Unfortunately, most of the readers of this blog (over 90% of you) are not able to see the latest episode of Kobra that I mentioned yesterday (since you have to be located in Sweden to view it). It was apparently the first of at least two, perhaps several, shows on apocalyptic phenomena. Next episode will deal with the real profiteers of the apocalyptic circus and it will apparently take place in Bugarach in France. Apart from my brief comments on the Maya stuff in the beginning of the episode I think it was well produced and gives a good insight into the way particularly Americans deal with these apocalyptic fears. It focuses on various aspects of apocalyptic ideas and “survivalists” and apocaholics in general. But let us take a look at how the 2012-phenomenon is being characterized in the show.
Early in the episode we see several dates drop by. These are earlier predicted dates for the end of the world. December 21, 2012 is the final date, although they mention 2016 later on (unrelated to the Maya). After the “Maya end date” shows up, it is followed by images of pyramids at Palenque and some portraits of the site’s kings.
Around this time of the episode the Maya calendar is said to be based on advanced mathematics and great astronomical knowledge. How advanced you as a non-Mayanist viewer may wonder? Not as advanced as how it appears in the show. At 2:46, mathematical formulas show up in front of the Castillo at Chichen Itza. These are clearly not Maya calculations. The structure of the Maya Long Count is not particularly complicated either. The smallest temporal unit is a day (k’in), the next higher unit consists of 20 days (winal), then we have one of 360 days (the tun which clearly is not based on astronomy but rather the fact that it should be dividable by 20). All temporal units above this are multiples of 20 (20 tuns make a katun and 20 katuns make up a baktun). Yes, the ancient Maya were good astronomers (or rather astrologers), but their skills have been highly exaggerated by New Agers.
The statement of the Maya’s great knowledge is then followed by an image of a rotating Aztec Sun stone, a monument that has absolutely nothing to do with the December 21, 2012 date. Despite this the speaker says that on December 21 of this year a 5000 year long “Mayan year cycle” will come to an end. This “cycle” is said to be like our millennium. Not exactly. A baktun (roughly 400 years) would be like our millennium. We are reaching the end of the 13th baktun. In the show this date is said to be written like this in Maya: 22.214.171.124.0 . Not even this is correct. This is how a Maya Long Count date is transcribed from the Maya way of recording dates in double vertical columns to our single horizontal line.
At 3:06 a picture of a young Michael Coe from the 1960s appears. He is accurately described as the one who first proposed the date for the “Maya apocalypse” (although he got the Gregorian date wrong in the first edition of The Maya, it was corrected in later editions). The problem, according to the speaker, is that the text that describes the “end”, Monument 6 at Tortuguero (visible at 3:25), is broken exactly where the event should be recorded. However, when Michael Coe wrote about this in 1966, Monument 6 was unknown to him (it was first published in 1978). Had he known the existence and contents of this monument before he wrote The Maya, he may very well have used other words.
A good indication that the people at Kobra has not used a Mayanist to fact check what they are saying and illustrating is the arrow that supposedly points out where the missing text that describes the “end” is located on Monument 6. The arrow points at the wrong part of the monument (at the top-center). The arrow should be pointing at the lower right end of the monument.
After this brief description of Monument 6 the speaker states that “no one knows what the Maya believed would happen on this date”. Well, not exactly, but we have some pretty good indications that they were not believing in an apocalypse. These are ideas that has another history, a non-Maya history.
Despite this critique, I look forward to the next episode. One can say that I feel a certain hunger for it.