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Concise and Detailed Look into the 2012 Myth
on July 15, 2011
"2012 and the End of the World" is a concise and detailed look into all things 2012, focusing on the history of the New World's apocalyptic fascination and how it connects to this key date in Maya history.
Matthew Restall and Amara Solari are professors at Penn State. The two were preparing a class to be taught IN 2012, focused ON 2012 and the result of those preparations is this book. Spanning only about 100 pages, the chapters are well-organized and well-structured for easy classroom note taking ("first we will be discussing these four points...point 1, etc."). This very readable book is more academic than narrative, but does an incredible job of incorporating a lot of info in only a few pages. It's not written for the academic community, but rather it's targeted at readers interested in understanding what's behind the 2012 mythos.
They refer to 2012ology...the study of all things related to the Maya "Prophecy" and the "end date" of their Long Count calendar: December, 21, 2012. As they state early in the book, the purpose of their class, and this book "is to use 2012ology as a vehicle for combining the sources and methods of art history to explain the medieval, modern, and Maya contributions to the 2012 phenomenon..." The book contains numerous drawings, photos and images that enhance their own descriptive analyses.
What started all of this bizarrely intense focus on 12/21/12? It was the fragments of a monument accidentally uncovered by construction workers at a small archaeological site known as El Tortuguero. On what is known as Stella 6 is a reference to 126.96.36.199.0, a date used in the Maya's long range time-tracking calendar, and a strange and brief mythological tale. The Maya Long Count calendar keeps a running tally of time from a certain "zero" starting point. That starting point is equivalent to our 0 A.D. It's arbitrary and after years of research and discoveries, Mayanists have established the Long Count starting point as our August 11, 3114 B.C. Mayanists are then able to work forward and determine that the Tortuguero carving matches with our December 21, 2012. The fact that 12/21/12 happens to fall on a winter solstice is not lost on scientists nor 2012ologists...those from the non-scientific community have put their own stake in the ground in attempting to bring meaning to 188.8.131.52.0.
"One interpretation of the Long Count argues that it is by its very nature 'predictive'. In other words, it was not created by selecting a starting date and then counting forward to 2012. Instead...the Maya selected a significant end date and then counted backwards." Since the Maya are well known to have tracked the progression and cycles of celestial events, it wouldn't be all that difficult to find a future solstice and work back from there.
This is a very interesting theory and makes sense in a number of ways, however, Restall and Solari make it clear that the theory "is not widely accepted among Mayanists today. In no way diminishing the impressiveness that the Maya were able to even look that far ahead to make connections with significant celestial events, the authors write, "...there is no evidence...it is an intriguing speculation, but not one supported by any other text or image among Maya sources." Those from the non-scientific world of 2012ology, however, have latched onto the predictive premise, insisting that the Maya meant something significant to happen on this date.
The perception by some that the Maya were expecting an "end-of-times" comes not just from Tortuguero alone, but through a combination of resources. Renowned Mayan Epigrapher David Stuart indicates that the carving from Tortuguero is the SOLE reference to the infamous 12/21/12 date. But the view of what it means comes from a blending of multiple resources. One of the extant Maya-originated documents called the Dresden Codex includes an image and story related to a world-changing flood. Much of Maya myth involves dreadfully violent and vivid acts of violence. But almost all of those myths include a rebounding or recycling event that follows the destruction.
The Maya (and most Mesoamerican cultures) were all about the cycles of existence: agriculture, life, death, birth, etc. The cycles of the physical world are what drove the Maya mindset. And so their mythology and religion developed around that. The position of the stars and moon helped guide the best times to plant or harvest, for example. The sheer amount of cultural remains that reference specific dates indicates that importance of time to these peoples. And it makes sense. The physical world is an extremely mysterious place and the drivers of their lives were completely bound by the uncontrollable "whims" of the world around them. Restall and Solari make it crystal clear that the Maya were not interested in apocalyptic foretellings and futures. It was all about renewal and rebirth.
The apocalyptic viewpoint was brought TO the Maya during the post-Conquest, colonial settlement period in the New World. Specifically, the Franciscan sect of friars spread throughout Mesoamerica focused on saving the souls of the uninitiated "savages" of New Spain. The Book of Revelations and the inherent Christian "threats" of Hell drove home a more apocalpytic religious perspective that became embedded in the Maya integration and absorption of European religion.
Like what happened during the late '90s during the run up to Y2K, the pop culture hum around a 2012 Apocalypse will become a roar over the next 2 years. The authors highlight one hotel in Central America that offers a 12/21/12 special package...if tourists stay during 12/21, and the world still exists on 12/22, then that night is free.
I enjoyed reading this book and its broad perspectives. I would also highly recommend David Stuart's "The Order of Days" for a more comprehensive dive into Maya culture, history and their calendar.