Friday, October 12, 2012

The LoC gets the word

kw: mayan history, eschatology, lectures

In Washington, D.C. yesterday, near noontime I made my way to the Madison Building of the Library of Congress for a lecture by Professor Mark Van Stone about the Maya and the alleged 2012 apocalypse. He has published a book and an iBook (not an eBook; it is only for iPad at present) on the matter. The event was a part of Hispanic Heritage Month at the LoC, and Dr. V was introduced by the Director, Barbara Tenenbaum.

Until recently, only one Mayan inscription had anything to say about the "13th Baktun", the year in their calendar. The Mayas counted by twenties, so 13x20x20x20x20 = 2,080,000 days or nearly 5,695 years. The prior instance of a calendar reset would then have been some time in 3,684 BC (remember there is no year 0 between BC and AD). According to that single inscription, the two readable characters after the date tell us that a certain god is going to dress in a ceremonial costume. What ceremony? No data.

In June, a second monument was found, equally enigmatic. Considering that other Maya inscriptions discuss events they expected some 3,000 years further in the future—and perhaps much further—, at the very least we understand that they did not expect time to end, nor their civilization. However, their status as prophets is a bit suspect, for they did not foretell the end of their own dominance in the 900s, nor the Spanish conquest of the 1490s.

Anyway, once December 21, 2012 (or maybe the 23d or 24th; some scholars calculate differently) has come and gone, there is always the end of the Aztec calendar in 2027 to worry about, if you are a worry wart…except that the Aztecs also predicted some kind of dire event for the year 2039 (I'll be 92 by then, if I am still around).

Does the apparent path of the Sun crossing the Galactic equator have any significance? It happens that, on or near December 21, the Sun will appear to pass the center of the Galaxy—well, within about three degrees. Some folks state that precession of the equinoxes means this only happens every 22,000 years (4 sets of 13 Baktuns is 22,780 years). Actually, the Sun's crossing near the Galactic center has been going on for millions of years, every single year. This year is not even the closest pass, as the Earth's orbit slowly shifts. The date of this passage drifts around the calendar on the 22,000 year cycle. But it is a kind of "so what" sort of fact.

A good occasion and a very enjoyable lecture. A number of other prominent Mayanists were there, including at least a couple of folks who appear in videos inside the iBook, titled Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya. I guess Dr. V will have to get as much book selling done as he can in the next ten weeks. By Christmastime, there won't be any market for his book, whether time stops or not!

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