As a follow up to our initial article Why Mayan 2012 Doesn’t Really Matter, we recently engaged scholar Gerardo Aldana, professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara. In Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World" his findings questioned the accuracy of many who claim it marks December 21, 2012 as “Doomsday.” The following is our brief Q&A with professor Aldana.

Q & A

Examiner: How does your book's research indicate that public perceptions about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world may be wrong or off by decades or centuries?

Professor Aldana: A couple of caveats are important to note here:

One, my research is in a chapter in an anthology on Calendars in ancient and medieval civilizations, so it's not my book. (In other words, I get no royalties or payment whatsoever for the sale of the book... an important point, I think, in particular regarding "2012.”)

Two, neither my chapter nor the book as a whole is really directed at the public. The volume is intended for the academic community; it may not be accessible by most of the public because it assumes that the reader has already studied the subjects covered to some extent.

That said, my chapter demonstrates that the correlation between the Mayan calendric system and the Christian chronologies (Julian or Gregorian) is wrong. That means to both the public and to researchers that whenever we see a date that has been published giving the Julian/Gregorian date for a Mayan event, that date is incorrect.

Unfortunately, we don't know at this point how far off those dates are. It is at least incorrect by a few years/decades, but it may be as much as a century or so in either direction.

Prof.Gerardo Aldana
This has different impacts, of course. If one states that a Mayan ruler, say Yax Pahsaj Chan Yopaat of Copan was dedicating some structure in the 8th century A.D., that's possibly still okay. If they claim that he acceded to the throne on June 28, 763 A.D., or that it was near/on a summer solstice or that Jupiter was visible in the constellation Scorpius with the Moon (or something like that), then it will be way off.

Following the logic, that means that if we project the Mayan Long Count calendar (which had fallen out of use sometime in the 13th-16th centuries A.D.) into our own contemporary times, then any such placements will be wrong. So suggestions that an event in the Mayan calendar occurring on Dec. 21, 2012 are incorrect.

Unfortunately, for proponents of Mayan prophecies, the situation is worse than a delay of a purported apocalypse. Most if not all of these interpretations are dependent on the coincidence of a Mayan calendric event on the winter solstice in 2012. This is an important point: there is no hieroglyphic text that suggests an astronomical prophecy for 2012; it is only the coincidence of a Mayan calendric event with an observable astronomical alignment that has modern interpreters inferring a prophecy. Without this coincidence—either by a few years, or by hundreds of years, the basis of the prophecy goes away entirely. The upshot is that if the calendar correlation is incorrect--as I argue in my chapter--then the key feature upon which the prophecies were supposedly built is no longer valid.

EXAMINER: Secondly, the utilization of astronomy to predict events is a very old tool that was constantly being adjusted and altered to make events fit within a predicted time frame-what are some of the issues at hand in the way many current individuals are attempting to use astronomy to interpret the Mayan Calendar? What might they be missing or what needs to be included to create a better discussion about the calendar?

Professor Aldana: I think a good dose of common sense would go a long way. Did ancient Mayan rulers ever consult oracles as part of their governance? My informed response is either 'yes', or at least 'very probably.' (We can't be sure at this point that there weren't iconoclastic rulers who preferred to buck convention and eschewed all oracular knowledge...after all, there were hard-core skeptics in ancient Greece.) But just because they probably consulted, oracular knowledge does not mean that they didn't also incorporate other types of knowledge into their decision-making processes.

I recently wrote a book that goes into the various pressures that very likely affected the development of an astronomical tool at the Classic Mayan city of Palenque. Religion was certainly involved in how Kan B'ahlam utilized this astronomical tool, but I argue that it was also affected by politics and economics. In other words, there may have been some appeal to what we would consider today to be esoteric knowledge, but it certainly wasn't the only factor considered, and we would be fooling ourselves to think that entire cities--let alone entire civilizations--could follow oracular proposals mechanically.

My point is that we should qualify oracular knowledges as having been used in the past in conjunction with other forms of knowledge--to augment them, not to replace them. Now, if Kan B'ahlam were here with us today, I'm sure he wouldn't have to depend on an astronomical (or any other kind of) oracle to tell us that our global situation is in trouble. We have plenty of other indicators--environmental, political, religious, economic--that we are facing (or in) crises. I doubt that he would urge us to just turn to the stars and wait to see what happens.
(J.K. Melki Russell

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