Posted by: Johan Normark | October 19, 2010

2012: Some reactions to Aldana’s correlation issue

People are beginning to catch up with Aldana’s critique of the GMT correlation that I mentioned in a recent blog post. I have added a small correction and some more information on Aldana’s research on the Star War events:

“I wrote “meteorite” on my blog. It should have been meteor. Aldana has studied the so-called “Star-War” events (warfare assumed to relate to the planet Venus in Maya inscriptions). The Star-War events did usually not occur when the “right” astronomical event occurred (a particular Venus passage). Aldana proposes that the Star-War events did not relate to the planet Venus at all but rather related to unpredictable meteors.”

Some of the comments so far on Ian O’Neill’s article are illuminating. They cover pretty much all nonsense that exists within the 2012 circus: from divine creations to a government conspiracy to cover up what is going on. Indeed, as O’Neill writes “I doubt that even if this infamous Mayan calendar end date was proven to be inaccurate, doomsayers will ignore this fact.”Ignorance is a bliss.

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Responses

  1. Hello Johan; I just noticed that even Yahoo News is running this story:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20101019/sc_livescience/endoftheearthpostponed

    Aldana’s reanalysis of the 2012 situation is certainly interesting, but I think he is still missing the more fundamental problem here. Too much of what continues to be written about Maya calendars and astronomy is based upon ideas that were originally formed nearly a century ago and the basis for these beliefs has not been reinvestigated. For example, the “Star War” events almost certainly have no connection to astronomy at all. People got caught up in the fact that this was a war verb that utilized the star symbol, but there is actually no reason to believe this is a reference to an astronomical event at all, let alone a connection to Venus or meteors. The glyph is actually a star raining down on the victim, and seems to be a metaphor for enduring catastrophe, somewhat similar to our own idiom “star-crossed lovers”. The ancient Maya obviously believed that stars could rain down misfortune on certain people and kingdoms, but this doesn’t mean that the Maya organized their warfare by the cycles of Venus or meteors or anything of the sort.

    As for 2012, Aldana’s suggestion that the GMT correlation is out by weeks or even years is based upon archaeoastronomical argumentation and rejects continuity of the calendar. I have to say that I personally find the archaeoastronomical arguments to be very weak, and usually still come down to bad interpretations of hieroglyphic evidence, such as taking certain dates on monuments at Copan and assuming these have to have had astronomical significance. Without hieroglyphic evidence to confirm the astronomical interpretation, however, there is very little that favors such argumentation. On the contrary, the fact that so many different Mesoamerican groups had the 260 day calendar in common has to be considered strong evidence of continuity, at least in the tzolkin. While the GMT may not be the right correlation, I would want to see strong arguments if someone is not going to accept continuity of the tzolkin calendar.

  2. Hi Stan,

    Thanks for the input (and btw your comment became number 1000 on the blog).

    In my article on warfare (“Lethal encounters”) where I discuss Aldana’s interpretation of the “Star War” glyph my focus is to steer away from the too astrological part of Maya warfare research. Hence, nothing pleases me more than to see the glyph as a metaphor for enduring disaster rather than as Venus or a meteor. I also attempt to show that the distinction between Classic Maya ritual warfare and Postclassic Maya “less-ritual” warfare is wrong and the astronomical interpretation of the “Star War” glyph has contributed to this distinction.

    As for the continuity issue there are problems. Collea has argued that there might be different correlations at different sites (and times?). But this is, of course, an archaeoastronomical issue. The tzolkin is widespread but is it the same throughout Mesoamerica? Is it not two days off between the highlands and the lowlands? You know this better than me (I have tried to find the info this morning but I have failed).

    If there is only one tzolkin throughout Mesoamerica today this does not mean that we had several tzolkins in the past (I mean that a specific tzolkin date fell on different Gregorian dates at various sites). My argument is that if we had several different tzolkin cycles at the time of the Spanish conquest I would believe/speculate that people correlated their tzolkin (and haab) to the new Christian calendar which could have had a homogenizing effect that then is projected backwards into the past by scholars (but this is pure speculation…).

  3. Hello Johan,

    congrats on reaching 1000 comments! Here’s one more. 😉

    Regarding the suggestion that there might be different Long Counts being used at different sites, it has to be said that there are far fewer cross-dates between sites than one might think. One thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize about Maya epigraphy is just how incredibly laconic these texts really are. They tell us precious little about what was going on in individual Maya cities, let alone about interactions between them. Our narratives are largely constructed by comparing the texts from different sites and figuring out how was contemporary with whom.

    That said, there is absolutely no evidence as far as I know for any competing correlations during the Classic period. The calendar is all but identical all across the Maya world, certainly for the tzolkin and Long Count, where we have the same day names and tied in to the Long Count. The haab is out by one day in Yucatan (one day less than standard) and occasionally one day more in the Southeast Maya region. When we do have references to interaction between sites, we do find that the dates work with the belief that all of these sites were using the same Long Count.

    I think too many scholars underestimate the problems that would attend having multiple correlations going on at the same time in the Classic period. I know a number of scholars have argued for this being the case amongst the Aztecs, but personally I think a lot of the problematic dates reflect a very quick loss of the knowledge of the calendar in the Post-conquest era and naive attempts to reconstruct it by colonial period writers, both native and Spanish. I don’t think there has been enough critical analysis of these documents, and what has been done has usually gone to the extreme of denying any reliable information contained within them.

    As for there being a two day difference between highland and lowland groups, I don’t think this is the case. Unfortunately, the Yucatec Maya dropped the tzolkin fairly early and the colonial documents that provide us any cross references between the Maya and Julian calendars are seriously garbled. And regarding the Maya correlating the tzolkin to the western calendar, I don’t think this would have been very common, as the 260 day cycle doesn’t fit well at all with any of the western calendars and one would have to seriously chop up the tzolkin in order to fit to any of our cycles. I think this is why the tzolkin was either retained, as with certain highland groups, or abandoned/suppressed. The solar calendar (haab) was easier to correlate to the western one, with only minor modifications.

  4. It is always nice with input from someone knowledgeable in the hieroglyphic corpus. These people are few in the 2012 circus (including myself).

    The Yucatec dropped tzolkin but maintained the Short Count (at least in the Central Petén Lakes region). Is there any continuity between the tzolkin count of days and the known katun endings? Do Ajaw in the Short Count fall on the same Julian/Gregorian dates in 1697 as in Prehispanic times?

    I should perhaps clarify my speculations concerning the possible intentional correlation between Maya calendar(s) and the Christian one during the early Colonial period. It is, of course, the haab calendar that may have been the target for such a possible reform. The possible tzolkin change that I speculate about would simply follow the haab in order to keep the Calendar Round fairly intact. However, it is likely that the tzolkin would be left alone as it is not connected with the solar year.

    So, most epigraphers are skeptical to the archaeoastronomical interpretations of various glyph compounds? How many celestial objects and periodicities can be detected at the current state of knowledge (if we exclude the lunar stuff in the Initial Series)?

  5. I agree with your statement above, Johan, that it is very nice to see a discussion about the GMT that doesn’t have to do with 2012. Thanks!

    I’d also like to say that this specific back and forth addresses some of the key issues in the anthology chapter. Please do take the time to read through it as it considers: the scope of the continuity question; the problem of multiple calendars at a given time; and the issue of whether we really are looking at 2-3 days between the “Landa Equation” and early 20th century highland counts. It’s nice to see your discussion also honing in on these questions.

    One last thing is that I have to note a bit of irony. Stanley Guenter implies that my work is somehow dependent on the Star War hypothesis put forward by Lounsbury and Kelley, and then advanced by Schele and others. He then provides a concise and elegant description of how Star Wars cannot be correlated to astronomical events, and that they probably functioned metaphorically. The irony is that the latter is precisely the argument I published in 2005 in “Agency and the Star War Glyph” (Ancient Mesoamerica). I guess it was convincing!

    • I will order that book and read it (it is not available at the library over here).

      My main interest in the whole correlation issue is to find more fuel to debunk the whole 2012 hysteria. As an archaeologist, where we have problems dating events and materials within an accuracy of a century at best, the correlation issue is of little importance unless I discuss timings of warfare and other important events that may be correlated with archaeological data. I am also focusing on the archaeological part of the 2012 circus (which actually have more to do with ancient Egypt for some bizarre reasons).

      I enjoined your AM article on the Star Glyph. It has been a while nowsince I read it but did you not write that the Star war glyph could be associated with a meteor?

      • I appreciate your take on why you engage all of this 2012 business. My concerns also stem (in sympathy with Subaltern Studies) with the problems of representation involved. Who gets to speak for whom? And to what ends? I don’t see how any of this business ends well for contemporary Maya people.

        But I digress. I noticed the ambiguity you mention n the Discovery Channel’s blog on my book chapter. Actually, my article only considers the metaphorical side of correlating meteors with the Star War glyph noting explicitly that it would be impossible to engage any kind of ‘timing’ of warfare with meteor phenomena. The focus in this part of the article is that there are various metaphors appealing to meteors as the arrows/spears of the gods throughout Mesoamerica. My suggestion is that this larger metaphor is behind the hieroglyphic representation and not anything predicted in the night sky.

        I believe that article (Agency and the Star War Glyph) is available on-line through the Cambridge University Press web site. If you can’t get a hold of it, I can probably dig up a .pdf to send you.

        Finally, I agree with you that a calendar correlation is convenient for some types of work, but when it comes to astronomy, I think that a whole lot more work needs to be done before we take up any calendar correlation at all. As I note and apply in my book on the astronomy of Palenque, looking for internal consistency and coherence should drive astronomical research within hieroglyphic texts. Even then (and maybe I’m being too cautious here) I still worry too much about false positives to think it’s a good idea to be looking at the night skies on reconstructed event dates.

  6. I also see a problem with who speak for whom. I am obviously not a Maya and most Mayanists are not Maya. As I see it, the whole 2012 circus is a gringo phenomenon with strong ethnocentric tendencies. My primary concern is the mistreatment of archaeology as a discipline. My aim is simply to be one of several voices out there.

    I can get hold of the article but my office where I can access it is nowadays 450 km from my home. That situation will soon change for me. I will download it when I can. However, I would be interested, if possible, in a pdf file of your article in the recently published anthology on calendars.

  7. Another great article Johan. I enjoyed the comments as well. Just as I feel as if I’m getting a grasp on the Maya as well as the 2012 fiasco, I realize I still have no idea what I’m talking about. I just wished the 2012ers would get the hint as well.

    • No, they will not get it, just check out the comments on my blog on amino acids…

  8. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/mayan-calendars-2012-doomsday-prophecy-wrong/story?id=11926347&page=2

    Read through til the end. Especially the part about the Mayan Prophecy of violent earthquakes and the transit of Venus. ABC is allowed to ruin great research by G.Aldana?

  9. I am reading Aldana’s article right now and will make comments on it next week. It is really interesting and shows how the correlation issue has been “black boxed” (a Latourian term).

  10. I really wonder what will happen with the 2012 mayan prediction, will the world end in 2012?

  11. There is no Maya prediction regarding the world’s end.


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