jaguars. The 4-Water Sun ended in a massive flood. And our Creation, the 4-Earthquake Sun, will end … you can guess. The Mesoamerican calendar was more than a mere method to track Time; it was Destiny.
8. The Aztec Calendar clearly parallels many features of the much older Maya calendar. (Unfortunately, we know much less of the Maya Creation cycle story.) For example, the Maya Long Count begins on a 4 Ajaw date, echoing the 4-Water, 4-Jaguar, etc. (Note, however, that none of the five Aztec Creation dates are 4-Flower, which corresponds to 4 Ajaw. For some reason, the date got changed in translation….)
8a. Also, the Maya Long Count’s begin-date suggests a Creation cycle of 13 Pik (a Pik is 20 x 20 Maya ‘years’ of 360 days), which, perhaps, transformed into the Aztec 13 x 52-year cycle. Another feature distorted in translation. Unfortunately, the Popol Vuh, which details the four Maya Creations, neglects to date any of its events.
9. Combining the peculiar Maya Creation date of 13.0.0.0.0 with the notion of multiple Creations, many people have deduced that the Maya Long Count has an “end date” of 13.0.0.0.0. And the End is Near; the upcoming 13.0.0.0.0 falls on 21st December 2012. (Its CR is 4 Ajaw 3 Uniiw, also known as 4 Ahau 3 Kank’in.)

Combining these three stories, the Maya Creation date with the Aztec and Maya Creation cycles, modern scholars —and others— have deduced the foundation of the 2012 “end date”. This is everything we know. All the rest of the kerfuffle is extrapolation, imagination, wishful thinking.

For a more detailed and colorfully-illustrated account of what the Maya tell us about these Creation cycles, as well as several related issues, please visit my FAMSI website:
http://www.famsi.org/research/vanstone/2012/index.html .

FAMSI has also kindly installed links to archived radio interviews and news items featuring scholars’ voices here:
http://www.famsi.org/research/vanstone/2012/2012articles.html .

For a small fee, I will send you a link to download a digital copy of my 170-page book  2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya.  For a larger fee, you can order a printed copy.
(The book comprises mostly material from the FAMSI website, but in a much more user-friendly format. At this writing, the book is still in press, but will be available soon, soon!)  Order by writing me at mvanstone@swccd.edu .

Please direct comments, questions, reflections, raves, or rants to the same e-dress.

Note: By the way, Nero’s persecutions, which first popularized feeding Christians to lions, led to his characterization as the Antichrist. I read somewhere that his name, rendered in Greek letters (which are also Greek numerals, from 1 – 700), added up to 666. However, when I sought confirmation of this by Googling “666 Nero Beast”, I found several candidates for names with numerological values added up to 666 (including “the Romans”), but Nero’s wasn’t among them. So I added up the letter-values for NERON KAISAR, his usual moniker in Greek, and they only reached 487. His full name, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, has a value far in excess of 666. How anticlimactic.