Saturday, October 4, 2008

Myth about the End Of Universe at 21 Dec 2012

Why did the ancient Mayan or pre-Maya choose December 21st, 2012 A.D.(The Maya calendar is a system of distinct calendars and almanacs used by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica), as the end of their Long Count calendar? This article will cover some recent research. Scholars have known for decades that the 13-baktun cycle of the Mayan "Long Count" system of timekeeping was set to end precisely on a winter solstice, and that this system was put in place some 2300 years ago. This amazing fact - that ancient Mesoameri- can skywatchers were able to pinpoint a winter solstice far off into the future - has not been dealt with by Mayanists. And why did they choose the year 2012? One immediately gets the impression that there is a very strange mystery to be confronted here. I will be building upon a clue to this mystery reported by epigrapher Linda Schele in Maya Cosmos (1994). This article is the natural culmination of the research relating to the Mayan Long Count and the precession of the equinoxes that I explored in my recent book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (Borderlands Science and Research Foundation, 1994).
The Mayan Long Count
Just some basics to get us started. The Maya were adept skywatchers. Their Classic Period is thought to have lasted from 200 A.D. to 900 A.D., but recent archeological findings are pushing back the dawn of Mayan civilization in Mesoamerica. Large ruin sites indicating high culture with distinctly Mayan antecedents are being found in the jungles of Guatemala dating back to before the common era. And even before this, the Olmec civilization flourished and developed the sacred count of 260 days known as the tzolkin. The early Maya adopted two different time keeping systems, the "Short Count" and the Long Count. The Short Count derives from combining the tzolkin cycle with the solar year and the Venus cycle of 584 days. In this way, "short" periods of 13, 52 and 104 years are generated. Unfortunately, we won't have occasion to dwell on the properties of the so-called Short Count system here. The Long Count system is somewhat more abstract, yet is also related to certain astronomical cycles. It is based upon nested cycles of days multiplied at each level by that key Mayan number, twenty:
Number of Days / Term
1 / Kin (day)
20 / Uinal
360 / Tun
7200 / Katun
144000 / Baktun
Notice that the only exception to multiplying by twenty is at the tun level, where the uinal period is instead multiplied by 18 to make the 360-day tun. The Maya employed this counting system to track an unbroken sequence of days from the time it was inaugurated. The Mayan scholar Munro Edmonson believes that the Long Count was put in place around 355 B.C. This may be so, but the oldest Long Count date as yet found corresponds to 32 B.C. We find Long Count dates in the archeological record beginning with the baktun place value and separated by dots. For example: equals 6 baktuns, 19 katuns, 19 tuns, 0 uinals and 0 days. Each baktun has 144000 days, each katun has 7200 days, and so on. If we add up all the values we find that indicates a total of 1007640 days have elapsed since the Zero Date of The much discussed 13-baktun cycle is completed 1872000 days (13 baktuns) after This period of time is the so called Mayan "Great Cycle" of the Long Count and equals 5125.36 years.
But how are we to relate this to a time frame we can understand? How does this Long Count relate to our Gregorian calendar? This problem of correlating Mayan time with "western" time has occupied Mayan scholars since the beginning. The standard question to answer became: what does (the Long Count "beginning" point) equal in the Gregorian calendar? When this question is answered, archeological inscriptions can be put into their proper historical context and the end date of the 13-baktun cycle can be calculated. After years of considering data from varied fields such as astronomy, ethnography, archeology and iconography, J. Eric S. Thompson determined that correponded to the Julian date 584283, which equals August 11th, 3114 B.C. in our Gregorian calendar. This means that the end date of, some 5125 years later, is December 21st, 2012 A.D.1
The relationship between the Long Count and Short Count has always been internally consistent (both were tracked alongside each other in an unbroken sequence since their conception). Now it is very interesting to note that an aspect of the "Short Count", namely, the sacred tzolkin count of 260 days, is still being followed in the highlands of Guatemala. As the Mayan scholar Munro Edmonson shows in The Book of the Year, this last surviving flicker of a calendar tradition some 3000 years old supports the Thompson correlation of 584283. Edmonson also states that the Long Count was begun by the Maya or pre-Maya around 355 B.C., but there is reason to believe that the Long Count system was being perfected for at least 200 years prior to that date.
The point of interest for these early astronomers seems to have been the projected end date in 2012 A.D., rather than the beginning date in 3114 B.C. Having determined the end date in 2012 (for reasons we will come to shortly), and calling it, they thus proclaimed themselves to be living in the 6th baktun of the Great Cycle. The later Maya certainly attributed much mythological significance to the beginning date, relating it to the birth of their deities, but it now seems certain that the placement of the Long Count hinges upon its calculated end point. Why did early Mesoamerican skywatchers pick a date some 2300 years into the future and, in fact, how did they pinpoint an accurate winter solstice? With all these considerations one begins to suspect that, for some reason, the ancient New World astronomers were tracking precession.
The Precession
The precession of the equinoxes, also known as the Platonic Year, is caused by the slow wobbling of the earth's polar axis. Right now this axis roughly points to Polaris, the "Pole Star," but this changes slowly over long periods of time. The earth's wobble causes the position of the seasonal quarters to slowly precess against the background of stars. For example, right now, the winter solstice position is in the constellation of Sagittarius. But 2000 years ago it was in Capricorn. Since then, it has precessed backward almost one full sign. It is generally thought that the Greek astronomer Hipparchus was the first to discover precession around 128 B.C. Yet scholarship indicates that more ancient Old World cultures such as the Egyptians (see Schwaller de Lubicz's book Sacred Science) and Babylonians also knew about the precession.
I have concluded that even cultures with simple horizon astronomy and oral records passed down for a hundred years or so, would notice the slow shifting of the heavens. For example, imagine that you lived in an environment suited for accurately demarcated horizon astronomy. Even if this wasn't the case, you might erect monoliths to sight the horizon position of, most likely, the dawning winter solstice sun. This position in relation to background stars could be accurately preserved in oral verse or wisdom teachings, to be passed down for centuries. Since precession will change this position at the rate of 1 degree every 72 years, within the relatively short time of 100 years or so, a noticeable change will have occurred. The point of this is simple. To early cultures attuned to the subtle movements of the sky, precession would not have been hard to notice.2
The Maya are not generally credited with knowing about the precession of the equinoxes. But considering everything else we know about the amazing sophistication of Mesoamerican astronomy, can we realistically continue to deny them this? Many of the as yet undeciphered hieroglyphs may ultimately describe precessional myths. Furthermore, as I show in my book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies, the Long Count is perfectly suited for predicting future seasonal quarters, indefinitely, and precession is automatically accounted for. Some of the most incredible aspects of Mayan cosmo-conception are just now being discovered. As was the case with the state of Egyptology in the 1870's, we still have a lot to learn. In addition, Mayanists like Gordon Brotherston (The Book of the Fourth World) consider precessional knowledge among Mesoamerican cultures to be more than likely.
The Sacred Tree
We are still trying to answer these questions: What is so important about the winter solstice of 2012 and, exactly how were calculations made so accurately, considering that precession should make them exceedingly difficult?
If we make a standard horoscope chart for December 21st, 2012 A.D., nothing very unusual appears. In this way I was led astray in my search until Linda Schele provided a clue in the recent book Maya Cosmos. Probably the most exciting breakthrough in this book is her identification of the astronomical meaning of the Mayan Sacred Tree. Drawing from an impressive amount of iconographic evidence, and generously sharing the process by which she arrived at her discovery, the Sacred Tree is found to be none other than the crossing point of the ecliptic with the band of the Milky Way. Indeed, the Milky Way seems to have played an important role in Mayan imagery. For example, an incised bone from 8th century Tikal depicts a long sinking canoe containing various deities. This is a picture of the night sky and the canoe is the Milky Way, sinking below the horizon as the night progresses, and carrying with it deities representing the nearby constellations. The incredible Mayan site of Palenque is filled with Sacred Tree motifs and references to astronomical events. In their book Forest of Kings, Schele and Freidel suggested that the Sacred Tree referred to the ecliptic. Apparently that was only part of the picture, for the Sacred Tree that Pacal ascends in death is more than just the ecliptic, it is the sacred doorway to the underworld. The crossing point of Milky Way and ecliptic is this doorway and represents the sacred source and origin. In the following diagram of the well known sarcophagus carving, notice that the Milky Way tree serves as an extension of Pacal's umbilicus. The umbilicus is a human being's entrance into life, and entrance into death as well:

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