300 days left. Only National Geographic's Digital Nomad, Andrew Evans, could make the end of the world look like a sight for sore eyes. He is currently traveling throughout the ancient lands of the Maya to get to the bottom of their prophecies about 2012 (see my earlier posts on his journey, here and here). Today, he traveled through the Mayan provincial capital of Uxmal, where he pondered the Mayan politics of rain-making. Above, a zoomable photograph of Uxmal's House of the Magician, also known as the Pyramid of the Dwarf or the Pyramid of the Soothsayer, whose business was to appeal to the Mayan rain god, Chaac. A deficit in rain over 150 years now appears to have caused the death of the Mayans' civilization.
Imagine their mounting desperation, building ever more sophisticated buildings, with pyramids that reached higher and higher, ever more obsessed with numbers, so that they could appeal to a mystical environment that grew increasingly deaf to their pleas. Instead, the waters finally yielded foreign explorers and conquerors, who hailed an end that had already arrived for dominant Mayan society.
Bolon Yokte', god of the conflict, war and the Underworld, will supposedly walk the earth in 2012. Image Source: J. Kerr via Wiki.
From the seventh century CE come the predictions that the god of conflict, war and the Underworld, Bolon Yokte', will arrive in our time (some are even going so far as to equate Bolon Yokte' with Jesus Christ's Biblically-predicted arrival on the Day of Judgment).
The December 21st date was equated with the end of an era and the start of a new age. The current era is associated in the Popol Vuh (read it here or here) with the gods' creation of a Fourth World. The new, coming age marks a new godly cycle, the fifth and final age of humankind. But the precise 21 December 2012 prediction is only associated, according to Evans, with one source, three stone tablets from the Mayan site, El Tortuguero; those tablets are now in a museum, which he visited last week:
Perhaps we must ask whether the weight of this seventh century prophecy changed over time. Did the Mayans marry their conviction that there were finite periods of divine creation to their mounting desperation as their civilization fell apart? Were destruction and collapse worked into their concept of cyclical time and divine creation?That record is contained in Monument 6 from the Maya archeological site of El Tortuguero, located in the Mexican state of Tabasco about 30 miles southeast of Villahermosa. Due to rising worldwide interest in the prophecy, the stone tablets were recently moved to Villahermosa and are now on permanent display at El Museo Regional de Anthropologia de Carlos Pellicer Cámara (named after the Mexican poet and traveler who first discovered the inscriptions in 1958).
The museum is open to the public from Tuesday through Sunday—thus I arrived first thing on Tuesday morning, just as the guards were unlocking the front doors. I found the general lack of fanfare around the tablets a bit odd, given the worldwide excitement around the Maya prophecy.
“Yeah, it’s upstairs,” yawned the docent, pointing up a floor. And there it was, bolted onto the wall, a flat piece of off-white stone that most of us would skip right past in most museums.
The whole of Monument 6 consists of three rectangular slabs, which were originally placed on the back wall of a ceremonial building in Tortuguero in a T-shape (a symbol that represents the wind in Mayan iconography).
The decorative narrative of Monument 6 details the life and times of “Lord Jaguar” Ahau Balam, who was born in 612 A.D. and ruled from 644 to 679 A.D. Events from the past are also highlighted on the stone, such as wars, the dedication of new buildings, a great fire, and the opening of a steam bath.
It is the final passage of Monument 6 that draws so much interest, specifically the countdown from Lord Jaguar’s life to the “final date” of the 13th baktun, or 184.108.40.206.0. According to the Maya long count calendar, that date is December 21st, 2012.
Staring at the actual carved inscription of the final passage of Monument 6 was both exciting and a little underwhelming. Like any history buff, I find any bit of old writing pretty thrilling, but as a traveler in search of hard facts, I found the handful of Maya glyphs offered me very little to go on.
When all is said and done, the Maya “doomsday” prophecy boils down to eight carved characters, of which half are crumbled and unclear. Academics still debate their specific meaning, but the translation offered at the museum is as follows:
The thirteenth baktun will end on the day 4 Ajaw; 3 K’ank’in; Will occur the descent of the god Bolom Yokté.
No fire and brimstone, or planetary collisions or global floods or polar shifts. Only a reference to Bolom Yokté, who is one of the Maya gods associated with the creation of the universe. Naming this particular deity opens up a whole new field for interpretation and speculation, since Maya gods can represent a whole host of meanings and events.
I had traveled all the way to Villahermosa for the true source of the 2012 prophecy — What I found was a damaged stone, like a tattered corner ripped from some old newspaper, printed with outdated headlines and one final cryptic sentence.
Andrew ended the day at one of the last Mayan cities, Tulum, a great walled fortress facing the Caribbean-Gulf juncture in the Atlantic Ocean. Tulum hung on - past the main Mayan collapse around 900 CE - until the 15th century. It even survived about 70 years past the arrival of Spanish explorers and colonists. Below, the view from the beach hotel at Tulum, the most soothing sight I saw all day. I am sure it took on a different quality entirely when the town's last guards and inhabitants, gazing from their walls out to the sea, instead saw this very horizon dotted with Spanish Galleons.
Image (24 February 2012) © A. Evans / National Geographic.