Posted by: Johan Normark | November 19, 2010

2012: The Maya calendar correlation problem pt 8 – conclusion

My rather lengthy coverage of Gerardo Aldana’s essay on the correlation problem between the Maya calendar(s) and the Christian calendars has shown that Eric Thompson still has a tremendous impact on contemporary Mayanist studies. Lounsbury’s proof forced scholars into accepting the GMT (or the GMT+2 correlation proposed by Lounsbury). The popular hieroglyphic writing workshops organized by Linda Schele (the Texas meetings) canonized the GMT. Aldana argues that “the GMT was accepted because it was accepted by well respected authorities in the field-not because it had been uncontrovertibly proven” (p 46).

Aldana asks some critical questions in his conclusion, such as “if there is insufficient data to provide a unique solution-is there any reason not to find a consensus on a ‘best’ solution and utilize it as a working hypothesis?” (p 46) The Star War idea is a good example of how Mayanists can make erroneous interpretations of historical events and practices based on incorrect correlations. Discussions of when “ordinary” warfare (not just the proposed Star War) was conducted has relied on the idea that warfare was something practiced during the agricultural off-season. However, that is an interpretation completely dependent on the GMT.

Contrary to the 2012ers belief the Maya seldom performed rituals around the solstices (according to the GMT). However, another correlation may eventually set several of the recorded ritual events on solstices but the irony is that the 13 Baktun date cannot fall on the winter solstice if the calendar has another correlation with the Christian calendar.

The crucial problem with correlating the Long Count and the Julian calendar is that of continuity. The Long Count was used to produce a linear chronological record but “once a given community has deviated from that construct, what evidence is there that subsequent calendric constructs were intended to function in similar ways?” (p 47) More specifically “why would a katun count in Postclassic Yucatan be a representation or philosophically dependent upon the Long Count of the Classic Peten?” (p 47) I believe most Mayanists acknowledges the difference between these calendric constructs and few of them have therefore accepted Prudence Rice’s may-cycle model which demands continuity. However, there is still a common belief that the tzolkin has remained intact. I doubt it has remained intact.

Aldana’s critique is reminiscent of Nielsen and Reunert’s critique of the multilayered universe in Mesoamerican cosmology. They show that the scholarly belief that the Maya had 13 layers in heaven and 9 levels in the underworld is the result of Thompson’s interpretations of early Colonial writers who imposed Dante’s view of cosmos on Maya cosmology. Not only is Thompson a central figure here as well, but the idea of a multilayered cosmos has been black boxed. Later scholars have taken Thompson’s interpretations of these documents for granted. I am currently writing up articles on similar black boxing in Mayanist cave studies and climate change studies.

The calendar correlation solution is convenient for many Mayanist researchers but Aldana suggests that “the more intellectually conservative approach is the research that proceeds without assuming a calendar correlation” (p 47).

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  1. Hi Johan,
    I’ve waited until you completed the review of my article so as to avoid any impression of influence, but believe me, I have been following it attentively. So thank you, for taking the time to read it carefully, and for writing up your thoughts on it.

    I will say that I am resisting the temptation to go back and comment on a few specific points and how you may be reading them differently from how I intended them mainly because your review is quite accurate overall, and really I’ve already had my say. If I allow myself one indulgence, it would be that my conclusion is that the data, in the end, do not support the GMT; the argument that assembles the data behind it is faulty. Given that, we may choose to use it anyway, but my preference would be that we take the more intellectually conservative approach, which is to operate correlation-free.

    As for your 2012 project, I would agree with you that that whole story is played out. By the same token, congratulations on your newly funded projects… that’s much more worthy of your time. This is not to say that you haven’t already done a service with this web site, but more than what you’ve done is probably no longer necessary. (I’ll admit here that I have been contacted by J. Jenkins, and we have corresponded concerning his critique of my essay, but since he doesn’t seem to be making that public, I’m happy to let it go.)

    So thanks again! And good luck with your future projects. (If you still intend to write up something short for publication as you mentioned in a previous post, I’d be happy to go over specific elements of the argument with you at your leisure.)

    All the best,

  2. Yes, I have noticed an increased traffic from Santa Barbara. It could only be you or my former field director Anabel Ford but I do not think she is that interested in the correlation issue. So far the posts combined have had over a thousand hits so I hope that both Mayanists and 2012ers will look up your essay and read its entire length.

    It was quite difficult to shorten the coverage of the essay since it dealt with technical information that are unknown for a non-specialist on the Maya calendrics. Anyway I hope I did not make too many big mistakes.

    I will for sure mention the correlation issue in my planned articles on 2012 but from now on I will only use Long Count dates rather than Gregorian/Julian dates if I refer to inscriptions in my more serious, non-2012 related, research. Unfortunately we have few inscriptions from the Cochuah region – Yo’okop/Okop is the only site so far. If I use a Gregorian date I will add which correlation is being referred to.

    I am sure the 2012 community will find your essay problematic and I suspect most of them will ignore it (unless you could find a correlation that sets 13 Baktun at a later date so that they can continue their speculations beyond 2012). However, the main issue is how it will be received by the Mayanist community. Will future editions of “Chronicle of Maya kings and queens” or Coe’s “The Maya” include the correlation problem? I suspect most Mayanists do not want to open that black box. But I hope they do open it.

  3. The 2012ers can ignore it all they want, but I intend to rub their noses in it, as much as I can.

    Thanks Gerardo and Johan!

  4. Yup; I definitely commend your perseverance. And no, definitely no big mistakes. I do think there is an interesting complication to the way this might get addressed by the Mayanist community, though. First off, I think there are only really three (oops, maybe four) real areas where the calendar correlation is significant:
    i. scholars working on the transition from the Preclassic to the Classic period along with considerations of Teotihuacan’s influence in the Maya area. (I just went back to Braswell’s volume on Teo-Maya interactions and noticed that he thinks there is an interesting temporal discrepancy between the Kaminaljuyu data and the GMT-derived dates for contact at Tikal and Copan. Were Siyaj K’ahk’ and Nuun Yax Ahiin leaving at Teotihuacan’s height of power, or were they fleeing before it all came down?)
    ii. scholars working on the Terminal Classic/Postclassic transition. Diane and Arlen Chase have been noting for years that the ceramic record doesn’t mesh well with the GMT for the northern lowlands. Also from this time period, there’s the whole issue of the Dresden Codex, the interpretation of which is intimately tied to the GMT.
    iii. a lot of the work on Classic Mayan astronomy takes the GMT as a starting point.
    And maybe:
    iv. all of the business correlating drought data to the “collapse.”
    These are the areas in which the GMT impacts research on a methodological level.

    And so here is the wrinkle: the vast majority of epigraphic research doesn’t really need to address the calendar correlation; it does so mainly as a matter of convenience and/or for translation. On the other hand, epigraphers probably most use the calendar correlation in publications. So the sub-group with the least investment may be the one with the greatest voice.

    Whatever the outcome, my own training and interest in the history of science has me absolutely fascinated by how this is all playing out (stakeholders, politics, popular culture)… and it may be that this web site will have played an important role in the final assessment.

    Thanks again,

    • Thanks for that comment. I had not considered the relation between the GMT and the mega drought hypothesis but that is an important observation for me since my current research focus on questioning the drought models for the “collapse” (or whatever we wish to call it). Since Gill partly relies on the last date inscriptions at several sites for speculating when sites were abandoned a changed correlation by some decades will affect the correlation between documented droughts and abandonment. At this point, however, I am unsure of how much the ceramic chronologies in various parts of the lowlands depend on the GMT.

      I agree that the history of science part is the most interesting. All research is about politics. Thompson’s major importance has been noticed before but I think the general assumption is that after his death this allowed for new research to emerge is slightly flawed. He is still affecting research and I think Nielsen and Reunert’s article also shows this (

  5. The error made by the Olmec carver of Stela C at Tres Zapotes in -31 proves conclusively that Thompson was wrong when he switched from his original correlation of 1927 to his revision of 1935. See the latest paper in the Mesoamerican section of my webpage at



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