Archaeology Magazine Archive

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According to Mayanist David Stuart, "calendars are ways of organizing our experience relative to the perceived mechanisms of the world and the cosmos as a whole." It is a perspective that makes it easier to appreciate how the ancient Maya used cycles of time to explain the workings of the cosmos, and also why some adherents of New Age religion believe a world-ending cataclysm is coming on December 21, 2012, when the thirteenth bak'tun, a 400-year long period in the Maya calendar, comes to an end.

Stuart's book, The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012 ($24.00, Harmony), is not a direct refutation of the various and growing number of claims about this latest possible apocalypse. It is instead an excellent introduction to the archaeological record and worldview of the ancient Maya, something that Stuart has studied closely since his childhood when he accompanied his archaeologist father, George, to the sites he excavated. Stuart uses the broad popular interest in 2012 as an opportunity to introduce lay audiences to intricacies of Maya calendars. He also provides a thorough accounting of the archaeological evidence underpinning his work.

There is no actual Maya prophecy that the world will end in 2012, according to Stuart. But he avoids taking to task the New Age prophets who claim they know better, at least until the last chapter, where his exasperation starts to show. Whether you believe, as some of the more outrageous predictions contend, that on 12/21/12 Earth will attain some sort of galactic alignment, or that the human race will reach a new level of evolution, or that the deity Quetzalcoatl (never mind that he was Aztec) will come to Earth, it is safe to predict that Stuart's book will not be the last word on the end of the world. However, his engaging explanations of ancient and modern Maya cultural beliefs will make this a valuable book into 2013 and beyond.