A Maya Doomsday Prophecy?

Photo by Otis Imboden; close-up of Lintel 48, a Maya hieroglyphic calendar at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, Mexico


It has long been debated whether a Maya glyph found in the Mexican state of Tabasco refers to an apocalypse that will arrive in 2012, and now the Mexican Institute of Archaeology has acknowledged that there may be a second reference to the date on a brick discovered years ago at the Comalcalco ruin, according to a MSNBC report. Some believe the reference is to a date in December 2012, although the Institute and many archaeologists say the conclusion is due to a Westernized misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar. The Institute is convening a round table of 60 Maya experts this week to “dispel some of the doubts about the end of one era and the beginning of another, in the Mayan Long Count calendar.”  Still worried about the doomsday prediction? Review a Daily News article by Brian Handwerk: “2012: Six End-of-the-World Myths Debunked” (November 6, 2009), which explains why the date is important in the Maya calendar, but not apocalyptic.

With royal palaces, strategic alliances and bloodshed, the Maya civilization hardly needs doomsday prophecies to add drama, so revisit National Geographic content on the Maya and the Mayanists who study them. Then take an interactive 20-question quiz on the Maya.

The MSNBC article quotes David Stuart, a Maya expert with the University of Texas at Austin, on the Comalcalco brick: “Some have proposed it as another reference to 2012, but I remain rather unconvinced.” Stuart began his Maya fieldwork as a youngster and at only 18 received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship.  He is the son of George Stuart, former National Geographic staff archaeologist and past chairman of our Research Committee, and Gene Stuart, who co-wrote a National Geographic book on the Maya. Watch an NG Live interview and lecture with slide show by George and David Stuart on “Palenque and the Ancient Maya World.”

In The Maya: Glory and Ruin (National Geographic magazine, August 2007) Guy Gugliotta charts the “[s]aga of a civilization in three parts: [t]he rise, the monumental splendor, and the collapse.” On January 8, 378, an envoy named Fire Is Born arrived in the city of Waka, in present-day Guatemala: “In the coming decades, his name would appear on monuments all across the territory of the Maya, the jungle civilization of Mesoamerica. And in his wake, the Maya reached an apogee that lasted five centuries.” Gugliotta investigates the nature of his legacy and theories on what caused the fall of a once-powerful civilization. Photos by Simon Norfolk.

Human Journey