An ancient Maya text has emerged from the jungles of Guatemala confirming the so-called “end date” of the Maya calendar, Dec. 21, 2012.
Considered one of the most significant hieroglyphic finds in decades, the 1,300-year-old inscription contains only the second known reference to the “end date,” but does not predict doomsday.
“The text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy,” Marcello A. Canuto, director of Tulane University’s Middle American Research Institute, said.
Carved on a stone staircase, the inscription was found at the ruins of La Corona, in the dense rainforest of northwestern Guatemala, by an international team of archaeologists led by Canuto and colleague Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala.
The archaeologists made the discovery as they decided to excavate in front of a building that had been heavily damaged nearly 40 years ago by looters looking for carved stones and tombs.
“We knew they found something important, but we also thought they might have missed something,” Barrientos said.
Indeed, the archaeologists not only recovered 10 discarded hieroglyphic stones, but also something that the looters missed entirely — an untouched step with a set of 12 exquisitely carved stones still in their original location.
Combined with the known looted blocks, the original staircase had a total of 264 hieroglyphs, making it one of the longest ancient Maya texts known, and the longest in Guatemala.
According to David Stuart, director of the Mesoamerica Center of the University of Texas at Austin, who deciphered the hieroglyphics, the stairway inscription recorded 200 years of La Corona’s history.
Bearing 56 delicately carved hieroglyphs, the stone referring to the year 2012 commemorated a royal visit to La Corona (which the ancient Maya called Saknikte’) by the ruler Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ from the great Maya capital of Calakmul on Jan. 29, 696 A.D.
Also known as Fire Claw or Jaguar Paw, Yuknoom Yich’aak K’ahk’ had suffered a military defeat the year before, during a war with Calakmul’s longstanding rival Tikal (located in modern Peten, Guatemala).
“Scholars had assumed that the Calakmul king died or was captured in this engagement, but this new extraordinary text from La Corona tells us otherwise,” said Stuart.
In the wake of the defeat, the Maya ruler visited La Corona and perhaps other trusted allies to allay their fears after his defeat.
According to the archaeologists, the 2012 reference would have been a political move by the Calakmul king, who wanted to reassure the peoples of La Corona after the stunning defeat.
The key to understanding the reference to 2012 is a unique title that the king gave himself, said the archaeologists.
In the text, he calls himself the “13 K’atun lord” — the king who presided over and celebrated an important Mayan calendar ending, 13 K’atun calendar cycle, in the year 692.
In order to vaunt himself even further and place his reign into an eternal setting, the Maya king connected himself forward in time to when the next higher period of the Maya calendar would reach the same 13 number — December 21, 2012.
“This was a time of great political turmoil in the Maya region and this king felt compelled to allude to a larger cycle of time that happens to end in 2012,” Stuart said.
The discovery is consistent with the only other reference to the 2012 date in ancient Maya inscriptions — Monument 6 from Tortuguero, Mexico.
“What this text shows us is that in times of crisis, the ancient Maya used their calendar to promote continuity and stability rather than predict apocalypse,” Canuto said.