A Review of Mark Van Stone’s book on 2012

( 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, Tlacaélel Press )


By John Major Jenkins. For Update2012.com


A little background.  I began an email correspondence with Mark Van Stone in early 2008 (here: http://www.alignment2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone2008.html.) See also: http://www.alignment2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone2008-2.html.  It revolved, at first, around the correlation debate. It expanded into explanations of my work, Maya astronomy, and Izapa. Van Stone’s piece on 2012 --- an elaborated Power Point presentation --- was posted on the FAMSI website in late 2008. He had neglected almost everything we had discussed, and yet found it useful to critique my work while not properly crediting it to me. Thus began a series of odd misrepresentations of my work, culminating in his Youtube screeds and then in his self-published book, called 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, released in January-to-March of 2010. The caliber of documentation and citation ethic, and accurate assessment of my theory and many other things, is very poor. And yet his pals, professional Mayanists such as John Carlson and John Hoopes, had no problem overlooking these glaring errors to endorse and laud the book.   The reason why is clear; Van Stone was willing to play the role of the front-man shill, spreading disinformation in order to mitigate my work and characterize me in unflattering and inaccurate ways. This is of course the hallmark of solid, truth-seeking, dispassionate, non-biased scholarship. Yeah, right. In any case, it’s easy to respond to Van Stone, correct his immature approach, as I have done dozens of times before with him and his cronies. My responses below are in red.      


From Mark Van Stone’s 2010 book, pages 10-12:      


The 2012 Galactic Alignment: How Rare Is It?

Some researchers claim that the Maya Calendar was set, originally devised, specifically to reach its “end” (the Long Count date coinciding with this very special event.


How rare is this “galactic alignment”, that occurs every 26,000 years? [Note: Van Stone never defines the alignment; good scholarship or crappy scholarship?]


Fig. 10. Sky chart showing the sun’s position on the morning of 21 December, 2012.


The line marking the Ecliptic is green, and the Galactic Equator is violet. Pretty amazing, eh? The sun moves along the Ecliptic about a degree per day (about two solar diameters, as we perceive it from Earth), so this will be the only day that year when it lies on the Galactic Equator. However, it crosses the Galactic equator every year. In Fig. 11, you see it thirteen years earlier, on 21st December, 1999:


Fig. 11. Note that thirteen years before 2012, the Winter Solstice Sunrise appears very slightly to the left of its later position in Fig. 10. It crossed the Galactic Equator precisely in 1999.


You probably don’t even see the difference at first, even looking carefully. (In the slide-show presentation for which I originally made these illustrations [downloadable from the FAMSI.org 2012 website], you can click back and forth rapidly through this sequence of images, and the animation allows you better to see the sun’s slight, almost imperceptible progress.) The point is that, yes, the sun passes the Center of the Galaxy every year, and has crossed the equator on the Solstice every year since ca. 1983. This “rare” event will continue annually till about 2019. Astrologers have not yet explained to my satisfaction why the 2012 solstice sunrise is any more potent than that on 2018, or 1999, or 1987, or any year in between.


This ultra-slow slippage is called Precession of the Equinoxes.7 Over a very long time, annual celestial events like the Equinox actually appear a day, then two days, then three days earlier than previous generations recorded them. It takes some 25,800 years for Precession to make a complete cycle around our entire sky. So, in 2012 the sun rises on the Winter Solstice on the Galactic Equator (It misses the actual Galactic Center —invisible from Earth— by about 3°, or six solar diameters). The last time Precession brought the Winter Solstice sunrise into this neighborhood was in the middle of the last Ice Age, when our ancestors were hunting mammoths and carving Willendorf Venuses.


The next picture (Fig. 12) goes back 71 years, to 1941, which is the time it takes for the sun to precess one day (about one degree). Following that, Fig. 13 goes back yet another 71 years (one more degree), to 21st Dec. 1870. I have left the 2012 solstice sun in the picture for comparison. In these two pictures, the Solstice Sun is respectively one degree and two degrees short of crossing the Galactic Equator. “Precessing one day” means that the sun rises on 21st December 1941 in precisely the same apparent position as it does on 20th December 2012. Likewise, the Solstice sunrise on 21st December 1870 was in the same position as that on 19th December 2012. (Two days earlier, but 142 years later.)


Fig. 12. Both dates refer to the sun to the left; the one partly-visible on the Galactic Equator is for comparison only. The Galactic Center is invisible from Earth, and slightly out of the bottom frame.7 In a few hundred years —Astrologers do not agree among themselves on the exact date— the Vernal Equinox sun will slip from Pisces into Aquarius. (See pp. 13ff below.) This is the “Age of Aquarius” celebrated in song. Each Zodiacal age is about 2150 years long (1/12 of 25,800 years), and the disagreement is because the Zodiac signs have indefinite edges. Exactly where, in the pictures above, is the border between Scorpius and Libra? And three months later, exactly where does Pisces’s influence leave off and Aquarius’s begin? Though various authorities have selected Transition dates ranging from the Early Renaissance to the 36th century, most cluster around the 25th century, with another spike in the 20th. Lately, a growing chorus of astrologers have leapt on the bandwagon, fixing the date of the Great Transition on —you guessed it— 21 December 2012.


Fig. 13. Both dates refer to the sun to the left; that on the Galactic Equator is for comparison only. If your brain is like mine, you are starting to lose a sure grip on where the sun is on all these days, which way it is going, and who really cares? So, to get to the point: The sun “crosses” the Galactic Equator once a year. It has been doing so, on the Solstice, for decades, and will continue for a decade more. After and before this 37-year “Sostice Alignment”, the sun also “crosses” the Galactic Equator every year, but on different days. (See Fig. 14.) It has been doing so, annually, since the sun was lit, since the galaxy first condensed out of interstellar dust. [Note: I convey Van Stone’s treatment in full, out of respect for conveying accurately his rationale and arguments.]


Sky charts adapted from www.artideas.com -Why2012 [This is a non-existing or no-longer existing source. It seems to have been on an art-image resource website. Whatever it was, it must have lifted images from my websites. Van Stone seems to go out of his way to find sources of my work outside of my own work, so that he does not have to cite my work. This is obvious in his treatment of the galactic alignment, in which he ignored my 2002 book called Galactic Alignment (wide distribution, still in print, available for $6 on Amazon, translated into three languages).]

Fig. 14. In previous centuries, even though the Sun did not align with the Galactic Equator on the Solstice, it did cross it a couple days later.


This is not a rare, nor a special alignment. It is as common as Christmas, and has been going on a lot longer. [Here, Van Stone takes the same approach as the astronomers who I debated ten years ago. He leaves out the qualifying term “solstice” which limits the range of the galactic alignment, properly defined. It is the indispensable linchpin of the accurate definition of the galactic alignment, and limits the range to about 40 years. The 2012 period ending is close to the middle of this range.]    


[This treatment and sum-up by Van Stone is misleading, a kind of opinionated, undiscerning, and reactionary proclamation. Notice that Van Stone succeeded in completely avoiding citing or mentioning my work, an occurrence that no thinking person should consider permissible. In doing so, he’s able to avoid the fact that I’ve treated these kinds of critiques long ago in my earliest books on 2012 and the precessional alignment of solstice sun and galactic equator. My clarifications and often anticipatory responses to these things is well documented in my books and on my websites going back to 1995. Van Stone mentions the necessary range for the alignment, which I first published in my work --- but again, he succeeds in avoiding citing me for that and gives the impressions that such a consideration mitigates my work. The unstated assumption in Van Stone’s critique is that the ancient Maya had to calculate the far-future precessional alignment of the mid-point of the sun’s half-degree-wide body with the abstract line modern astronomers call the galactic equator, with absolute 100 % precision.  The “galactic alignment” thus happens in 1998, so Van Stone assumes, but not in 1999, 2000, or 2012. Having identified this as a faux-critique, we can restate what I’ve said all along, which actually reflects the reality of the situation: the half-degree-wide body of the solstice sun will be touching the galactic equator of December solstices for some 36 or so years.  This too, however, can then be polemically manipulated to argue that the alignment is not “unique to 2012.” Van Stone’s sophistry is misplaced, designed to mitigate without taken into account the full arguments I’ve presented in my work (particularly those that show how the astronomical features involved in the galactic alignment are present in the iconography at Izapa, in the ballgame, king-making rites, and the Creation Myth. Never, not once, has a critic of my work adequately or accurately addressed these items of evidence. Van Stone ignores that we are looking at a process (precession) the Maya were aware of, and we now have good evidence that they knew it with good accuracy.   Pretty revealing and interesting of what Van Stone is trying to do here. I won’t recapitulate my presentations, definitions, arguments, and discussions of this topic that appear in my books --- that would be like trying to convince a stubborn child of something they are unwilling to look at.  Van Stone is irresponsible and misleading in not addressing the full arguments and evidence, and in neglecting to acknowledge my work as the source of ideas accurately and honestly summarized. Van Stone exerts great energy is misrepresenting and distorting my work, which is intellectually dishonest and indicative of poor scholarship.  The so-called “galactic alignment” is real astronomy, and there is evidence that the ancient Maya were aware of it --- especially now that we have the astronomy in the 13 dates on TRT Monument 6.]    



Page 20 of Van Stone’s book:

Solstices: How important were they?

Answer: Not very.

At least not during the Classic period. We don’t have enough inscriptions (we don’t have any, actually) [inscriptions are not the only source of information on Maya cosmological interests; archaeoastronomy is a big one] inform us much about their solstitial attitudes during previous eras. Despite this, as John Major Jenkins asserts,9 [incredibly, his source for my work, Note 9, is an email from Aveni, cited as a p.c. below]  Middle Preclassic and Late Preclassic architecture (such as some of the “E-Groups” shown above in Fig. 1) does often align to the solstice stations on the horizon, indicating that at that time of the Long Count Calendar’s invention (LC dates first appear in the Late Preclassic), the Maya did place more emphasis on the Solstices.



9. Private communication, 2007-2009. Anthony Aveni attests and has published most ancient celestial alignments in his various books. [It’s really odd that Van Stone cites a personal communication from Aveni on my work here. Why didn’t Van Stone cite my book MC2012? --- it appears in his bibliography. Must have been either lazy or unwilling to use my accurate statements, and instead opt for his own poor paraphrases --- another trick of the intellectually dishonest polemicist. Van Stone requires actual hieroglyphic passages testifying to an interest in the solstices during the pre-Classic. This is a ridiculous and unnecessary restriction, first because we don’t have very many actual hieroglyphic passages from the pre-Classic, and second, archaeoastronomical alignments and iconography can combine to testify to an interest in the solstices. Van Stone neglects to actually state that my book MC2012 (1998) was the first published source of the Izapa ballcourt’s alignment to the solstice, and beyond that I showed the intentionality of the solstice orientation by looking at the throne monument’s birthing-head on the west end of the ballcourt.   He frames my work as being asserted “despite” evidence to the contrary, and then he cites Aveni for my work. Aveni himself had published --- later, in 2000 --- surveys of Izapa and other sites that showed a consistent interest in the solstice orientation which fed a developing calendrical cosmology. I think Van Stone needs to buy a clue here.  It’s ironic that so many scholars (Stuart, Carlson, Zender, Hoopes, etc) freely cite Van Stone’s book when it contains so many basic errors --- not just on my work but throughout. It was self-published and did not apparently benefit from professional editing services, let alone fact checking and vetting for conceptual guffaws.]   



Page 151 of Van Stone’s book:


The earliest known Long Count dates (7.16.x.x.x, between 40 and 20 BC/BCE) come from Chiapa de Corzo, Tres Zapotes, and Takalik Abaj. The last site is Maya, but the other two are Isthmian, leagues to the west of Mayaland. Most scholars believe the Long Count to have been an Isthmian, not a Maya invention, though there are those who claim its invention for Izapa, right on the border between the two peoples.


Unlike the 260-day calendar, use of the Long Count was not widespread; there is no evidence that the Aztecs, Mixtecs, Zapotecs, or any other Mesoamericans except Isthmians and Maya ever used it. One note of warning: we have virtually no decipherable texts from the Late Formative era, the time of the calendars' invention. John Major Jenkins, a self-described “2012ologist,” rightly points out the danger of using Classic-era texts to interpret the thinking of peoples several centuries earlier and many miles away. [Yes, I pointed this out to Mark after his early version of his book was posted as a PDF on Aztlan in 2008, but then as he reactively defends himself (below) he totally misses the point] He contends that the differences I note between various cities’ Long Count calendars are due to much later political manipulation, and ought to be ruled out of any analysis of its inventors' intentions. [This is misleading; Van Stone is referring to the email exchange we had about Pakal’s use of the 20 Baktun ending. Everyone excepts that he referenced that date for “political” propaganda, and it’s anomalous. He exploited a near-anniversary of his accession, for its rhetorical efficacy. Van Stone seems to believe that Pakal’s propaganda stunt stands for a universal Maya belief. I pointed out that other kings at other sites could, and did, use other period endings in the Long Count, revealing different ways that the Long count periods could be conceived at different sites. The accurate reporting of email exchanges we had is apparently something Van Stone does not care to do, although he frequently quotes and cites the “personal communications” he had with other researchers. This reveals Van Stones desire to exploit his own sloppy paraphrasings of what I believe and argue for in my work, giving a completely misleading impression. Here, as with other critical assessments of my work, double standards and sloppy polemics can be easily identified] He firmly believes that the priests who devised the Long Count aimed it at the future, rather than the past, fixing its “end point” in “Era 2012” rather than choosing to start, as we do, at some important beginning event. [I’ve pointed out that the solstice placement in 2012 very probably indicates a consciously intended placement; but I also see this for the 3114 date as well; so Van Stone’s statement is, as usual, misleading. Past and future anchor points seem to have both been integrated in the conceptualization of the Long Count --- that is a consideration born out by the basic FACTS (zenith in 3114 BC, solstice in 2012 AD). Furthermore, future considerations are implicit in Maya conceptions of time, where the important event often happens at the END of the time cycle or process. Birth happens at the end of gestation, and in the Long Count calendar there is the “end naming” practice in which a period is named by its last day. We are thus in the 4 Ahau Katun because this Katun ends on the day 4 Ahau. Van Stone’s assessment of my work is superficial and therefore misleading; his always pejorative judgment of my ideas, often mis-paraphrasing them, demands that he needs to actually engage my arguments and sources with more depth and detail, and take note of the documentation I cite to support my arguments. ] The evidence he cites for this is not based on any text, but on his interpretations of Late Formative pictorial monuments, mostly at Izapa. [Again, many of these “interpretations” of the “pictorial monuments” are not explicitly my own interpretations, but are cited to the consensus of iconographers and epigraphers. For example, the arms-outstretched period ending gestures on Stela 11 and 67 --- not my own but relevant for the overarching interpretation of Izapa cosmology I offer. Another example --- the upturned frog mouth motif on Stela 11, meaning “to be born” --- comes from epigraphy. This meaning is reinforced by the fact that Stela 11 faces the solstice sunrise, where the sun deity on the carving is seen being “born.” It thus appears that the iconographic motif on Stela 11 is an early version of the “upturned frog mouth” hieroglyph meaning “to be born.” Another example: the Milky Way astronomy on Stela 25 was suggested by Linda Schele, and reiterated later by David  Stuart (2005) as an early version of the Starry Deer Crocodile (= the Milky Way). Likewise, other “caiman-trees” in the Izapa iconographic corpus can be seen as Milky Way symbols as explored in essays by scholars in The Olmec World (1995), leading to the straightforward deduction that the mouth is the dark rift in the Milky Way. As another examples, the head emerging between the legs on the ballcourt throne faces down the lengthwise axis of the court to the solstice sunrise azimuth; it is thus a straightforward deduction that the head (which is comparable to the game ball in the ballgame and in fact is placed near a stone ball and ring) is a personified symbol of the December solstice sun. These are extremely straightforward deduction, which are divergent from mainstream consensus only because no one has examined the Izapan iconography and archaeastronomy in the same detail and completeness as I have. Van Stone’s vague and generalized ideas that I offer “fanciful interpretation” is irresponsible. Thinking people should not accept Van Stone’s opinions at face value; he never actually directly cites my arguments or the evidence I bring to bear on those arguments, nor does he ever accurately paraphrase what my work is really about. His approach to critiquing my work is diagnostic of irresponsible, incomplete, and misleading critical analysis.]



Page 152 of Van Stone’s book:


And the Izapa monuments – though they be intricate, numerous, and well-preserved (in their original locations!), possess peculiar, difficult-to-interpret iconography. [Actually, the iconography of Izapa is pretty well understood; the meaning of the iconography is reinforced by reference o the astronomical orientations of the individual monuments and the larger groups, as well as the entire site.] (See Figs. 85b, 104, and 105.) Many images are unique [What does this mean? There are motifs, deities, symbols, and themes repeated throughout the Izapan monuments], and none preserve a trace of readable text. [Van Stone subscribes to the limited notion that iconography does not contain information that can be “read,” revealing the intentions of those who created them. This is an irrational notion that iconographers, and most Mayanists, find ridiculous] (I suspect that, situated on a border between linguistic groups, Izapa carvers chose to forgo public hieroglyphic inscriptions which would favor one linguistic group over another. A polyglot situation also obtained in Teotihuacán and late Chichén Itzá, multicultural metropolises which likewise avoided public inscriptions.) For an exemplary careful and reasoned interpretation of Izapa’s iconography, see Guernsey 2001 & 2006 [Unfortunately, Guernsey actually DOES NOT address the Izapan ballcourt and its integrated monumental statements; I believe she mentions Stela 67, but DOES NOT report or discuss the other 12 relevant monuments in the ballcourt, or the ballcourt’s alignment to the solstice sunrise. Here is another example of Van Stone asserting something with absolute conviction, that is actually completely incorrect]. For a divergent [my interpretation of the entire gestalt of Izapan cosmology derives from a holistic look at the entire site, with a specific focus on the ballcourt, which no other researcher has done; as such, how can my interpretation be “divergent”? Divergent from the non-existent treatments offered by other researchers?] much more fanciful one [Van Stone likes to use pejorative terms without given any kind of analysis or critique to back up his opinion; this is not good scholarship], see Jenkins [see Jenkins what? This is an incomplete reference; another sign of poor documentation]. The divergence could hardly happen if the pictures carried readable inscriptions. The most-clearly-recognizable of the Izapa images (Stela 1: Chaak fishing [not shown], and Stela 25: Hero Twin confronting the Bird, Fig. 85b) are informed by texts written down many centuries later. [How can the earlier pictographs at Izapa be “informed” by later texts? Van Stone’s grasp of Izapan iconography and astronomy is extremely limited, though he gives the impression he is knowledgeable and is covering all the bases; this is very irresponsible and misleading scholarship] Despite the passage of centuries, the written word is surprisingly conservative and reliable. [Really? Maya epigraphy recognizes regional differences as well as archaic forms and anomalous combinations of elements.]




A final note. John Hoopes failed to see any of these problems in his review Van Stone’s and Aveni’s books on 2012. The sorry state of Academe is revealed in the self-serving mutual ego stroking that these scholars indulge in. 


Reviewed June 2010. John Major Jenkins.