In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin reveals how the Mayans would have viewed the end of the year 2012.
David Stuart is the Linda and David Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art at the University of Texas at Austin. He is director of The Mesoamerican Center at UT Austin where his primary research is focused on the archaeology and epigraphy of ancient Maya civilization. He regularly conducts field research at archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, mostly focusing on the documentation and study of Maya sculpture and inscriptions. He recently published, The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012.
Dr. David Stuart – Mayan Calendar
As we fast approach the end of 2012, I’m sure that we will all be hearing more and more about the ancient Maya calendar, and especially of the supposed prediction that all will end on December 21. Well, it turns out that the ancient Maya never actually predicted the end of times.
In the Maya scheme of time, the approaching date is important and meaningful. It was thought to be the turn of an important cycle, or as they put it, the end of 13 bak’tuns. The thing is, there are many more bak’tuns still to come. It turns out their calendar was far larger than we believed just a few years ago, with future cycles well beyond the bak’tun that won’t change or turn over for vast numbers of years – well beyond trillions, in fact.
New research is also telling us about how the ancient Maya thought of time in terms of their world and local politics. Colleagues working this year at the ruins of La Corona, located deep in the Guatemalan jungle, excavated many inscribed stones. I arrived there in May to study and decipher the texts, and was stunned to see that one actually mentions the upcoming turn of the cycle in 2012. The hieroglyphs emphasized 7th century history and politics, linking the reign of an ancient king to the turn of the 13th bak’tun many centuries later. The point was to associate the divine king’s time on the throne to time on a cosmic scale.
So I see the notion of a 2012 apocalypse really comes from our own culture -- not from anything the ancient Maya ever said or believed. The great irony here is that the Maya calendar doesn’t just keep going – it encompasses periods of time that are far bigger than what we know of our own cosmology. Our calendar will end far before theirs will.