Ancient civilization is a topic that consumes a lot of my time. If I'm caught daydreaming, I'm probably thinking about Egypt or Cambodia. The Maya are one of my favorite areas of interest. Not because they're older or more enigmatic than other ancient civilizations. They're not. What fascinates me about the Maya is that they deliberately walked away from their civilization. They didn't migrate away. They weren't conquered by colonists. They just simply changed their mind and went back to the woods like a giant civic "No thanks" followed by a mic drop. What was that about?
MISSING PUZZLE PIECEWhen Europeans first floated up to them, they found entire deserted cities. Rome-like cities. Roads. Temples. Fortresses. Even sporting arenas. The structures were pretty broken up by the roots of trees that had grown in the cracks, but the larger structures were obvious geometric hills in unnatural formations.
Surrounding those large temples were forests with very rocky ground. I walked on it and it's weird. Those football sized rocks, often with one smooth side, were the remains of stone buildings for as far as you can walk. Had it not been for the larger semi-intact structures, we may have never known there was an entire city there.
So did they die or something? Did they find better land to move to? No. They're still right next door.
You can often tell descendants by looking at them. They're quite beautiful. Mexico has diverse DNA, ranging from native groups who have moved around the Western Hemisphere over the centuries as well as Spaniards and others more recent comers. But the direct descendants of the people who built those ancient cities are still right there in the same spot. They just, for some reason, don't use the ancient structures and don't really care to comment much about them. They say it's cursed. Some of them work as tour guides and artisans who will talk to you in more detail about it. The archeology was readily available in terms of dates, speculations, etc. But the fun part of this story is a grey area fitting awkwardly between archeology and poetic coincidence.
WHY IS 12/21/2012 THE END OF THE WORLD?When the Mayan calendar was found and deciphered, it was a big deal for two reasons. Fist being that they seemed to make predictions attached to cycles on their calendar. And the second being that the biggest date of them all would be the 2012 solstice in which the entire calendar (thousands of years) simply ends abruptly. Why does it end? Do we all die? I hope it's not aliens. Or Zombies.
Their calendar of course was different from ours but it shared the same concept, small cycles inside larger cycles and so on. Our culture has days/weeks/months/years/decades/centuries/millennia. The Mayan calendar was based on a different mathematical system but it's easy to compare. There was a lot of base 20 going on. But for the purpose of keeping this short, I will use the language of our common calendar as an analogy to frame its context. For instance, I'll compare their 52 year cycle to a century and their 395 year cycle to a millennium. In fact, why not.. In fact, maybe I should just compare it to ourselves, thousands of years in the future, with someone trying to decode artifacts from 2020.
note: When I say "we" I'm referring to American/European, "Western Civ". Only because that's the culture from which I/this article originates. But it's true enough for modern humanity as a whole.
I feel like we tend to look at ancient civilizations as though they were stupid, or at least more religiously intoxicated than current civilizations. This is a disservice to their legacy and to ours.
How we dramatize round numbers on calendars...
Consider how we celebrate New Years Eve by reviewing the previous year and projecting our intentions for the coming year. Notice we celebrate a little harder at the turn of a decade? Like, in 2020 we talked about all the things that happened in the Teens and all the things we hope to see in the 20's. None of those things happened on new years day. But if, some day, you were to scrap book the conversations happening on new years 2020, you might get the impression that we finally woke up about sexual assault that January morning, even though the #metoo conversation picked up steam in 2015 and continues well into the 20's. We might also think that communisms ended on Jan 1 1990. Or that WWII started on Jan 1 1940. When we talk about "the 60's", we're usually talking about 64-73'. We have a natural tendency to generalize events by our base 10 labeling. So while the celestial events of the year 2000 didn't bring us the internet, it's conveniently celebrated during the turn of a millennium. (Ok, maybe "celebrated" isn't the word. We were terrified of the internet that day, literally because of our base 10 system. But you see what I mean.) A round numerical marker is a great time to recap and project where you are as a culture.
Now imagine it's the distant future year of 9,980 AD (20 years until 10,000 AD) and we're an advanced civilization looking back on Earth 2020. We don't use the number 9980 though. We've had a new galactic calendar for the last several Nebular Berb-Znerbals. But we found a collection of calendars and articles from the early Digital Era (2020 AD)... Here's what we might say about the finding.
"These ancient folk worshipped cats. Notice how they ritualize their major discoveries and ideas every time the sun reaches its solstice. Notice how they worship larger ones every 10 Solstices, huge ones every 100 and so on. Notice how they accurately predicted that the year 2000 would bring world changing cataclysm by way of the internet (and they were right. The world never went back to a pre-digital era). Look at how their shaman feared nuclear war for hundreds of years before it happened. Look at how their prophets talked about racial and religious equality for over a thousand years before it came true in 2400 AD. They were soooo superstitious about their calendar. Most of what we find from that time period are large stone church ruins, so it seems that all they did all day was worship stuff. Probably cats. Translation is hard though. We lost a lot of info during the hacker wars of 2043".
Point being, we were celebrating our passage through time just as all civilizations do. But future people who consider themselves far more sophisticated than us would accidentally dumb it down and crank up the religious aspect.
Now imagine, among our rubble, they find some sort of calendar that covers a much longer span. Maybe it's a geological or astronomical chart. Maybe it's just something that can only use numbers up to 4 digits.
"Why does it end in the year 10,000? What happens then? And should we look into this, seeing as how they predicted the beginning of the internet and the arrival of the Andromeda worm people? And this particular date seems to be far more significant than all the others put together. Why are there no predictions after 10,000? Is that because nothing happens after that? Do we all die? Their year 10,000 is coming up soon." Zombies maybe?
Obviously the chart ended at a nice round number of 10,000. We probably have a lot of things that end at 9,999. Not since the times of the Crusades have we added an entire digit to our date. And we never expected any special enlightenment to happen at midnight on Dec 31, 9999. But that's the type of sophistication we're extending to the Maya. A prophecy chart inexplicably ends on a date that's coming up. Brace for impact.
2012 on the Maya calendar was just that. It was just the end of a bʼakʼtun (or baktun) cycle. The count simply starts over again after that.
Yea but why did the calendar start and end where it did?
The beginning of the Mayan long count calendar starts thousands of years before the Maya started and ended just a few years ago. So, if this all comes down to their base 20 counting system, then why didn't it start when they made the calendar? Well, I have two arguments for that.
1) Christian oriented civilizations started using our current calendar in the 4th century. It was backdated to Christ.
2) Who are we to say when the Maya started? That particular empire may have only lasted several hundred years or so. But they came from another group who came from another group, etc. The Aztecs and Maya likely looked to the Toltec people the way we look to the Greeks. It's still the same basic people, just... later. It's like saying "Why does the American calendar start 1700 years before America started?" No one said the Maya created the calendar that we call the Mayan calendar. Or, at least, I'm not saying that.
And I wont get into it here but there's reason to believe that they have been watching the sky for thousands of years. Long enough to notice the very slow moving patterns that we've only started to see take place from Galileo to now. It doesn't matter to this story, it's just impressive and, to me, suggests a long uninterrupted lineage not unlike our zodiac.
Ok. That concludes why Dec 21, 2012 was a big deal. It wasn't. It meant literally nothing more to them than the year 10,000 AD means to us. So then how did I make a prediction about what would happen in 2012? Glad you asked. But first we have to talk about the excavation process because it's the focal point of this mind blowing coincidence.
THE EXCAVATION PROCESSHere's how it works. We show up to a pile of broken rocks and start putting them together, literally like a puzzle. In the 1960's, it was something like 10% excavated (of what we assumed to be there). By the 1980's it was 20%-ish. (These percentages are always contested and shifting because our expectation of 100% changes over time.) But my point is that we've only had the tip of the ice-burg for as long as we've been visiting, up until recently.
It takes a lot of money. And honestly, not enough people care. To the white archeologists who fell in love with the place, there's only so much money to scrape together. The Mexican budget has always had its hands full trying to deal with its neighbor to the north. And the Maya who still live among these ruins were fine with them returning to dust. So it's been a slow dig with occasional breakthroughs.
Each time a stella (stone tablet with writing on it) is found, it helps to decode all of the previous Stellas. Anyone who's ever decoded a puzzle understands this. Small translations end up reframing giant portions of our understanding.
A key witness to our poor level of understanding is the ball courts. It's also a major clue for the unproven part of my theory. I've been in 2 or 3 of these ball courts. We found relief sculptures of two teams competing on the court. After the game, a team gets sacrificed. We already knew they were big on human sacrifice. Easy enough to decipher. They played for their lives, similar to the colosseum in Rome. Maybe the teams were slaves or criminals. Wrong. This was the assumption for years until someone made a breakthrough in their written language. Turns out, it was the WINNER of the game that was sacrificed, not the loser. Well, now we have to go back and rethink all the sacrifice stuff we'd found. Clearly, sacrifice was an honor. In fact, it's said that sacrifice is how a regular person moves up to the ruling class.
There was clearly a strong division among class. And apparently knowledge was a privilege. Only the royalty could read those stellas, or the calendar for that matter. Sacrifice was how you attempt to be... better born. Some of this feels like speculation again, but we do know that the class system was extreme and this isn't a huge stretch for human nature.
COMMON THEORIES OF WHAT ENDED THE MAYAN EMPIRE
All my sources, including the descendants I talked to in Mexico, said the same things. We have evidence of events that happened and any one of them could be the cause of the collapse.
There was evidence of famine and drought which is an easy suspect. Findings suggest an epidemic, which could leave a place "cursed". There was also strong evidence of an uprising by the people, resulting in the murder of all literate royalty. That explains why no one knows how to read the stellas (or at least they claim not to). With every possible reason for their demise, it started to sound more and more familiar.
Drought = overpopulation. Famine = overpopulation. Epidemic = overpopulation. Rebellion = overpopulation. Those things can all happen without destroying a culture, but only if the culture has some wiggle room. My theory was that they got so good at progress, they ran out of room. The slightest dry season would have meant dying of thirst. A slight disease would fill the streets with bodies. And if 2020 lasts long enough for anyone to read this, you can see how these disasters interact with each other, especially civil unrest.
The thing about human sacrifice kept standing out in my mind. Controlling a population by using fear is not new. You can send a generation off to war if there was a believable threat to the homeland. But it's far easier if you glorify the fallen AND if they have some sort of heaven or reincarnation to look forward to. Valhalla, Kamikaze, Martyrs... Heaven... I'm not saying anything profound here. We all know how religion plays into the readiness of war. But imagine if sacrifice, even when not facing a foreign threat, was something to glorify. You could could build a strong loyal civilization in a jiffy. It would feed you and protect you, even if.. actually.. especially if it meant sacrificing your own health or safety. Enslaving people is hard. "Letting" people serve you is easier.
I have to believe there was probably a portion of the Maya population who thought this was all hogwash. They followed the rules and were good neighbors, but didn't sign up to have their daughter thrown into the pit and they didn't play sports to win an obsidian blade to the chest. They probably argued about this with relatives on the holidays.
If I had centuries worth of star charts, here's how I would accidentally ruin my civilization with it. I'd make it illegal for anyone outside of my family and staff to understand how science works. I would be the only one who could turn the sun and moon off and on at my god-like will. I would enslave my entire culture without them considering themselves slaves. Then, when I can have whatever I want, I'll ask for way too much.
We'll grow and build and grow and build until no other Empire could ever compete. Eventually, I would run out of land. It would become hard to keep everyone fed and happy. Disease and famine would put the pressure on me to fix Venus's orbit or something and it would take too long. My empire would collapse. The people who'd been fighting each other over water would inevitably turn on me. They don't stop after simply killing me and my family. They would abandon anything outside of their understanding which, do to my embargo on knowledge, means literally everything. All the amazing advancements of our ancestors would be tossed in the trash like a corroded battery. Survivors of the revolution and the plague would head into the woods to grow food, build simple warm weather homes, and burn off any tattoos that may have been in support of me and my empire. Just don't talk about it. Don't teach it to the kids. Erase it for ever.
I hope it doesn't sound like I'm dumbing these people down. I do tent to roll my eyes at blind faith, but that's not just a Mayan thing. We still have the same silly superstitions today. We still do messed up things for class mobility. And we still misinform the public in order to make moves. Our morals are decided by god, yet taught to us by other humans who speak for god. I'm not dumbing the Maya down, I'm dumbing us all down. The Maya at least had the sense to trade it in for something more sustainable.
SO THEN WHAT WAS THE DAMN PREDICTION?!?!If we're assuming prophecies land on date cycles, then this would be the biggest date cycle and hence the biggest prophecy. The Maya would allegedly be expecting the most enlightening news in their entire history. Even though I've already sort of labeled that as our assumption, not theirs, let's run with it.
What would "the biggest enlightenment" be if it were us in 10,000AD? Whether we're being examined by the AI we created or the genetically engineered creatures that we chose to become, what would we expect to see during the countdown of 9999AD? The headline won't be about whichever team won the Galacticbowl that year. The headline would be about the fact that this was the era that humans jumped from bronze age to space age to dimension age. It was the era that we learned how not to collapse. In the same sentence, we would celebrate both the invention of the telescope and the treaty of the solar systems. We'd remember the Vikings and the people from the 11.111th dimension both as "this decimillenium's most resourceful navigators". Hamlet and 67th century polka hip hop would be on the same list of influential literature.
The question: What's the flagship knowledge bomb for a civilization who has no idea who they were or what happened to them? The answer is in the question. They learn who they were and what happened to them. That was my prediction.
Here's why it's crazy that it happened in 2012. Remember in our analogy, we're pretending that our future artifact was found in the year 9980 AD. That means we'd only have 20 years left to figure out everything we can about this ancient Earth empire before the big day happens. I mean, just incase it spells the end of galactic civilization, we should excavate the blue planet as much as possible by the end of 9999AD. The whole galaxy is watching and they're all going to lose interest by 10,001 AD.
When we found the Mayan long count calendar, it was shockingly close to 2012 (for something that spans several thousand years). We had excavated the tip of an ice burg and we were moving slowly. Once we saw 2012 on their calendar, a ton of global attention was given. Money was sent. Archeology boomed in the region. It became an interest to humanity, not just to Mexico and a handful of scholars. The tip of the iceburg expanded exponentially. We dug up a ton more stellas and cracked a ton more of their language. We learned the thing about sacrifice being an honor, not a punishment. We figured out that a bunch of faces were actually numbers and a bunch of numbers were actually words and a bunch of words were actually just turd fossils. It became slightly clearer. The memory of the Maya started to awaken in our collective minds. We found new roads and cities pretty much everywhere we dug.
Many archeologists would say from looking at the newer thickly settled snapshot of the Mayan footprint, it was too big. Flanked by ocean on each side, there was no where to stretch out when the weather changed, when crops failed, when disease spread. The land was simply over-taxed. Their imagination and ingenuity is what did them in.
Who they are and what happened to them is an enlightenment that their descendants (as well as the rest of the human race) received in 2012. It's not just my prediction. And it's not just a self fulfilling prophesy. It was inevitable. Did we unearth the key artifact on Dec 21 2012? Of course not. But given the length of a baktun, anything within hundreds of years would seem like a bullseye. And these enlightening discoveries happened in a span of 10-20 years on and around 2012, the dead center of the bullseye. They got their big news right when they would have expected it.
Not for nothing, we've found ancient timepieces all over the world that show a similar abrupt stop right around the same time (meaning now). If you're superstitious or open to the idea of ancient lost superior knowledge, you might assume that now is a pivotal time period in human history. And if you're skeptical, that's also legit. But wherever you are on the spectrum, you can simply take our ancestor's history as a cautionary tale. I keep jumping back and forth between describing the people who built the Mayan ruins and the people who built New York City. But I can actually wrap up both stories at the same time...
There's only so much food and water. Tight clusters breed disease. Leaders throttle down our education and tell us not to look behind the curtain of science, but to instead glorify our pain for their gain. Our most common motivation is social class and it drives both our greatest accomplishments and our biggest mistakes. We as people are smart and strong but our system of the masses serving the few is a self destructive time bomb. We have more people than the ground can hold and we're flanked on all sides by an uncrossable expanse.
The drawing series can be viewed at https://www.scribblesofdave.com/p-landscapes/maya.html