The Cosmogonic World Age Model of the classic Maya

The relation of a single creation of the earth or world age in the Popol Wuj implies that it is not self evident that there is a cyclic concept of a destruction and recreation of world ages in every culture of Mesoamerica. With this in mind we shall see whether there was a cyclic pattern of demolished and created world eras in the primary written sources of classic Maya creation stories.

The former Long Count was a period of 13 pik (bak’tun), since 13 pik was said in the inscriptions to be the “termination” of the preceding Long Count. We remember that the starting point of the contemporary Long Count, 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u), does not constitute the initial date of classic Maya time reckoning, but in fact the last day of a former Long Count reckoning. Various calculations of dates before 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u), or preceding Long Counts, are recorded in inscriptions on monumental architecture and stone monuments from different Maya cities in the classic period. In fact, the classic Maya Long Count calendar contains time units much higher than pik (“Piktun” or 8,000 haab, “Kalab- tun” or 160,000 haab, “K’inichiltun” or 3,200,000 haab, and “Alawtun” or 64,000,000,000 haab). Also larger time units, which not have received similar constructed pseudo-Maya designations, were applied in the classic Maya notation system. These time periods could be multiplied with the coefficient affixed to them (Lounsbury 1981: 766; Thompson 1978: 147-148)^3 Examples of extraordinary long distance numbers calculated into previous

Long Count computations have been documented by epigraphers on stone monuments at various sites covering a vast geographic area in the southern lowland.[1]

Time was therefore created long before the establishment of the present Long Count calendar. The inscription on Stela 1, Stela 5, and probably Stela 3 of Coba (Macanxoc) records 20 Long Counts reckonings expressed as: 4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u (Lounsbury 1981: 760; Schele and Freidel 1990: 430, note 39; Montgomery 2002: 299).

This temporal system has Stuart called the “Grand Long Count” where the standard Long Count composes the five last notions (Stuart 2005: 107-109). Stuart believe that he have identified the numerology of the higher units recorded on the stelae from Coba. For instance a “piktun” consist of 20 pik, a “kalabtun” consist of 20 x 20 pik, an “alawtun” of 20 x 20 x 20 etc. giving an enormous number (Stuart 2011: 231; 236-241)[2] To my knowledge there is no definitive mathematical evidence for a past or future calculation of the Long Count. We only know that the supposedly initial creation base date recorded on the Coba stela happened a very long time (expressed by enormous numbers) before the present creation base date of 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u) and that time will continue into the indefinite future.

That a philosophical temporal conception of several Long Count periods or successive world ages/eras, of what Eliade calls “Great Time” or “Deep Time” (Eliade 1969), is documented in classic Maya inscriptions instigates the question whether the present world age or (Long Count) time era was created on 4 Ajaw 8 Ohl (Kumk’u) and whether the earth (space) was simultaneous created[3] I shall later return to this intriguing issue. But first we need to look at the classic Maya philosophical concept of the origin of Long Count time.

  • [1] For the many references to calculations of former Long Count computations onvarious monuments executed by various epigraphers: cf. Pharo (2006).
  • [2] Cf. also Schele and Friedel (1990: 430, note 39).
  • [3] The cosmogonies of Greece, Phoenicia, Iran and India encompass an “abstract creation mythology” where personified time acts as creator (Jens Braarvig, personal communication, 2006). The preSocrat Pherekydes of Syros writes that Chronos, the time-god (whohad always existed), through an auto-sexual sacrifice created fire, breath or air, and water.Subsequently another generation of deities came into existence, and the fivefold divisionof the cosmos (i.e. space) was structured. Earth was later to be manifested (Schibli 1990).Consequently, time is conceived as “the ultimate procreative power” and the governor ofthe universe or the world-order, according to Pherekydes (Schibli 1990: 29-32). M. West andH. Schibli compare the principal role of Chronos in Pherekydes and in Orphic cosmogoniesto time-gods in early Eastern religious philosophy. The Sidonian (e.g. Phoenician) triad ofChronos, Pothos and Omichle, the Indian Kala, the Iranian Zurvan and the Egyptian Atuminstigated creation by an autoerotic undertaking (Schibli 1990: 37-38).
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