Academic Confusion

John Major Jenkins

Floyd Lounsbury continues trying to support his theory in support of the 584285 correlation in his essay "A Derivation of the Maya-to-Julian Calendar Correlation From the Dresden Codex Venus Chronology" in The Sky In Mayan Literature (1992). This is a good example of impressive-looking gobbledy-gook which, when examined closely, falls to pieces like a house of cards. In fact, a strangely deceptive form of circular logic is used here to support the thesis; nevertheless, toward the end of this essay Lounsbury graciously saves face by nodding to "one of the Thompson set of values."

This first section was part of correspondence
which led me to spell out the problem
with Lounsbury's essay:

I'm unsure what you mean by the "fourth Mayan Calendar". Do you refer to the Grolier Codex? I understand this contains Venus tables similar to those in the Dresden. The Sky in Mayan Literature is an incredible compilation, with me since last July. As well, the recent Schele and Freidel offering, Mayan Cosmos , contains many new ideas. I'm unsure what you mean by "the dead-ends of Eric Thompson". I'd agree that many of Thompson's claims are no longer valid, having paved the way to better understand ing. For instance, the correction procedure for adjusting for accumulated discrepency in the predictive Venus calendar ( Commentary on the Dresden Codex , 1972), in which the Venus Round is cut short after 61 Venus cycles to locate a new 1 Ahau Sacred Day of Venus near an actual Venus morningstar appearance, is probably only one of many conceived by the Maya. This correction procedure may not have been very satisfying for the Maya, since it cut short the mythically and calendrically potent Venus Round of 37,960 days. However, the most visible dichotomy between Lounsbury's work and Thompson's, continuing among two opposed camps in academia, is, of course, the correlation question. Lounsbury champions the old Thompson correlation of 1930 (corr# 584285), while Thompson himself revised it 2 days in 1950 (corr# 584283). This revision occurred as a result of reevaluating the Landa material as well as the overwhelming ethnographic evidence of the tzolkin count still being followed in the Highlands of Guatemala, supporting the 584283. As far as Lounsbury's paper on "", I take note of Lounsbury's reference to Thompson's dubious claim that was a scribal error for Lounsbury's discovery here seems valid, but in any case is workable from the standpoint of either correlation. Why? Lounsbury's support for the old 584285 correlation goes back to at least 1983 with the publication of "The Base of the Venus Table of the Dresden Codex..." ( Calendars of Mesoamerica and Peru , ed. Aveni). This paper attempts to correlate a 1 Ahau 18 Kayab date in the Dresden with an actual morningstar appearance of Venus. Lounsbury, I believe, succeeds in doing this, but the necessity of using the old 584285 correlation number doesn't follow. For several reasons. Yes, on Nov. 20th, 934 A.D. (julian) Venus does emerge as morningstar, figured to be 4 days after inferior conjunction. And yes, according to the 584285 this would have been precisely 1 Ahau 18 Kayab. But Lounsbury puts too much importance on exact accuracy to support his a priori assumptions. As Dennis Tedlock wrote in regard to this, a theory can't be "proven" on the basis of parameters that are too narrowly defined. The date cited represents a Sacred Day of Venus, the beginning of a new Venus Round period of some 104 years. Why does he assume that there must be a 0 deviation at this time? Why not make corrections half-way through the Venus Round? This would create a mean deviation of 2.6 days when the Sacred Day of Venus came around. And if they used the corrections that Thompson proposes, implemented after 61 Venus cycles, again we would not expect a 0 deviation when Lounsbury suggests. Most importantly, the synodic Venus cycle varies between 580 and 588 days from cycle to cycle. This suggests that the Maya, rooted in actual observations, understood the approximate nature of their prediction system; the degree of accuracy that Lounsbury demands is simply not present. So, as Dennis Tedlock notes in his book The Popol Vuh (pg 238), "the astronomical basis of his argument could easily be two days off." (This was relayed to Tedlock in a personal communication from astronomer John B. Carlson). The fact that Lounsbury pinpointed an actual Sacred Day of Venus should still be recognized; the two-day deviation is irrelevant. Unfortunately, Lounsbury continues his assault in "A Derivation of the Maya-to-Julian Calendar Correlation from the Dresden Codex Venus Chronology." ( The Sky in Mayan Lit. ) Let's look closely at this paper, and observe Lounsbury's clever technique of circular logic. (First, you may want to refer to my full argument against Lounsbury's 1983 paper in my book "Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies", pages 36-42).

First, let me say that I can't believe this was published. It looks good on the surface, but if you read carefully the fractures appear. Lounsbury first reviews data from the Venus Table on page 24 of the Dresden Codex which he will employ to "derive the correlation between the Mayan and the Julian Calendars" (184). We should remember here that Lounsbury assumes a priori that, as in his 1983 paper, a date with 0 deviation is required. Next, he discusses the Landa data. This is really an overview of the procedure used by Thompson to postulate the 584285 correlation back in 1930, although Lounsbury does present all the options. Of these Lounsbury chooses the 584285 for the experiment he will perform, though he is at the ready "to switch to one of the others should the result of the investigation appear to call for it." The following "Deriving the Correlation" section will appear to magically manifest the desired correlation number. If you carefully read the argument on pages 188 and 189 you will see what I mean. First, Lounsbury locates the most recent occurrence of a date 1 Ahau 18 Kayab (easily done with Mayan Calendrics software). Remember though, this date utilizes the a priori 584285. Then he calculates either 9 or 10 Calendar Rounds backwards and figures for the accumulated discrepency between the actual rising date of Venus and that predicted via this 1 Ahau 18 Kayab date. On page 189 the argument concludes with the same finding of his 1983 paper, that Nov 20th 934 A.D. corresponds to 1 Ahau 18 Kayab (via the 584285) and is precisely the day on which Venus rose as morningstar (4 days after inferior conjunction). Yet, we have seen that this degree of precision is irrelevant in terms of the inherent variations in the Venus cycle from cycle to cycle even . In the next "1 Ahau 18 Uo" section Lounsbury performs a similar experiment, continuing to assume the 584285. Here he finds that the best date in terms of an actual Venus rising is Dec 6th, 1129 A.D. (J), which is this time 1.2 days after appearance. (In this instance, the deviation is figured from the Venus morningstar appearance date, 4 days after inferior conjunction.) Take note that if we assumed the 584283 correlation for this particular section, the deviation would be only .8 days before appearance. So now Lounsbury claims to have "an unambiguous chronological equation... for date F of tables 7.1 and 7.2". Then, in an amazing display of circular logic, he subtracts the "Maya Day" number of the above cited date from the Julian day number of the same date and, low and behold...584285. Did we forget that this particular correlation was used as his a priori assumption all along? He performs this bold-faced deception on 3 more dates, each one ending in apparent triumph with... = 584285 .

Finally, Lounsbury does address the other possible correlations stemming from the Landa data,
including the 584283 (see table on page 200). This sums up what would have
happened if we would have assumed the 584283 rather than the
584285 in the experiments related on pages 187 to 194.
This table on page 200 proves that, even in the
context of Lounsbury's need for precision
and small deviation, the 584283 is best:

The four deviations found with the 584285 are:

4.1, 5.2, 6.7 and 6.3: Mean dev. = 5.575

(In this instance, the mean deviation is figured from inferior conjunction of Venus,
and therefore the mean deviation closest to 4.0, i.e., 4 days after inferior
conjunction, is the best). The overall deviation then is 1.575 days "off".
Now the four deviations found if we had assumed the 584283 :

2.1, 3.2, 4.7 and 4.3: Mean dev. = 3.575

Here the deviation from the "4 days after inferior conjunction" baseline is only .425 days! Hmm... gee... Even using Lounsbury's criterea the 584283 wins out. Lounsbury, to his discredit, does not explicitly point this out, except in a denial sort of way when he says "It is date D whose astronomical circumstances are the most critical for an evaluation of the relative merits of the three interpretations of Landa's double date" (200). By eliminating the other data, Lounsbury simply circles back to that same Nov 20th, 934 A.D. date and his requirement of perfect accuracy. But now he begins to generalize his argument, and craftily ends his essay by saying "...I believe that this provides further assurance that one of the Thompson set of values for the correlation constant is correct. (204)" [italics added] Very diplomatic. Yes, one of those Thompson correlations is, indeed the correct one. It is the 584283, the so-called "Thompson 2" correlation of 1950, the one that makes 4 Ahau 8 Cumku equal to August 11th, 3114 B.C. And the present-day Maya would agree.

An added note. It should be pointed out that in the popular books authored by Linda Schele and David Freidel ("Forest of Kings" (1990) and "Maya Cosmos" (1993), they follow Lounsbury in supporting the 584285 correlation. ("Forest of Kings" was, in fact, dedicated to Lounsbury, Schele's mentor.) This is problematic for another reason, the fact that modern day Mayan daykeepers in Guatemala are de facto following the 283 correlation. Lounsbury bandaged this by saying that there was a two-day shift in the day-count sometime just prior to the conquest. This means that, even by Lounsbury's theory, the 13-baktun cycle end date is December 21st, 2012 A.D., and all other post-conquest dates given in Schele and Freidel are wrong. I point this out in my published article "The How and Why of the Mayan End Date in A.D. 2012" (Dec. '94):

"Linda Schele and David Freidel, unlike most Mayanists, continue to support the work of Floyd Lounsbury in promoting the 584285 correlation. This is 2 days off from the Thompson correlation that I use. The decisive factor in supporting the Thompson correlation of 584283 is the fact that it corresponds with the tzolkin count still followed in the highlands of Guatemala. To account for this discrepency in his correlation, Lounsbury claims that the count was shifted back two days sometime before the conquest (not likely), thus explaining its present placement. This means that either correlation will give the December 21st end date. Nevertheless, Schele and Freidel still report that the end date is December 23rd, 2012 rather than Dec. 21st, an unfortunate faux pas understandable only because they aren't particularly interested in the specifics of the correlation debate. For a detailed discussion of this topic, refer to my book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies " ("The Mountain Astrologer", Dec-1994, pg. 57).

Another note. Honorary guests at the Austin Hieroglyphic conference in Austin this year (March of '95) were Cakchiquel and Quiché Maya men from the Antigua environs. They were allowed to set up a booth and sell handicrafts and calendar books. These calendar books are called "Cholb' äl Q'j: Agenda Maya" and are nice little booklets which utilize the correct correlation. When I met my Quiche friend Diego in Antigua on Feb 19th, 1994, the first thing we both did was pull out our respective calendar books and point out the fact that the day was Hun Ajpa (One Ahau) - a significant day in the tzolkin calendar. At the Austin conference I found a University of Pennsylvania conference flyer with the wrong correlation dates, probably just blindly following the information in Schele's books. So, I wonder how much thought is then put into the value of these indigenous calendar traditions, and how insulting it must be for authentic Mayan daykeepers who were attending the Austin conference?