(The Maya calendar has generated a lot of buzz about the impending end of the world as we know it, on Dec. 21, 2012. The following is an article written by colleague Audrey Fischer from the November-December 2012 issue of the Library’s new magazine, LCM, highlighting what’s “trending” in the news, on the web and in social media.)
An Interpretation of the Mayas’ “Long Count” calendar, which began with the ritual date of Maya creation, Aug. 11, 3114 B.C., shows its end on Dec. 21, 2012.
Don’t delay your Christmas shopping just yet. Nothing in what is known of Maya writing supports this conjecture.
That reassuring word comes from art historian and epigrapher Mark Van Stone. In his book, “2012: Science & Prophecy of the Ancient Maya,” he takes a scientific and archaeological-focused look at what the ancient Maya actually believed. Van Stone, who spoke at the Library of Congress in October, concludes that end-of-the world prophecies are the creations of our current society, with little basis in what is known about the Maya and their beliefs.
David Stuart, the foremost expert on Maya hieroglyphs, agrees. In his book, “The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012,” Stuart reveals that by deciphering dates and information carved into stone stelae (monuments), one may postulate that the full Maya calendar accounts for nearly 72 octillion years. Stuart delivered the fifth Jay I. Kislak lecture on this topic at the Library last year. (This lecture is now available as a webcast.)
In addition to establishing the lecture series, the Jay I. Kislak Foundation donated to the Library an important collection of books, manuscripts, historical documents, maps and art of the early Americas. A permanent rotating exhibition of materials from the Kislak Collection, “Exploring the Early Americas,” opened in December 2007 and remains on view in the Thomas Jefferson Building.
A handful of Maya artifacts were recently rotated into the “Early Americas” exhibition in a section titled “The Heavens and Time: 2012 Phenomenon.”These include a facsimile edition of the Dresden Codex—the most comprehensive source of the Maya calendar system and astronomy—and the oldest known book written in the Americas.
Download the November-December 2012 issue of the LCM in its entirety here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.
UPDATE: We’ve just posted a webcast where Mark Van Stone of Southwestern College discusses what the ancient Maya actually said about 2012.