Review-Essay of Mayan Prophecies by Gilbert and Cotterell, Element Books 1995
Book Review. October 18th, 1995
by John Major Jenkins
c. Four Ahau Press
Mayan Prophecies presents new ideas which attempt to identify why the end date of the Mayan Calendar in A.D. 2012 will be attended by cataclysm. The book was written by Adrian Gilbert (co-author with Robert Bauval of The Orion Mystery) and Maurice Cotterell, an independent researcher from England. This book follows in the tradition of The Orion Mystery and Graham Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods by chastising academia for their intolerance and refusal to hear out the ideas of outsiders. New ideas with the potential for contributing to a field of study should be put on the table for judging, and if serious new advances are being presented, they need to be tested and weighed by those who are knowledgeable about the field in question. In the case of Mayan Prophecies, there are so many internal inconsistencies and misconceptions that I wish the authors had taken the time to do more extensive research in the field themselves, to weed out the sophomoric mistakes which seriously damage this book's credibility. The book has to do with Mesoamerican creation mythology, ancient astronomy and the Mayan calendar. Definitive books on this subject, such as Maya Cosmos (1993; Linda Schele, David Freidel & Joy Parker) or Gordon Brotherston's Book of the Fourth World (1992) were not used as source material. Instead, archaic studies such as Ernst Förstemann's work on the Dresden Codex were consulted to derive half-true statements about Venus and the Mayan Long Count system of timekeeping. In general, the arguments by Gilbert and Cotterell do not stand up to even moderate standards of sense making. Since they have striven to get an airing of their theories for critical evaluation, and dislike being ignored by scholars, I've taken the time to carefully go through the book and point out the mistakes.
Gilbert and Cotterell try to answer the question of why 2012 was so important to the Maya, but they each take slightly different viewpoints. Gilbert appears to have written the 212 pages of main text, even summarizing Cotterell's work in his own voice, while Cotterell provides 100 pages of mathematically complex appendices which the casual reader will find impenetrable. These are supposed to provide the rigorous scientific evidence for Cotterell's end-date cataclysm theory, which is as follows. Sunspot cycles give rise to larger solar aberrations in which the sun's magnetic field periodically reverses, causing the earth's pole to shift and thus resulting in cataclysm. According to Cotterell, the solar reversals come in groups of five, which together make a grand cycle of 18,139 years. The five "ages" are not all of the same length, due to complex solar rhythms which Cotterell modelled on a computer using only three variables. Three of the ages last 3553 years each while two last 3740 years each. These are supposed to correspond to the Mayan or Aztec myth of five (or four) ages. A key number here is the number of days in 3740 years (using 365.25 days per year): 1366035. This number is "close" to a number in the Dresden Codex, written in Long Count notation as 126.96.36.199.0. This corresponds to a date in 627 A.D., which is 1366560 days after the so-called Long Count "zero date" back in 3114 B.C. The closeness of these numbers is supposed to demonstrate that the Maya were aware of sunspot cycles, solar magnetic field reversals, and that is why the Long Count pinpoints 2012 A.D. as a cataclysmic World Age destruction. "From his studies... Cotterell has concluded that the Maya prophecy for the end of the fifth age concerns a reversal of the earth's magnetic field - around 2012 A.D." (192). However, earlier in the book we are led through an interesting lesson in dendrochronology so we can understand how field reversals of the past can be charted. In this way, Cotterell identifies the dawn of the Long Count (3114 B.C.) as the location of one of these shifts. Consequently, a magic 1366035 days later, in 627 A.D., another shift occurs. "What really intrigued Cotterell is that they seemed to have anticipated the magnetic reversal [of 627 A.D.] and consequential decline in fertility, for the magic number 1366560 corresponds to the magnetic shift period.." (185). The obvious problem here is that the next magnetic shift should take place 3553 years after 627 A.D., not in 2012 A.D. Also, their major premise regarding the Mayan knowledge of sunspots and field reversals is not well grounded. The key to Mayan cosmo-conception is the 260-day cycle, which allowed the Maya to predict eclipses and at least the movements of Venus and Mars. Because the 260-day cycle is an ingenius key to many if not all cycles of the solar system, it can also be used to find the conjunction cycles of Uranus and Neptune. It is also related in a very simple way to eclipses: 3 eclipses "half-years" occur every 2 periods of 260 days; thus the Maya could predict eclipses without even having a heliocentric model of the solar system. A key cycle giving rise to larger sunspot cycles is the 26-day rotation of the sun's equator (the sun's poles have a 37-day cycle). Obviously, 26 is a key factor of 260-day Mayan Calendar. Likewise, 16 cycles of 260-days equal 11.39, the sunspot cycle. This doesn't mean that the Maya were aware of sunspots, Uranus, Neptune or field reversals, they just had discovered the key to the cycles of the solar system and used it to whatever extent they could. Gilbert and Cotterell jump to an unnecessary conclusion, and the deception increases every time they mention it: "...then perhaps we would know for certain the truth of the Mayan civilization and how they came to understand so much about sunspot cycles" (177). Sadly, this kind of half-truth is characteristic of much of the book. It is true that in Appendix 7 Cotterell takes a different tack to answer the obvious question, not really addressed in the main text, "can we expect a pole shift in 2012?" (304). Through a series of number games and by adding a 260-day register to the Long Count, he comes up with a "yes", but by Appendix 7 the credibility of the book as a whole is severely compromised. And throughout the entire book, Cotterell uses 584 days for the Venus cycle, which is wrong. The average synodical cycle of Venus is 583.92 days. The slight difference may seem like nitpicking on my part but, on the one hand, it's critical for Cotterell's mathematical gymnastics, and on the other hand it shows how superficial the research was. Learning the true synodical cycle of Venus is one of the first lessons in studying the Mayan Calendar.
Cotterell proposes that the Mayan collapse (which began around 800 A.D.) was caused by a decline in fertility attended by the field-reversal of 627 A.D. In Appendix 4, Cotterell shows that the field reversal doesn't happen overnight, but over a 374-year period. 627 A.D. is the "mid-point" of the shift, which thus extended from 440-814 A.D. This doesn't correspond very well with the Maya decline, in fact it corresponds better with the Classic Period florescence of Mayan culture (300 A.D. - 900 A.D.).
Gilbert's misrepresentation of Mayan astronomy is even more disturbing. Gilbert apparently wanted to find something more astronomically compelling for the end date in A.D. 2012, something that might tie into his work with the Orion constellation. Gilbert's idea is that the beginning of the Long Count represents a so-called "Birth of Venus", based partly upon checking the date with his SKYGLOBE astronomy software and partly on the fact that the Mayan supernumber 1366560 is divisible by 584. (As we've seen, however, 584 is not the correct constant to use for Venus. Furthermore, 1366560 is also divisible by the Mars cycle, the Mercury cycle, the vague solar year, the 360-day tun, the 18980-day Calendar Round and the 37960-day Venus Round as well - this is why it is so noteworthy.) Gilbert punches up a sky chart for August 12th, 3114 B.C. and sees Venus just west of the sun (136). This means that it will be rising in the morning just before the sun - technically in the morningstar position. However, this is not the first appearance of Venus as morningstar, the "Venus birth" scenario which concerned the Maya, because in fact Venus is moving toward superior conjunction on August 12th of 3114 B.C. It isn't making its first appearance nor is it even waxing toward its morningstar maximum. In fact, according to two different sources I consulted (EZCOSMOS and Aztec Astro Report), Venus made its last appearance as morningstar nine days before the Long Count zero-date. Although minor variations are to be expected with computer modelling, Gilbert is clearly way off in his thinking. Based upon this faulty observation, Gilbert begins referring to the Long Count zero-date as "the Birth of Venus." Gilbert not only never explores where, when and by whom the Long Count was devised, he just takes the first circumstantial piece of data he stumbles across and begins to weave fantasies around it. And this deception, too, increases with certainty each time it is mentioned: "It is generally agreed that the Long Count began with an event known as the Birth of Venus on August 12th, 3114 B.C." (184). And "The Birth of Venus has strong calendrical connotations, for it marks the start of the Mayan Long Count calendar in 3114 B.C." (204). This is completely false, but it is required for Gilbert's lame summary of his theory in the final chapter. Before we look at this, I should mention that Gilbert committed similar blunders and inaccuracies when he explored the movements of the Pleiades on pgs 131-133.
Gilbert's summary is apparently supposed to reveal one of the miraculous breakthroughs that the book promises. But his observations are not very compelling. In general, his indulgence in Atlantean and Caycean rehash is just boring. Note 7 from the final chapter reads: "...all stars appear to go through a 26,000-year cycle, oscillating between an extreme northerly and southerly position in the sky. To go from one extreme to the other thus takes roughly 13,000 years" (224). There is obviously something wrong with this statement. Though precession is a 26,000-year cycle, in The Orion Mystery Bauval & Gilbert point out that the north-south oscillation of stars, though related to precession, is effected by other factors and has a cycle of 40,000 years.
In Gilbert's final look at the end-date, SKYGLOBE reveals that "Venus sinks below the western horizon as the Pleiades rise over the eastern horizon... as the sun sets, Orion rises, perhaps signifying the start of a new precessional cycle." (211). And such is the anticlimactic revelation. These astronomical observations are not very illustrative of vast World Age shiftings. If a new precessional cycle is being highlighted by Mayan myth and calendar, then an astronomical situation dependant on precessional movement itself should be evident. And indeed it is, as my work with the astronomy of the end date demonstrates (sources given below).
In his research, Gilbert fails to make some very simple though profound connections. Earlier, Gilbert writes that he was surprised to learn from a guide at Palenque that the Maya followed the movements of Orion. His visit to Palenque took place in December of 1994 - less than a year ago. Schele & Freidel's book Maya Cosmos was published in 1993, and is the classic text on these matters, exploring the role of Orion and other constellations in Mayan creation mythology. This just shows that Gilbert didn't do his homework. If he had, he might have also come across my book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies (1992 & 1994), got in touch with me, and I would have sent him my research into the astronomy of the end-date. In fact, I sent my material to Robert Bauval and received a cordial reply from him last May. As Gilbert is apparently an astrologer, he might also have come across my article on the "How and Why" of the Mayan end date which appeared in The Mountain Astrologer (December 1994). My reconstruction is quite straight-forward and involves precession and the fact that the winter solstice sun is right on the Milky Way in the years around A.D. 2012.
Gilbert came close to showing this in Chapter 7 when he mentions the ground-breaking book Hamlet's Mill (1969). Figures 51 and 52 show the "northern" and "southern" gates of the sky - the places where the Milky Way crosses over the ecliptic in Sagittarius and Gemini (identified by Schele (1993) as the Mayan Sacred Tree). Though it looks like it should have been, the Milky Way is not illustrated in these diagrams. If it had been, one would notice that the "dark-rift" in the Milky Way is right near the crossing-point of Milky Way and ecliptic in Sagittarius. This "dark rift" was known to the Maya as the xibalba be - the road to the underworld - or simply, the "Black Road". De Santillana and von Dechend, the authors of Hamlet's Mill, made a good case for precessional phenomena and these two astronomical "gates" being a stock-in-trade of ancient skywatchers. They even mention that the winter solstice "colure" (meridian) precesses through the Milky Way around the opening of the new millennium. This is the basis of my own research, resulting in a strong argument that the ancient astronomers who devised the Long Count roughly 2100 years saw the future alignment of the winter solstice sun with the Milky Way as the culmination of a World Age. The Milky Way is the perfect marker of precessional phenomena. Measured with the changing sidereal position of the winter solstice sun, the 2012 event is, in fact, a good marker for the beginning of a new precessional cycle. We are on the verge of a new 26,000-year precessional cycle. Gilbert suggests this himself, but for the wrong reasons. My work on this is detailed in several essays, including "The How and Why of the Mayan End Date in 2012 A.D." (in The Mountain Astrologer, Dec. 1994) and a 110-page monograph with full documentation called The Center of Mayan Time (Four Ahau Press, 1995). So, with my own research behind me, I can presume to speak with some authority in clarifying the many misconceptions and factual errors in Gilbert and Cotterell's Mayan Prophecies.
Now, I'd like to sweep through the text once more and point out these errors, at least the ones I haven't already mentioned. This is done in the spirit of independent researchers helping each other out rather than in the name of academic intolerance because, first of all, I'm not an academic and second, publishing a book with presumptions of pushing untested ideas as revelatory breakthroughs begs for correction.
1) The inner jacket cover reads: "The present world will end on December 22nd, 2012...So prophesied the Maya 5,000 years ago..." The cultural tradition known as "the Maya" did not exist 5000 years ago and furthermore the Long Count calendar begins appearing in the archaeological record only 2100 years ago. This kind of disinformation is an insult to the intelligence of anybody who knows anything about the Maya.
2) Note 14 from Chapter 1 gives a completely false impression: "The term `Olmec', though still in general currency, is no longer used in academic circles. The preferred and more accurate term is proto-Mayan" (214). This is absurd. I would like to know where Gilbert got this erroneous information, but Mayan Prophecies is generally light on the documentation. Two pages of sources listed are almost all pre-1988, almost all non-academic, thus neglecting significant recent breakthroughs made in understanding Mayan mythology and calendrics. Another source conspicuously missing is José Argüelles' The Mayan Factor (1987), which discusses sunspots and the Mayan super-multiple 1366560. Even among independent researchers, one must compare your ideas with the work of your colleagues and make an effort to find out if your own "discoveries" have already been written about. Overall, Mayan Prophecies is very poorly documented, although all the tables and graphs give it an air of scientific respectability.
3) The chronology of Mesoamerican civilizations in Figure 1 (on page 4) is inaccurate, placing the Zapotecs and Teotihuacanos in the wrong era by 600 years. The Izapans, Olmec and other significant cultures are ignored.
4) Chapter 2, Note 4. False information. The Maya did, in fact, know about the true solar year by way of the "year-drift formula" in which 1507 true solar years (of 365.2422 days each) equal 1508 haab, or "vague solar years" of 365 days each.
5) Page 33. `Birth of the Long Count = Birth of Venus.' Wrong.
6) Page 37. Dates given for the beginning and end of the 13-baktun cycle of the Long Count don't match the ones given earlier on page 2.
7) Page 39 (also page 284). The average synodical cycle of Venus, best used for long-range calculations, is 583.92 days rather than 584 days.
8) A conceptual flaw regarding Cotterell's research into the "warped neutral sheet" of the sun in Chapter 3. My objection: We're supposed to believe that a computer, not programmed with any "warped neutral sheet" information, produced data-anomalies that caused its programmer to re-read the texts and discover a new factor? This is after the fact pattern finding - very suspicious. In other words, how can data emerge which points to the need to consider the "warped neutral field" of the sun's magnetism when the computer programmer himself was as yet unaware of this consideration? A computer doesn't graph realities it hasn't been programmed to model. One might say that the unexpected data emerged from the other cycles involved, which may be the case if the "warped neutral field" is an emergent property of the polar and equatorial spin-differential, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Very sketchy here.
9) Page 261. I think we should be looking at Figure A35 here rather than Figure A34 as stated.
10) Page 69. It really isn't such a "vital" discovery because, as previously mentioned, the 260-day tzolkin is a "key" to many astronomical cycles. Conscious intent just doesn't follow. This faulty rationale is like saying cavemen had T.V.'s because they drew squares.
11) In the discussion of Pacal's lid, Pacal is not holding a leaf. In untampered-with renderings of the lid carving, this is clearly a background design, part of the World Axis tree itself. Cotterell's identification of the figure on Pacal's lid as Chalchiuhtlicue, the Aztec Water-Goddess, is very unlikely. Perhaps I should go into this lid thing. In the first chapter, Gilbert introduces the work of Cotterell in "deciphering the code" of Pacal's lid. This is the famous stone carving from Palenque which von Daniken suggested was a spaceman seated in a spaceship. Cotterell's work with this lid involves making copies of the designs around the edges of the rectangular carving, flipping them over and edging them together with the original design to produce new patterns. In the derived design Cotterell sees bats, faces and hidden glyphs - an interesting exercise but too much importance is placed by the writers on this technique of picture-play. The hidden faces and so forth are clearly ambiguous and are based on the same principle of finding meaning in music played backwards.
12) Pages 155-57. Gilbert tried to identify some stellar feature near the "gate" (crossing point of Milky way and ecliptic) in Sagittarius, and proposes the bright star Antares. He writes: "This very bright star lies on the southern junction of the ecliptic and Milky Way and marks the southern gate" (158). This is very bad. Antares is way off! If Gilbert had modelled the Milky Way as it appears in the sky, he would have seen the southern terminus of the "dark-rift" near the ecliptic - this is the marker.
13) Chapter 9. The Maya did not "disappear" around 440-814 A.D.
14) Throughout the book, Popol Vuh is often mispelled Popul (the old way) but sometimes correctly spelled Popol.
Appendices (pages 225-327):
15) Cotterell's Appendix 1 info on he beginning date is one day off, and the haab month is Cumhu (or Kumhu), rather than RUMHU.
16) Bottom of page 269. It is apparent that Cotterell concurs with Gilbert's "Birth of Venus = Long Count zero-date" fantasy. In 1983, Mayanist Floyd Lounsbury did write about the Venus Calendar of the Dresden Codex, suggesting that 188.8.131.52.0 (which adds up to 1366560 days) was a "base date" for the Venus Calendar, and this date occurs in 627 A.D. But Dennis Tedlock ("Myth, Math, and the Problem of Correlation in Mayan Books" in The Sky in Mayan Literature, Oxford, 1992) has shown that Lounsbury's "base date in 627 A.D." idea is not very likely. Gilbert and Cotterell's loose interpretation just doesn't follow.
17) Another mis-statement in Appendix 7: "Previously we noted that the 1872000 cycle comprised of 5 baktun cycles (5 x 144,000)" (304). This is wrong, probably just an editorial oversight.
There are other gray areas I could clarify, but it would take too much time. Cotterell's astrogenetics concept appears generally reasonable, as does "Solar Radiation and Hormone Production" (Appendix 3). It is well known that light (i.e., solar radiation) effects the pineal gland, neurotransmitters and hormone secretion. I'm not sure how reasonable it is to say that infertility is thus caused by sunspot extremes, but there may be a connection. I don't agree, however, that sunspot phenomena or the proposed field reversal was responsible for the so-called Mayan "demise". If suns do shift magnetic fields regularly, I wonder what kind of data astrophysical studies have on hand showing magnetic reversals of distant stars. Also, if subtle decreases in solar radiation really do radically effect human fertility, is there data among, say, Eskimos, that would support this?
In summary, Mayan Prophecies is very poorly researched and the "breakthroughs" presented don't stand up to mild cross-checking with facts. It's sad that U.K. publishers are willing to spew garbage in the name of bankability. Gilbert had solid success with The Orion Mystery, and he is now cashing in on his success. In fact, he doesn't appear to have been very well informed about the complex ethnographic and archaeological history of Mesoamerica. As Gilbert readily admits at the beginning of the book, he knew practically nothing about Mayan culture and cosmology when he first met with Cotterell in May of 1994. By December he had "read a lot" on the subject and went to Mexico. Six or seven more months of writing and Mayan Prophecies is ready for the printer. As such, the radical breakthroughs promised fall short of credibility, primarily because the research and writing was done so spuriously that the authors didn't have the time to ask themselves the right questions. Mayan Prophecies is partly a long, poorly researched book report, partly untested speculations, and partly a venue for the impressively complex theories of Maurice Cotterell. But that doesn't matter to a publisher, as long as the formula is right and the project is deemed sellable.
Cotterell, for his part, neglects to ask the right questions to test his own theories, and impatient reactions from scholars are therefore understandable. Cotterell's theories as they relate to Mayan astronomy and calendrics require major adjusting, correcting or even abandonment. The sunspot cycle information in itself was interesting to learn about, but the subsequent argument for "field reversals," even when carefully read, is unconvincing. Even less convincing is the implication of conscious intent on the part of the Maya in calculating these things. The astronomy of the Long Count end-date has more to do with observable astronomical features (the sun, the dark-rift and the Milky Way) and the precession of the equinoxes. The idea that the ancient creators of the Long Count knew and calculated precession will be hard enough for scholars to swallow, but in my research I've found that there's actually a lot of support for it even among Mayanists and other archaeoastronomers. The Chapter on Cotterell's adventures in Mexico has some charm and entertainment value, and Gilbert provides some welcome details about the lives of obscure early Mayanists like Count Waldeck and Joseph T. Goodman. His most interesting episode is perhaps his encounter with José Diaz Bolio, elder Mexican researcher and creator of the intriguing Crotalus durissus durissus solar-snake theory of Mayan geometry.
But Gilbert's astronomical misconceptions and looseness with the data is disturbing. Major conceptual errors were made, reducing the revolutionary value of Mayan Prophecies to nil. Likewise, Cotterell's work, especially where it relates to Mayan astronomy and calendrics, is based upon assuming too much about a conscious intent not necessarily present in a coincidence of numbers. The effort to figure out what the end date is all about is commendable, but new perspectives concerning the astronomy of the Mayan end-date have already been published and point to a different and much more thoroughly tested and documented hypothesis - a hypothesis quite compellingly simple. As outlined earlier, my hypothesis is simply based on the astronomical alignment that occurs on the Long Count end date - the winter solstice of 2012 A.D.
Overall, Mayan Prophecies has the marketing advantage of riding on the success of The Orion Mysteries, but on close inspection it was clearly slapped together with little care or thought for testing these ideas which are wrongly presented as the result of serious research.