Mark Van Stone,                                                      5-27-2008


Forgive my long winded response. I got rolling and felt it would be worth going into some detail, even as I prepare for a short trip to Mexico. If you have additional questions or feel I missed one of your points, please let me know. I appreciate our dialogue on this important topic. I’m going to Izapa tomorrow.


The two-day difference. The main proponent of the 584285 correlation was Floyd Lounsbury. His correlation resulted in the 13-baktun cycle end date falling on December 23, 2012. Many scholars, including Coe and Schele, have used Lounsbury’s correlation, apparently out of deference but without noting the peculiarities of his argument, which are clear to see in his definitive 1983 and 1992 articles on the topic.


His argument contains three insurmountable problems. First, he looks for a precise morning star Venus rising to occur on the correct predicted date in the Venus tables. As Tedlock and Carlson and the Brickers note, the Venus cycle varies from between 580 to 588 days — sometimes even from cycle to cycle. This means that the observational  astronomical vagaries cannot support his two-day variation from the 584283 correlation.


Second, when examining the average mean variation between the predictive framework and the observed reality, there will be 5.2 days of accumulated error at the end of a Venus Round period of 104 haab. Corrections to the table are assumed to have occurred. Lounsbury assumes that the corrections made occurred at the end of a Round, but we don’t know at what point in the Venus Round the Maya may have been adjusting for the accumulating discrepancies – it may very well have occurred mid-cycle, or at some other location that was numerically expedient, which would throw Lounsbury’s tables off.


Lounsbury performed a similar analysis, with similar assumptions, in his 1992 paper, and here the careful reader will observe the application of a double standard in how he processed the date, as follows. Tables that are intended to reveal which of the two correlations most accurately predicts Venus morning star risings must agree on the number of days beyond inferior conjunction on which Venus actually appears as  morning star in the east. The usual interval is 4 days, although this can vary by a day or two. The problem is that in one table Lounsbury assumes the date of precise inferior conjunction is the target date, and in another table he assumes that inferior conjunction +4 is to be the target.  This duplicitous application of the criteria and the data is, of course, unscientific. When the tables are corrected – it is the 584283 that is actually indicated as most precise!!! Lounsbury actually sort of indirectly acknowledges this in his summational sentences, but that the truth was severely muted is quite apparent to any discerning reader. Please read my analysis at The correlation issue was the subject of my studies in the early 1990s and were published in my 1994 book Tzolkin (Borderlands). Available here:


Now, the third problem is the most difficult for Lounsbury’s support for the 584285 / Dec 23 end date. This criterion is hugely ignored by those that propose various correlations, yet it looms as the most definitive test for any proposed correlation. From the various so-called Creation Texts, we know that is always coordinated with the tzolkin date 4 Ahau. Thus, any occurrence of (also sometimes written must fall on 4 Ahau. If Dec 23, 2012 is then it must also be 4 Ahau in the 260-day tzolkin. The tzolkin count that is still followed in the highlands of Guatemala is an unbroken daycount that extends back to the Classic Period, and beyond. The inherent stability and ceremonial continuity of the 260-day count, especially in traditional daykeeper communities in highland Guatemala, is noted and argued by Barbara Tedlock, Dennis Tedlock, and others. It is a mistaken notion that the 260-day count followed among the Quiché, Ixil, and other highland groups is discontinuous with the Classic Period tzolkin daycount, for many very good rational reasons. People often confuse shifting year-bearers, New Year’s day placements, and so on, as meaning “the calendar  became degraded and confused. But these secondary characteristics do not effect the continuity of the underlying 260-day count.


What this means is that the daycount followed today, which we can confirm very simply, will supply a very significant test of any proposed correlation. Quite simply: does counting forward to the end of 2012 with this daycount allow for a coordination of the day 4 Ahau (4 Hunahpu in Quiche) with Dec 21, 2012, or with Dec 23, 2012? The answer is: It supports Dec 21, 2012. Dennis Tedlock pointed this out, indicating that Lounsbury’s daycount was two-days off from the modern ethnographic evidence.  Lounsbury’s response is that his 285 correlation is valid, but that the Maya – nay, all Mesoamerican calendar priests - must have successfully achieved a simultaneous 2-day shift in their sacred count just prior to the conquest – thus explaining the three historical native dates we have documented during the conquest for Yucatan, Central Mexico, and Guatemala – all of which indicate the 584283 correlation. So …. this means that, even with the extremely improbable occurrence which Lounsbury proposes in order to preserve his 285 argument, the end date would still fall on Dec 21, 2012. Within his adjusted theory, all post-Conquest dates would effectively correlate with the 584283. So, why then does the Dec 23 continue to have currency? Simply because Coe and Schele have repeated it, and uncritical writers repeat it.


I’ve also examined the correlation proposed by Kelley, Wells and others. They all fail the test.  Only the 584283 satisfies all of the criteria.


Now, onto the zenith info in 3114 BC. By the 584283, would fall on August 11 in the Gregorian. This was the last day of the previous 13-baktun cycle. The first day of the current 13-baktun cycle falls on August 12. The precise solar zenith passage at the latitude of Izapa is August 13. For naked eye astronomers, it is virtually impossible to distinguish any difference between the sun’s declination at high noon on August 11 versus August 12 versus August 13 – even with the kind of gnomons that are in Izapa Group B. This is what I call a meaningless criterion of misplaced precision. It is similar to the flaw in Lounsbury’s argument – assuming a degree of precision that isn’t even supported in the vagaries of the astronomy under consideration.


So, in short, we can have the first day of the 13-baktun cycle intentionally placed on a solar zenith passage at the 15 degree north latitude, and also have an intentional placement of the 13-baktun cycle’s end date on a December solstice. A one-day variation only disqualifies this possibility if we are applying a level of modern scientific precision that is irrelevant to the situation of ancient naked-eye skywatching. It is easy to apply logic and dismiss than it is to contemplate and understand the mercurial motivations and goals of the early calendar makers and astronomers by embracing an interdisciplinary synthesis of the set and setting of their endeavors.


I have long suspected that the shifting relationship between sidereal and tropical astronomy, framed via the zenith passage and solstice dates, may provide a clue as to how the Maya were tracking precession. It now appears the Michael John Grofe, in his Un of Cal PhD thesis, has taken up this approach in understanding the precession cosmology embedded in the serpent sequence distance numbers in the Dresden Codex. A factor that he embraced in his analysis is the latitude specific sun-Pleiades-zenith relationships I identified in my book. This is all part of a the cutting edge of breakthrough, so is still in process, but it does seem that the Classic Period Maya were aware of precession. Furthermore, this knowledge seems embedded in the very architecture of the Long Count meaning that precessional knowledge must have been present when the Long Count was inaugurated  and carved in stone – at least as long ago as the first century BC (when the earliest Long Count monuments are dated).


All of this segues into my work at Izapa. I suppose I’d prefer that was another discussion, but it so germane to the astronomical features involved in the much misunderstood “galactic alignment” of era-2012 that I should say a few things. First, yes, it is true that “the sun” aligns with the Sagittarian Milky Way-ecliptic cross once every year in any  era. But the important specifier is that it is the DECEMBER SOLSTICE sun that shifts with precession and aligns with the Sagittarian Milky Way-ecliptic cross (at the southern terminus of the dark rift within the visible, and symbolically powerful, nuclear bulge of the Galactic Center) in era-2012. By “era-2012” I refer to the modern scientific calculation of this alignment made by European astronomer Jean Meeus, allowing for the 36-year precessional shifting of the ½ degree diameter of the sun. This is not to insinuate by any means that the Maya were conceiving of this alignment with the same terminology and concepts, as Aveni has assumed and utilized as the basis of his critique of my work. This is just a way we can rationally and factually talk about the process and the astronomical features involved in the alignment. 


We know that the Maya consider each day to have its “face.” The December solstice, and the other seasonal quarters, would have been of interest to early Maya astronomers and calendar makers.  In fact, using Edmonson’s data in The Book of The Year (1988), it seems likely that the earliest year-bearer system was a Type I system, in which the year bearers were AhauChicchanOc – Men.  The conceptual polar opposition of Chicchan (serpent) and Men (Eagle) is noteworthy, considering the ubiquitous non-dual mythology around the Plumed Serpent imagery. Most significantly, in this system Ahau would be the senior year bearer. The temporal structure of the Maya tzolkin-haab calendars contain a spatial corollary, such that the four year bearers refer to directions as well as the four yearly stations (the two equinoxes and two solstices). The quadripartite cosmogram of equinoxes and solstices, and the primacy of the December solstice, is indicated for some Mixe-Zoque groups and the Tzutujil, as I noted in my book with citations to the pertinent academic studies. The turnabout of the year at the December solstice also follows logically from any skywatching group observing the sun’s southward and northward horizon dawnings throughout the year.  My point is that the December solstice is embedded on a deep level of Maya cosmology, with connections to the Ahau daysign and cycle endings in calendrical accountings. The original conceptual arrangement of this scheme was clearly compromised as new year-bearer systems and haab positions were adopted, but it lies at the root of the conceptual geomantic system. These considerations suggest relationships between mythological deities (One Hunahpu), calendrical days (Ahau), and seasonal quarters (December solstice).


However, none of these arguments are really necessary, and are only indirectly related to the arguments that are central to my work on the precessional basis of the Long Count, which revolves around the ballcourt at Izapa pointing to the dawning December solstice sun.


A thorough understanding of the archaeoastronomy, iconography, and archaeological orientations at Izapa is necessary. A central premise of my work follows Michael Coe’s statement that the Izapan civilization was instrumental in the development of the Long Count. Thus, the primary site of the Izapan civilization, Izapa, becomes - quite rationally -  a focus. We may then examine the archaeoastronomy at the site and deduce that the concepts and preoccupations revealed in that analysis possibly reflect the ideation that went into the Long Count. The integrative synthesis that I offer for Izapa is not glimpsed in the BYU work at the site. Norman’s thesis on the astronomy at Izapa didn’t even mention the ballcourt; neither did Guernsey-Kappleman’s recent book on the site – both oversights being unfortunate and astounding. Unfortunate because the ballcourt’s alignment with the December solstice sunrise horizon is an important key to the iconography preserved on the ballcourt’s monuments. Astounding because the solstice sunrise alignment can be easily measured and viewed first hand.


As one might expect, the situation at Izapa in relation to neighboring sites and the flow of Mesoamerican history experienced by the site complexify the reconstruction of the cosmology at Izapa. I’ve addressed and explored many of these complexities, and have also addressed misunderstandings and critiques. My simplified statements that often are given to the press are simply that – the necessary simplifications of a complicated situation, designed for novice audiences and five-second sound bytes. I’m convinced that most of my detractors – especially scholars – are only catching glimpses of my work through these high profile media clips. If we look seriously at the implications of the ballcourt’s alignment with the December solstice sunrise, we are drawn to interpreting the throne and other monuments on the west end of the ballcourt with the aid of this orientational clue. There are many indications at Izapa that other carvings reflect sky features, and served to track solar movements – thus there is a pattern and precedent at the site that supports making this kind of connection. The astro-symbolism at Izapa is internally consistent, and yet is supported by a wider spectrum of known connections between myth and astronomy, notably in the Classic Period Starry Deer Crocodile symbolism and in the Popol Vuh.


All of this, as a whole, but especially at Izapa, can be summed up as follows: The astronomical features that are involved in the era-2012 galactic alignment are prominently present in the Maya Creation mythology, ballgame symbolism, and on the carved monuments of Izapa. This either means something or is a complete coincidence. Perhaps my interpretations cannot be proven with the same level of precision that math implies. I am a supporter of MacLeod’s 3-11 Pik formula, but I submit that finding the 71.15 year interval still requires a leap of interpretation to postulate that it indicates precessional knowledge. I believe this is a reasonable leap; the leap of interpretation that I invite scholars to make with my integrative synthesis at Izapa is no less likely. It seems however, that numbers convey a false sense of definitive precision or infallibility, whereas for some reason using astronomical horizon and sky alignments to interpret carved monuments that face those alignments is easily dismissed as wishful  thinking – even when those interpretations are supported by a wider spectrum of meaningful and established relationships. This may indeed seem so to those who have not studied the  spectrum of supportive evidence - direct, indirect, and contextual. Similarly, this route of verification is the only way that MacLeod’s interpretation could likewise be rendered acceptable/possible/likely. Best wishes,


John Major Jenkins



Of possible interest: (see exchange with David Stuart linked at the end).



You may have seen my response to Milbrath (and Aveni) that was published in the March issue of the Institute of Maya Studies newsletter (see the 2 attached pdf pages if you haven’t). That piece originally had a part 2 section but was excised for space reasons. I paste it below as it suggests a possible conceptual relationship that allows both the zenith zero date and the solstice end date to be intentional.     


Part II.


Susan Milbrath brought up an interesting observation that I believe results in a useful, and unavoidable, framing of the 2012 topic. It leads to yet another rational perspective that argues for the 2012 end-date being intentionally placed. In the December issue of the Institute of Maya Studies newsletter, Milbrath pointed out that the zero date (in 3114 BC) and the end date (in 2012 AD) both fall on astronomically interesting dates – the zenith passage day at 15° N latitude and a December solstice.  If all cycle endings exhibit like-in-kind events, what could be the connection between these two dates? Here is what I believe it is: The end of the previous 13-Baktun cycle and the end of the current 13-baktun cycle both locate the sun in the center of a cosmic cross. As Karl Taube and others have shown, in Maya symbolism crosses signify “cosmic centers” and “birth places.” The zenith cross was recognized by the Chortí Maya and has been used by the Yucatec Maya in their creation myth ceremonies. It was associated with the Milky Way-ecliptic cross in Gemini that passes through the zenith in late July.


The cross associated with the current 13-baktun cycle ending targets the southern terminus of the dark rift in the Milky Way—a celestial portal that represents a doorway to another realm (the “Xibalba be”). Both crosses target a hole. In the case of the zenith cross, that hole is the Yucatec Maya’s U Hol Glorya, the Glory Hole, which also serves as a celestial portal to another realm, a kind of ceremonial birthing portal reflected in the sky.


The most significant thing about this connection between and is that the sun, on both dates, is found in the middle of a cross that denotes a “cosmic center.” In terms of the sidereal astronomy, it may be significant that the two crosses are opposite each other in the sky—both are crosses formed by the place where the Milky Way crosses over the ecliptic. Perhaps a kind of alpha and omega of time is suggested in this fact – the cross at the beginning of the era opposes the cross at the end of the era.  This idea is speculative, and we should not think that the zenith’s association with a cross is time dependent (i.e., only valid when the Milky Way-ecliptic cross in Gemini passes through the zenith in late July).  Why? Because the zenith is the central, fifth, direction in the quincunx cosmogram that is a fundamental space-time model of Mesoamerican cosmology. The zenith is conceptually the center of a directional cross. When the sun aligns with the zenith, it occupies the center of this cross.   


Some investigators may argue that the ancient Maya perhaps made an intentional calculation only to locate a zenith passage date in the distant past and a solstice date in the distant future, ignoring the background cross that identifies the meaningful like-in-kind event. However, the cross as a cosmic center symbol is perfectly appropriate to be utilized in coordination with the solar rebirthing that is expected to happen at the end of each World Age cycle.


If we do not ignore this meaningful conceptual implication of the astronomy, then we must accept that the 2012 cycle ending was not only intended to target a solstice, but a solstice in conjunction with the Milky Way-ecliptic cross. This is an admission that a future precessional calculation must have been made when the Long Count was inaugurated over two thousand years ago. If we acknowledge this striking coordination of astronomy and meaningful eschatological symbolism, but choose to dismiss it as a coincidence (in the same way that some believe the 2012 end date’s solstice placement is a total coincidence), then we must add it to the growing pile of contextual evidence that is dismissed as coincidence. The larger this pile gets, the more we can suspect that we have been too quick to lean on dismissal and coincidence, and are trying too hard to ignore the evidence.