Brief Survey of Comments in Van Stone’s 2012 Book

 

John Major Jenkins (8-20-2014)

 

 

Van Stone’s 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya (2010) was elaborated from a 2008 Power Point presentation, originally posted online on FAMSI in late 2008. It’s gone through several iterations and was officially released in book form in early-2010. My copy is dated May 11, 2010.  Although I’ve already reviewed the book (http://www.Update2012.com) it’s worth revisiting in a concise way to observe how Van Stone has treated my work. We can do this by searching through the text for his references to key items from my work, such as “Izapa”, “galactic alignment”, “dark rift”, “solstice”, “Milky Way”, and my name, “Jenkins.” In a nutshell, despite our lengthy earlier email exchanges (in 2008) he avoids connecting my name with the concepts and ideas that are diagnostic of my pioneering work. And when he does mention my name, it is in a qualified or slightly denigrating tone. 

Starting with the name search, we find his first reference to me on page 20, where he asserts, totally incorrectly, that there isn’t much evidence that the ancient Maya were concerned with the solstices. He wrote: “(we don’t have any [inscriptions], actually) to inform us much about their solstitial attitudes during previous eras”. Proceeding as if this was an accepted truism to scholars, he writes: “Despite this, as John Major Jenkins asserts,[9] 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.”

Van Stone does not cite any of my many books or article, nor does he provide a direct quote, and his paraphrase is fairly unclear. In footnote 9 he cites that this info from me came from “personal communications, 2007-2009.” I was not in contact with Van Stone until early 2008; these exchanges have been online since 2009: http://www.alignment2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone2008.html and http://www.alignment2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone2008-2.html with a link to my letter to Van Stone of May 27, 2008: http://alignment2012.com/Response-to-Mark-Van-Stone.html along with links to my Institute of Maya Studies article of March 2008. An additional exchange took place in late-2010 / early 2011 (http://www.Update2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone-emails-Dec2010.pdf), which pointedly reiterated my clarification of several items of misrepresentation; none of which Van Stone took to heart to accurately represent my work in the piece he co-authored with MacLeod (his part being originally written in April-May of 2011). What I actually conveyed to Van Stone in regard to evidence for pre-Classic solstice observations, was the Izapa ballcourt’s orientation to the December solstice sunrise, which I was the first to calculate and published (1996, 1998), before the Aveni & Hartung piece that was published in 2000. Van Stone constructs a clever work-around to acknowledging my discovery and first publication of this and, in fact, asserts Aveni’s preeminence in the second sentence of his footnote #9: “Anthony Aveni attests and has published most ancient celestial alignments in his various books.”

We have to do a lot of work to reconstruct Van Stone’s unstated and indirect allusions and references. He should be referring here to my Izapa ballcourt alignment reconstruction which I explicitly shared with him during email exchanges of 2008, but instead he avoids it, yet redirects to Aveni’s work on “celestial alignments,” effectively slighting my contribution. However, Aveni as a sole author only refers to the Izapa ballcourt alignment in his 2009 book, where he reports its orientation 48° in error!  This is characteristic of Van Stone’s messy writing and citation style.

Van Stone’s second reference to me occurs on pp 152-153, where he addresses the pre-Classic Isthmian origin (actually, it is Isthmian-Soconusco) of the Long Count. In his first reference he introduced me with a setting aside construct (“Despite…”), in which I appear to diverge from some established consensus  Here, Van Stone again introduces me with a wag-of-the-finger aside, “warning” his readers that:

 

…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. 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. 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. The evidence he cites for this is not based on any text, but on his interpretations of Late Formative pictorial monuments, mostly at Izapa.

    

Note there was no citation to where I took Van Stone to task for his exclusive focus on Classic Period and post-Classic Maya and non-Maya sources of information to make his  interpretations (it is my 2009 book The 2012 Story, pp. 243-244). I never said that such later expressions should be “ruled out”, but pointed out that evidence at the origin of the Long Count would be preferable to ideas found many centuries later and hundreds of miles away. He here conflates my separate observation, regarding Pakal’s use of the 20th Baktun at Palenque, that Classic Period kings may have employed unorthodox manipulations of the Long Count tradition to affect their rhetorical statements, and such clever devices don’t necessarily represent the original tradition. 

I also don’t “firmly believe” that the creators of the LC pointed to the future and not the past. What I wrote in that same book (Jenkins 2009) is that: “… the entire site of Izapa provides a coherent picture of a tripartite cosmology that implicates the 13-Baktun cycle-ending (in 2012) as well as its beginning date (in 3114 BC).” (Jenkins 2009:162). 

I did indeed describe myself as a “2012ologist”. Critics have used this pejoratively, but what I explicitly explained to Van Stone about this coined term (in an email of May 23, 2008) was:

 

Since I coined the term "2012ologist" in my 2005 introduction to Geoff Stray's book Beyond 2012, and have used it since in a non-disparaging way to mean "those who study the 2012 phenomenon" — including myself, Robert Sitler, and a few others — I'd be interested in what caricatures you refer to (I'm sure we could collaborate and end up with a huge list!). I don't consider writers who simply hijack 2012 as a promotional tool to be "2012ologists" in any serious sense. These include well-known authors in the spiritual actualization field who deftly insert "2012" into their already established raps.  Nor are the underinformed pop-New Age writers serious researchers.

   The distinction I was trying to make by using the term was separating the serious researchers — most of whom are independent investigators due to the dearth of serious treatment by scholars — from the expected doomsday alarmists and spiritual ascension cultists. (http://www.alignment2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone2008.html).

 

I actually have an instance of me using it in 2003. My email to Van Stone was in response to him writing, in an announcement to Aztlan of his upcoming presentation, that “I hope to convince a few of the "true believers” that the Real Maya (and Aztecs) are far more interesting than the caricatures presented by 2012ologists in the popular press” (http://www.alignment2012.com/Jenkins-VanStone2008.html). So we see here that pejorative reflex rearing its head, distorting concepts and terms. He responding and said he would be careful to note my distinction in his writings and lectures, and that “I want you to know that I credit coinage of this term to you in the book I am working on, and I am sorry if I appeared to use your term in any disparaging way.” This was a kind gesture, but it didn’t actually happen in his book.  Its only occurrence is in the quote given above. Given that I explained in my email to him that a 2012ologist was simply those who study 2012, it comes across pejoratively, like “Jenkins, a self-described ‘person who studies 2012’…”, as if to grant myself such a designation is dubious.

Van Stone goes on to defend his non-origin approach by writing that “written texts convey information orders of magnitude more precisely than pictures alone do” and “the Izapa monuments … possess peculiar, difficult-to-interpret iconography. … and none preserve a trace of readable text.” Van Stone thus gives the impression that nothing of certainty can be said or determined about the Izapa monuments. However, elsewhere in his book he discusses the Creation Myth statements on several of the Izapan stela, as if he had never previously asserted that they didn’t merit serious attention. The thumbs-down  was clearly constructed as a critique of my approach, which he doesn’t fully understand, since he wrote: “For an exemplary careful and reasoned interpretation of Izapa’s iconography, see Guernsey 2001 & 2006. For a divergent, much more fanciful one, see Jenkins. The divergence could hardly happen if the pictures carried readable inscriptions.” Van Stone fails to realize that the works of Guernsey he cited barely mentioned the Izapa ballcourt monuments and doesn’t consider astronomical orientation. Her work with Kent Reilly on the “cords” and Seven Macaw as the Big Dipper actually supports my previously published idea that the movements of the Big Dipper in the north were tied, in the minds of the Izapan skywatchers, with the movements of the sun north and south along the eastern horizon.

Van Stone’s attempt to cite an actual source from me fails ridiculously, and is presented in the context of my work being “divergent” and “fanciful”: “For a divergent, much more fanciful one, see Jenkins.” See Jenkins? What, knock on my door? Where’s the pub year, let alone a page number? It’s as if scholars like Van Stone can’t bear to actually acknowledge my publications, or they are just utterly lazy in their scholarship. Furthermore, as iconographers who I have cited and based my several unique interpretations on clearly understand, Izapa’s iconographic pictures, motifs, and themes  provide consistently readable statements. A theme I have identified and emphasized is deity sacrifice as a prerequisite for period-ending renewal. Van Stone places too great an emphasis on written text (which, as epigraphers of hieroglyphic writing know, suffers from great ambiguity) and unfairly dismisses iconography. It could be argued that simple iconographic statements are less ambiguous than a more articulated and crenellated hieroglyphic inscription that juggles phonetic, ideogramic, local “dialect”, variations in syntactical inflections of meaning, and syllabic consideration.   

The additional factor that makes my work unique is that I incorporate a more complete field of evidentiary data, namely archaeoastronomical orientation and regional topography. The individual monuments and the monument groups are meaningfully oriented to astronomy, and many of the monuments and their motifs clearly reflect and symbolize that astronomy. So, in regard to the non-divergent and non-fanciful Creation Myth interpretations of scholars that I’ve cited and concur with, my work is built upon and extends (not diverges from) previous scholarship. But since my work is the most complete and in-depth treatment of Izapa cosmology, calendrics, astronomy, regional topography and iconography, my work necessarily breaks new ground and expresses new interpretations. All of these ideas are well documented and argued, and none of my arguments and evidence is ever cited by scholars like Van Stone, whose dismissals are  just under-informed, knee-jerk, and presumptuous.     

That’s it. Two references to me (p. 20 and pp. 152-153), apart from my 1998 book in the bibliography and my name in a long list in the Acknowledgements. However, the Galactic Alignment that is the centerpiece of my work is critiqued over three pages (10-12, without reference to my name or work! He mentions or depicts several of the uniquely diagnostic features of my 2012 alignment reconstruction, including the Dark Rift feature and a “37-year” (actually, 36) alignment window. He also adapts his several “sky chart” depictions of the galactic alignment from a website cited to: “www.artideas.com -Why2012.” This website no longer exists, but when I first did my review of Van Stone’s book I found it and noted that it used my sky-charts from my 1994 “How and Why” of 2012 article. So, this seems another work-around employed by Van Stone, to avoid citing my work — or even mentioning it in a 3-page critique of the core centerpiece of my work. Amazing. 

He concludes, in a larger font: “This is not a rare, nor a special alignment. It is as common as Christmas, and has been going on a lot longer” (Van Stone 2010:12). This is an utterly ridiculous assertion and is contradicted by his own presentation.  He employs the same tactic of omitting the “solstice” criterion that other astronomers have used, yet uses the solstice criterion in his other descriptions. Utterly bizarre, and confused. In fact, in 2008 or early 2009 Van Stone had his brother, apparently better versed in basic astronomy, contact me for explanations. As usual I provided detailed explanations and descriptions, but the Van Stone filter had a field day and resulted in the misleading dismissal we see on page 10-12.

It should give the un-biased reader pause — a very long pause — to note that the occurrences of my name and the attempted citation to my work (discussed above) do not associate me with the galactic alignment. The “galactic alignment” phrase also occurs on page 152, where Van Stone asserts that “the Maya prophets tell us nothing about galactic alignments, transformations of consciousness …”. The Maya “prophets?” What about Maya astronomers and scribes? What about Lord Jaguar’s birthday parallel to 2012 which exploits the galactic alignment, and which I discussed in my 2009 book The 2012 Story? (and which Van Stone read in late 2009).

Incredibly, the name Van Stone associates with the galactic alignment is popular writer and 2012 late-comer Greg Braden, who Van Stone quotes (without proper attribution) on page 2: “The rare celestial alignment of our solar system, our sun, and our planet with the center of our galaxy—an event that will not happen again for another 26,000 years.” Although useful in general contexts, like a back cover or jacket flap, this kind of description is pretty vague.

Also on page 2, we have a bullet list of “some of the events that are suppose to come together on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012” and find one of two mentions in the book to the Dark Rift: “On that morning, the Earth and Sun will align with the “Dark Rift” near the Galactic Center. This event last happened about 25,800 years ago.” Again, we have here a completely wrong definition of the era-2012 alignment because it claims it happens “on that morning,” explicitly leaves out the “solstice” criterion, and suggests the alignment only happens on 12-21-2012.

Van Stone’s second, and last, mention of the Dark Rift (not including its depiction in the sky-charts) is on page 81: “The Crocodile also represents the Milky Way, as we shall see below, with the “dark rift” near the galactic Center as its jaws.” And in Van Stone’s discussion on page 81 he illustrates Izapa Stela 25, with the caiman as the Milky Way and its mouth as the Dark Rift. Following Schele, this is an idea I also embraced in Izapa iconography and astronomy, and it is important to my reconstruction of Izapa’s tripartite  cosmology, which also addresses the related serpent/toad/caiman monster mouth forms on Stela 11, Stela 6, and others. Why then does Van Stone identify my Izapa work as “divergent” and “fanciful”? He dismisses the ideas I employ and then reiterates them as if he thought of them first (we see this, for examples, in his comparative depiction of the crab mouth carving and Stela 11 on page 93 and in the angled double-headed serpent bars representing the MW-ecliptic cross: “To confirm our cosmic interpretation, note that some World-Tree-Sky stelae portray the ruler holding the Serpent-bar at what appears a casual angle. I believe this represents a relatively accurate depiction of the actual angle at which the Ecliptic and the Milky Way intersect (about 60°)” (p. 87).

He claims I only interpret iconography, which he believes is not real writing and is therefore ambiguous (such prejudice!), but I in fact used (Jenkins 1996, 1998, 2002, 2009) archaeoastronomical alignments, the Creation Myth/ballgame symbology, throne symbolism and king-making rites, and referenced academic perspectives on Izapan iconography—as he also does on page 81!  And I communicated these things to him in 2008! Van Stone is good at disparaging while appropriating. A new word for Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: plagioexcoriation.    

Regarding the correlation issue, on page 121 he manages to not only ignore my emails of 2008 (he wrote “I lean toward the original GMT, based on evidence and arguments presented by Dennis Tedlock and Bob Wald…”), but concludes with a slightly denigrating jab to “those who see significance in the Maya Calendar’s ending on a winter solstice” and therefore “unsurprisingly … prefer the original GMT as well.” He elsewhere invokes astrologers who like solstices, casting a general pall of pseudoscience over the topic, much like his buddy John Hoopes does. Really. The scholarship is wanting.

 

A word must be included here regarding a passage in Van Stone’s IAU essay (2011), where he offers the extraordinarily bold insinuation that previous scholars (including himself, Coe, Schele, Thomson, and Carlson) have already previously entertained the   2012 alignment. Read and wonder: 

 

I take this pose [Maya king holding the serpent bar] to represent literally the Ecliptic as it crosses the Milky Way galaxy. In Mayan languages, the words for ‘snake’ and ‘sky’ are homophonic (Kan in the north, Chan elsewhere), supporting the identification of serpent with sky. This ‘X’ spot in the sky, near the Galactic center, will be occupied by the sun as it rises on 21st December 2012. The coincidence of this solar alignment with the winter solstice has fueled the fire of speculation that the Maya aimed their Long Count (see previous chapter, pp. 183–185; Thompson 1950; Schele et al. 1993; Coe & Van Stone 2006) to end on this date. (p. 186-187, red bolding added for emphasis)

 

What? It would seem odd to insert a string of citations involving five scholars to merely support what “the Long Count” is. The pp 183-185 of the “previous chapter” Van Stone alludes to is the one he co-authored with Carlson, and those pages don’t contain any discussion of the idea that the “coincidence of this solar alignment [sun at the X marks the spot] with the winter solstice” “fueled the fire of speculation” that “the Maya aimed their Long Count …. [citations are listed here]… to end on this date.” In fact, nothing in the article alludes to this. Rather, we see Carlson ending his foreword to the piece with:

 

Finally, a word of warning for anyone who is interested in exploring these topics as

an amateur or professional far from his field of expertise. Of the hundreds of published ‘books’ that deal with the 2012 phenomenon by name, perhaps four have some scholarly validity. [very probably referring to Van Stone, Aveni, Restall & Solari, and Stuart] The rest range from speculative pseudo-scholarship and new-age fantasy to utter rubbish. Caveat emptor. (Carlson & Van Stone, 2011, p. 182).

 

Van Stone’s badly worded passage can be easily misread to mean that the cited scholars were actually thinking about “The coincidence of this solar alignment [the ‘X’ spot of Milky Way and ecliptic occupied by the sun on 12-21-2012] with the winter solstice.” That’s the galactic alignment. But NONE of those scholars, not even Schele, were onto that or even acknowledge it. Obviously, Van Stone must be citing them for some other reason, but this kind of loose construct and bad syntax is emblematic of what is so problematic in Van Stone’s book. Similarly, we read in the subsequent passage: “The discussion whether the Maya pitched their Long Count to ‘end’ on a solstice in 2012 is entirely the product of modern speculation. This article examines what they tell us themselves: the scant evidence we have of actual ancient Maya attitudes toward the 13.0.0.0.0 ‘creation’ and ‘end’ dates.”

Well, my work is not rooted in speculation. It’s an interdisciplinary synthesis of relevant evidence. In the passage, Van Stone refers to his book as an “article”, meaning that the book was built upon his previous FAMSI essay of late 2008, in turn expanded from a Power Point presentation he gave in mid-2008. His 2010 book was self-published under his own press name. Critics have lambasted my own self-published books and booklets (and undiscerningly dismiss my five other published books as merely “popular trade” books), yet they not only give Van Stone a pass but have hailed and endorsed his book (despite the poor writing quality, many lapses, and editorial errors). It does contain some good points and observations and interesting play-by-play of personal communications between scholars, but its misleading problems utterly out-weigh its contributions — unless it is laudable to reframe the narrative and craft work-arounds to acknowledging and accurately discussing and citing my own pioneering work on 2012 (even while echoing some of my own observations and prior discoveries).