Maya Scholar Deciphers Meaning of Newly Discovered Monument That Refers to 2012

David Stuart, professor of art history at The University of Texas at Austin, has deciphered the second known reference in Maya culture to the so-called "end date" of December 21, 2012. Stuart says the reference does not predict the end of time but rather, was intended to promote continuity during a time of crisis.

Stuart worked with Marcello Canuto, director of Tulane's Middle American Research Institute and co-director and Tomás Barrientos of the Universidad del Valle Guatemala, who serve as co-directors of the excavation, and announced the findings in Guatemala today.

The findings are the latest from Stuart's more than 15 years of exploration and documentation of a site of Maya ruins in northwest Guatemala, which he named La Corona ("The Crown").

This spring, he served as lead epigrapher on an international team of archaeologists to decipher hieroglyphs that were carved on stone blocks that were part of a staircase at La Corona. The staircase records 200 years of La Corona's political history, its allies and its enemies, and it is the longest text ever discovered in Guatemala. On one of the blocks, Stuart recognized amongst its 56 carved glyphs, the so-called "end date. "

"The monument commemorated a royal visit to La Corona in AD 696 by the most powerful Maya ruler of that time, a few months after his defeat by a long-standing rival in AD 695," said Stuart. "Thought by scholars to have been killed in this battle, this ruler was visiting allies and allaying their fears after his defeat. It 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."

So rather than prophesy, the 2012 reference served to place this king's troubled reign and accomplishments into a larger cosmological framework. It is only the second reference to the 'end date' in the entire corpus of ancient Maya writing, according to Stuart.

The only other reference to the 2012 date in ancient Maya inscriptions is 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," says Canuto.

Stuart is the David and Linda Schele Professor of Mesoamerican Art and Writing at The University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of "The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012." Stuart's research is supported by the Schele research fund from the College of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin, and through the Casa Herrera research facility in Guatemala, where he does much of his work throughout the year.