During my time in Belize, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Jaime Awe, the Director of the National Institute of Culture and History of Belize, one of the most respected archeologists in the field, and one of the most knowledgeable about the Maya culture. I wanted to know his point of view regarding the Maya Calendar and 2012, and this is what he had to say:
1. Today we are talking all about the Maya calendar, but what happened to the Mayas after the collapse of their civilization in 850-900AD?
Some sites were completely abandoned, while others were still occupied by a small population, very small. The civilization collapsed, but the Mayas still live to this day in smaller populations throughout the villages in Central America.
2. From your professional perspective and opinion, what do you think will happen on December 21, 2012?
Well, December 21, 2012, really marks the end of a cycle of time. The Maya, like us, had cycles of time. We talk about a year, a decade, a century, a millennium. You will recall that Y2K, you know, “in the year 2000 computers are going to crash, etc, etc”.
Well, December 21, 2012, marks the completion in a period of time in the Maya calendar. It’s the completion of the 13th B’aktun. A B’aktun is equal to about 400 years, and to the Maya, the completion of every B’aktun was like the completion of every century for us. And at the completion of the 13th B’aktun is like the completion of a millennium. What happened after Y2K? We went to 2001! And 2002, 2003, etc.
After the completion of the 13th B’aktun, we’ll start the 14th B’aktun. That’s all that’s going to happen.
3. How accurate it is that every 13 B’aktuns create a great cycle, that there are only five great cycles, and that we are living the fifth and last cycle?
I guess we will have to ask the question, what did the ancient Maya say? Not, what people today are saying? You know, what is interesting is that there is only one reference to 2012 in all Maya writings or calendars. Only one! In monument 6 at Tortuguero. If 2012 was such a big deal to the Mayas, it would have been written everywhere.
So the fact that they didn’t say much about it means it was not a big deal. There is also a monument from Palenque, which makes reference to a date in the year 4772, something like that. If the Mayas believed the world was coming to an end, why would they make a reference to a date that far in the future?
4. Is it true that the Mayas often used dates in the future, or past, to dedicate their monuments? And, that in the case of Monument 6, they used 2012 in addition to writings that refer to “gods descending to earth…” just to create the sacred dedication?
That’s right. You know, doomsday folks make so much of a bigger deal of that. What is interesting about it is that the modern Maya haven’t even been bothered by all this.
5. What do you think are the most important sites in Belize that any visitor should go to get a general understanding of the Mayas?
In western Belize there is Caracol. If it’s northern Belize I’d say Lamanai, and if it’s southern Belize you can do both, Lubaantun and Nim li Punit. So those are the key sites, I think. They have monumental architecture, they have writings, they have monuments, ballcourts… they have a little bit of everything about the Mayas.
6. As director of NICH (National Institute of Culture and History), what has been your greatest discovery?
I guess the most enjoyable work was at ATM (Actun Tunichil Muknal). That certainly was one of my most memorable projects I have done. In terms of one of the things I’m very proud of, is the excavation and conservation of Ka’ana at Caracol, and then the discovery of the tombs on structure B1 at Cahal Pech. I have now found several tombs at Cahal Pech.
7. How is NICH approaching 2012?
We have a Maya passport that people can get for $50 BZD that allows them to enter 10 archeological sites in Belize.
We are also doing monthly celebrations to commemorate the year, with the final one being at Cahal Pech on December 21, 2012. It will start in the morning, at dawn, with a fire ceremony by shamans from Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico.
There will also be a lecture and presentation by the archeologist Mark Van Stone. He is a specialist on Maya art and epigraphy and he will be talking about what the Mayas actually told us. So, not what people think what the Mayas wrote!
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