SMC wonders if world is endingPublished 8:08pm Thursday, November 8, 2012
Evaluating doomsday prophecies incurred by the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21 means thinking of time in a different way.
“We’re aware of linear time,” said Dr. Richard Warner, a California chef for a decade and associate professor of history at Wabash, Ind., College who immerses his students in class research trips to archaeological sites, told an audience at Southwestern Michigan College Thursday as the final Academic Lecture series speaker this semester.
“I’ve got to be done at 3 so we can be out in the lobby having cookies. There is also circular sense with seasons or ‘it’s always Monday.’
Spanish bishop Diego de Landa Calderon burned much of the Mayan civilization’s history, literature and traditions.
Mayans combined three calendars in a wheel, Tzolk’in (20 days, 13 weeks, 260 possibilities to track circular time), Haab (18 months with 20 days and “Uayeb,” five unlucky catch-up days tacked at the end of the year) and the linear long count.
“Mayans were big on the number 20,” he said, perhaps coinciding with a person’s number of fingers and toes. A day is a kin; a tun is 360 kins; 400 tuns is a baktun.
Tortuguero is an archaeological city in southernmost Mexico, which supported a Maya city during the pyramid period. The current Mayan calendar concludes a 5,125-year cycle in December.
The site has been heavily damaged by looting and modern development: A cement factory was built atop the site in the 1960s.
Most Tortuguero monuments come from the reign of the “Jaguar Lord,” who ruled from 644 to 679. Monument 6 generates discussion as it includes the only known inscription depicting the end of the current 13-baktun era in 2012.
Barbara MacLeod and Sven Gronemeyer “deciphered the code,” Warner, 56, said, “and they found it says on Dec. 21 (the solstice) a minor deity named 9-Ok-Te will perform a ceremony that will be displayed in the great impersonation, so something big is going to happen with a deity in a guise coming back, but it’s not cataclysmic, according to this interpretation,” Warner said.
“Scholar John Major Jenkins says, at this time in the sky, you are going to see the Milky Way put itself in the shape of a foliated cross — one that seems to have leaves on it, which is familiar to Mayans,” Warner said. “There were crosses in the Mayan world before Christians got there. Jenkins also doesn’t believe the world is going to end. Their two views aren’t as far apart as you might think. When scholars get into it, it’s like mud wrestling. We can’t understand their sense of time and space because light pollution interferes with astronomy.”
Warner showed a pyramid slide depicting seven levels of the underworld with a trap door to get to the crypt at the bottom.
“Mayans built structures in relation to the sun and solstices,” like the temple in Palenque with a hole placed so a sunbeam would shine into it precisely during the summer solstice.
“Jenkins is not a wingnut. There’s lots of evidence Mayans understood astronomy better than most people today. They build houses that don’t look like pyramids, but angles and celestial measurement placements are the same as during the classical period. It continues intuitively.”
In Mexico in March, Warner paid $6 for size 11 sandals a street vendor created from measurements made with a piece of string.
“Living Maya” inhabit Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras.
“Apocalypto,” the 2006 epic action film Mel Gibson directed, depicts the decline. Rulers insisted prosperity hinges on building more temples and offering human sacrifices.
“It’s not proper to say there was a Mayan empire,” Warner said. “There were multiple city-states that shared cultural patterns and similar, but different, languages.”