188.8.131.52.11; 19 Pax 7 Chuen; 308 days left . . .
What works in the movies does not work in real life.
Tom Hanks and Nicholas Cage make breaking into museums look remarkably easy—all you need is a good shadow to hide behind and a loyal geek friend who can remotely manipulate alarm systems from a laptop.
The museum I broke into was the Comalcalco Museum, based at the ruins of Comalcalco, in the north of Tabasco. It was broad daylight and my geek friends were not available. However, there was a back door left open a crack by one careless cleaner (just like the movies!) and so I slipped inside unnoticed.
Now I do not normally advocate breaking and entering any building under any circumstance, but under threat of the approaching apocalypse, I thought this was an appropriate exception. Upon arriving, I asked very politely and was told over and over that the museum was cerrado for reconstrucción and would only open up in a month “or maybe longer.”
I can’t wait a Mexican month. There are only 308 days left until the end of the world. Time is ticking.
Alone inside the dark museum, I moved from one display to the next, searching for one very specific prize. Plastic sheeting covered some of the larger stone carvings, and a few single-glyph inscriptions smiled at me from behind their glass cages. Construction dust swirled in the shafts of light that poured through the cracks in the boarded-up windows.
That’s when I got caught. A custodian with a massive mustache began waving his arm and going “tssk tsssk” with his tongue.
I played dumb and kept taking pictures in the dark. Right then, all of my Spanish vanished into thin air and I just kept shrugging–“No entiendo, Señor, No entiendo”—so that it took him a good ten minutes to force me out of the museum.
My so-so Spanish returned quickly after I was brought before the el jefe. I explained the best I could what I was looking for: un ladrillo—a brick.
Until recently, the only record of the doomsday prophecy was at Tortuguero Monument 6, but three months ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) reported that there was in fact a second record of the final date of the Maya calendar. The “Comalcalco Brick” was discovered years ago at the ruins of Comalcalco and supposedly shows the end of a calendar round, signifying the beginning of Baktun 13.
Many believe that the Comalcalco brick affirms the Tortuguero Monument, but according to University of Texas Maya expert David Stuart, “There is no future tense marking (unlike the Tortuguero phrase), which in my mind points to the Comalcalco date being more historical than prophetic.” Stuart writes that he remains “unconvinced” that Comalcalco has any reference to 2012.
Regardless, I desired to see the brick for myself—a desire that sparked my brief foray into criminal activity. What I learned, though, was that the “Comalcalco Brick” was not even at the site of Comalcalco, but locked away in an air-conditioned storage unit for protection.
My sense is that there is a growing sensitivity by INAH to keep a wrap on anything that might feed the frenzy of speculation around the Maya 2012 prophecy. According to one AP report, the institute claimed, “Western Messianic thought has twisted the cosmovision of ancient civilizations like the Maya.”
Now, I’m not entirely sure what “cosmovision” is, but I want some of it—bad.
Kidding aside, INAH is absolutely correct to expose doomsday theorists as erroneously projecting Western (specifically biblical) beliefs on an ancient culture that considered time and space in such different ways than we do today.
I believe what lies at the heart of the matter is the underlying suspicion that the ancient Maya knew better than we do now. Rather than turn to our own science and religions, we look toward an ancient culture like the Maya for knowledge, hope, and insight in understanding our world.
What that means is that culture is important–very important. The ancient Maya civilization faded away nearly 1,100 years ago, but this year, in 2012, so many of us have become entirely intrigued by this lost society: their lives, thoughts, religion, knowledge, and above all, their amazingly brilliant calendar.
The fear of the end of the world has left so many of us scrambling for the truth, but in order to understand that truth, we must first learn to understand the culture that discovered it; AND–I maintain, the best way to understand any culture is to drop yourself inside it. In other words–to travel.
Traveling to Comalcalco in person did not reveal the revelatory brick that I was searching for, but it granted me an afternoon among some of the most unique Maya ruins in Mexico. As the westernmost Maya site on the planet, the temples and palace of Comalcalco are built with terracotta bricks (instead of the usual limestone) and fused together with mortar made from crushed oyster shells. The result is a cluster of deep red temples that rise up from the green flatlands of northern Tabasco.
Under the heat of a wide open blue sky, I walked from one edifice to another, up the thousand-year-old palace stairs and into the cool shade of the massive brick columns at the top of the Mesoamerican acropolis. From this highest point, I could see how all the different ruins fit together with their various cardinal points and how within a few hours, the sun would be totally hidden by the westernmost pyramid.
To see firsthand how ingeniously the Maya built their cities–even to coordinate each structure with the moving cosmos–that is cosmovision. To stand on the same steps upon which Maya royalty once stood and looked out across their world–that is cosmovision too. Traveling to El Mundo Maya has granted me more insight into their truth than anything I could gain from a book or website . . . or even a movie starring Tom Hanks or Nicolas Cage.