John Major Jenkins
January 1st, 2008
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This essay will approach the 2012 topic in a rational way. How we approach the topic is an important preliminary to understanding the topic correctly. In my many years of working with this material, and engaging dialogues with scholars and others, I've observed that various assumptions, biases, and misconceptions tend to occur. These occur even within high level scholarly discourse, and I will address and clarify these in this essay.
According to the GMT-2 correlation, the end date of the current 13-Baktun cycle in the Long Count calendar falls on December 21, 2012 AD. This correlation was established, tested, and verified over a period of roughly forty-five years, beginning with Joseph T. Goodman's paper of 1905. The reasoning that led Goodman to his correlation was under-appreciated until the 1920s, when Juan Martinez and J. Eric S. Thompson took a careful look at his work. By 1927 Thompson proposed a slight revision, based on a careful scrutiny of the astronomical phenomenon recorded on dated monuments. This resulted in the GMT correlation known by the Julian day associated with the 13-baktun cycle's zero day: 584285. This resulted in the current 13-baktun cycle ending on December 23, 2012. Based on the connection between the Long Count calendar and the 260-day tzolkin calendar that is reinforced by hundreds of dated monuments, the associated tzolkin date for December 23, 2012 would by definition need to be 4 Ahau.
In the 1930s ethnographers such as Lincoln and LaFarge began to document the survival of what appeared to be an unbroken 260-day calendar tradition in the highlands of Guatemala. Although New Year's Day placements and year-bearer systems differed among various groups in the highlands, the tzolkin placement was universally the same. Later, additional ethnographers verified this universality and also argued that the surviving count was heir to an unbroken lineage from the Classic Period Maya. Thus, one could project the surviving day-count placement found in Guatemala into the future and note that 4 Ahau would fall on December 21, 2012 rather than December 23. It is not clear that Maya specialists projected forward to the cycle ending date in order to run this test of the correlation, but something similar must have occurred since as early as the 1940s, Thompson understood the importance of the emerging ethnographic data, reevaluated the historical documents from Yucatan, and made a two-day correction to the correlation, called in 1950 the GMT-2 correlation (Julian Day = 584283). Now the surviving unbroken tzolkin would be correctly correlated with the Long Count such that 188.8.131.52.0 would fall on 4 Ahau, December 21, 2012.
The vast majority of the other contending correlations have ignored this important test, and do not coordinate with the surviving tzolkin placement directly or in 260-day multiples. The one exception, the Spinden correlation, is outside the range required by the Carbon-14 evidence. The proponents of these various correlations never offer an explanation for this failing. This problem includes Lounsbury's efforts to restore the original GMT correlation, in publications of 1983 and 1992. His arguments have been carefully analyzed and refuted, by Dennis Tedlock and in online papers by myself. When faced with the surviving tzolkin placement, Lounsbury's tried to salvage his theory by suggesting that a simultaneous Pan-Mesoamerican shift in the tzolkin of two days must have occurred shortly before the conquest. (We have documentary evidence from the conquest period that supports the 584283 correlation in three widely separated regions of Mesoamerica.) Dennis Tedlock observed that Lounsbury's proposition would have been virtually impossible to coordinate, nor would violating the internal integrity of the sacred count have been consistent with the conservative nature of the day-keeping tradition. Nevertheless, even if we accept Lounsbury's irrational suggestion, what this means is that all post-Conquest dates would essentially be shifted back two days, causing the cycle ending to fall on December 21 rather than the 23rd. All of the advocates for the widely quoted December 23, 2012 cycle ending date are in error, any way you look at it, and without doubt we can state that the 13-Baktun cycle end date falls on December 21, 2012.
It is important to establish this because an unavoidable observation follows. Whoever invented the Long Count wanted to, and was able to, place the great cycle ending on an accurate December solstice. Our further investigation of the 2012 topic must follow from this, with meaningful results supported by additional evidence. The only alternative is to believe that the coordination of the 13-baktun cycle end date with a December solstice is a coincidence. The odds of this are extremely high. Besides, when we understand how World Age doctrines operate, it makes perfect sense to coordinate a big cycle ending with the smaller, annual cycle ending of the winter solstice (in the northern hemisphere). If we want to believe in coincidence, then the investigation goes no further. If we want to accept the most simple interpretation based on the fact of the end date's placement, then we have to accept that a high level of astronomical and mathematical sophistication was known to the people who invented the Long Count system.
It has been suggested by Edmonson (Book of the Year, 1988) and Bricker that the ancient Maya or pre-Maya people must have been aware of the "year-drift formula," in which 1507 solar years (of 365.2422 days each) equal 1508 haab (of 365 days each). This may be true, and it identifies a possible methodology by which the calculation was made, but it doesn't provide direct evidence for how they made their observations and calculations that resulted in the year-drift formula. All we know is that, somehow, they must have done it. If we cannot ultimately identify their observational methodology, it does not mean that coincidence must therefore be the explanation. The same rationale will apply to my end date alignment theory.
So, did the ancient inventors of the Long Count intend the 13-baktun cycle ending to coordinate with a December solstice? The most rational and most likely answer is, yes. For investigators who disagree, the alternative explanation is "coincidence." That may be a safe response, as it releases us from the obligation of investigating the topic further, but I propose that such an explanation is not rational, nor is it intellectually honest. But perhaps a compromise is possible. For those who believe it is coincidence, I suggest that the possibility that it is not coincidence be entertained as a working hypothesis. This, at the very least, should be allowed as a hypothetical thought experiment. Our approach to 2012 can therefore be predicated upon this important and heretofore neglected probability: that the cycle ending in 2012 is not a random date generated from Long Count mathematics stemming from the beginning date, but that some kind of intentionality is present in its placement.
This line of thought is supported by understanding the vast cycles of time that are involved in the World Age doctrine. It's one thing to be able to calculate accurate solstice dates far into the future, and it makes sense to locate a big cycle ending in coordination with a smaller cycle ending, but why 2012? Could it be that there is something significant about 2012, or the years around 2012, that could explain its placement? (Note: we are already entertaining the working hypothesis that some kind of intentionality is behind the cycle ending's placement in 2012). If the answer is "they only wanted to place it on a solstice," that answer only provides a partial explanation, for the date in 2012 signals the end of a 13-Baktun cycle, a World Age. Something much more rare than a yearly December solstice must be at work here.
Before we explore this area, we should explain something about the World Age doctrine, and its relationship to the Long Count calendar. This is another area where plentiful evidence and data is at hand, which helps us frame our understanding correctly, but which hasn't been widely acknowledged let alone accepted.
The Long Count calendar is found on many monuments and ceramic vessels. It almost always utilizes five place values: the kin, uinal, tun, katun, and baktun. The end of a 13-Baktun period is found frequently on so-called Creation monuments that deal with the events that occur at the end of a World Age - the end of a 13-Baktun period. Here we need to emphasize that a connection between the Long Count and the World Age doctrine is intrinsic to the philosophical system of time that underlies the Long Count. As such, we can look to the Maya Creation Myth, the Popol Vuh, which in its own mythological terms details the events that occur at cycle endings. It has never been acknowledged by scholars that our understanding of 2012 (that is, how the ancient Maya thought about 2012) may benefit from studying the Popol Vuh because of this conceptual connection to the Long Count's 13-Baktun period.
The majority of the data that we have for the Long Count system tells us that five place values are the norm and a 13-Baktun period is the significant World Age interval. Even the earliest Long Count dates, from the 1st century BC, contain only five place values. Critics often point out that very large Long Count numbers have been found, and that a 20-baktun period was used at Palenque. Sometimes this information is used to detract from the importance of a 13-Baktun cycle in the Long Count system. I've dealt with this in print as early as 1996, in direct response to the primary purveyor of this notion, Linda Schele. In responding to a request by a fan to address the value of a New Age book called The Mayan Prophecies (Cotterell and Gilbert, 1995) she noted that a 20-Baktun cycle was recorded by Pacal because the end of that period coincided with the day-sign of his coronation as king. This, in her opinion, ousted the importance of the 13-Baktun period. Or, more to the point, that is what many who have cited her have led others to believe. Pacal, in a social engineering ploy, was thus able to cast himself into the story of the Creation Myth. The 20-baktun date therefore arose from a power play employed some seven hundred years after the Long Count was first inaugurated. Given the political motivation behind this instance of a 20-baktun period, the oft-repeated assertion that it can render the frequently attested 13-Baktun period meaningless is absolutely absurd. And yet, although I've been pointing this out for over ten years, I have never once been able to get any supposedly rational scholar to concur with my observation. Instead, the old deceptive line is repeated, since it adequately deflates what they perceive to be a New Age obsession with 2012. Scholars are apparently willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater, even if they need to be irrational in doing so.
The large Long Count numbers that occur sometimes on monuments and in codices are often "long distance" calculation devices used in the almanacs. Where they refer to time periods, they express logical albeit hypothetical expansions of the Long Count place values. However, their occurrences neither violate the importance of the 13-baktun period, nor do they imply that the Maya "really" believed a World Age lasted longer than 13 Baktuns. Again, 13 Baktuns is the frequently stated World Age period on the Creation Monuments and texts.
So, we can state with fair certainty three things about the philosophy of time that underlies the Long Count calendar.
These are the most likely working hypotheses we can derive from a rational assessment of what we know about the Long Count system. With these perspectives in mind, we can introduce and examine my theory about the 2012 cycle ending date.