The Maya Complex

An archaeologist is peeved about the “craze over the supposed Maya prophecy of the end of the world in 2012,” which he says “is based on bogus, commercialized, fake claims.” Well, blow me down, are there any rational-minded people who would seriously entertain such a prophesy even if it came straight from a Carlos Castaneda book? Wait a second, those were Yaqui Indians and Castaneda was a best-selling fake.

Never mind.

So all this attention lavished on the Maya is grating on archaeologist Michael Smith, in part because the Mesoamerican culture he’s studied gets no respect:

As an Aztec specialist, this whole Maya 2012 nonsense really bugs me. The Maya always get all the publicity, and the Aztecs get very little. The Maya are always on the History Channel or in National Geographic Magazine. Maya, Maya, Maya! We Aztec specialists often get an inferiority complex with respect to the Maya.

The Aztecs actually DID predict the end of the world, but who gets all the credit for ancient prophecies for doom and destruction: the Maya, who didn’t even make such prophecies.

I know! Not fair. The Maya get to be a poster child for eco-collapse and the stars of a brutish, bloodthirsty movie. What are the Aztecs known for? Montezuma’s revenge.

50 Responses to “The Maya Complex”

  1. Marlowe Johnson says:

    Well thanks for ruining a childhood memory for me Keith.  I always thought this was Montezuma’s Revenge.  Now I know better.

  2. Pascvaks says:

    BUT…!  Please remember who is going to get all the blame;-)  Maybe the Aztecs saw this coming too, really!  If I were an Aztec, I’d think it would be kind’a nice to blame it all on the Maya.

  3. Dean says:

    I suppose the 2012 fascination is an extension of New Age fascination with native cultures that started with Rousseau, now as much a marketing tool as anything.
    As to why the Maya get more attention than the Aztec, I think it is because there are quite a few archeological remains that are very impressive that we can visit and provide great photos. The Aztecs left some things to visit, but it really doesn’t compare. And being mostly surrounded by modern Mexico City doesn’t help them compared to pyramids in the jungle.

  4. Mary says:

    What’s funny to me about the state of science crankery and the intertubes is the variety. I knew there was bio/medical crankery, and evolution/ID junk, because that’s were I focus. But I’ve seen the geologists, anthropologists, archaeologists, nanotechologists (?), and everything in between get the treatment. 
    I sorta think it’s good we are all in the same boat, actually. We should all be watching the media and policy makers–and even school boards–for this sort of thing. Also really glad scientists are blogging and getting their side out.
    Just saw today an announcement on a conference for science writing in the age of organized denialism. I wish I could go to that.

  5. Anteros says:

    Of course we should keep an eye on the media and policy makers, and yes even school boards. But maybe that isn’t enough? Maybe the interweb is just too dangerous – particularly for young people. Perhaps there needs to be more scrutiny of what is available for vulnerable eyes and minds. To make sure everybody ends up with a uniform ‘sciency’ world view, perhaps its time for an inquisition so we can put a stop to all the ‘alternative types’ and unregulated thinking.
    There surely is only one way to look at the world and we must make absolutely certain ours is that way. Anybody who is in the boat should have to swear on our ‘truth’ and renounce anything else – because whatever it is, it is obviously just a version of denialism. If not, we should just throw them overboard.

  6. Mary says:

    @Anteros: Yes, I get it–you are being repressed, censored, and banned, right? Bollocks again. Nowhere do I advocate that. Show me the evidence of your claims of that. 
    In fact, I think some of the most amusing science-fiction reading is in the crankery network.

  7. Jeff Norris says:

    Look at the bright side.

     Mexico’s tourism agency expects to draw 52 million visitors over the coming year just to the five states richest in Maya heritage. Mexico as a whole is expected to lure just 22 million foreigners this year.
    Tourism officials in Tapachula have installed a digital clock to count down the time left before the Dec. 21, 2012, solstice, when some believe the world will end.


  8. hunter says:

    What is truly hilarious is that ethnic Mayans are going to hype 2012 in the coming year to improve tourism in Chiapas, southern Mexico.

    ooops- sorry Just saw Jeff hilighting this bit of PT Barnum-ism.
    Here is a nice review of the hype, including of course UFO’s.

  9. hunter says:

    No, we get it that you have had your humor surgically removed.
    What we do not wish is for humorectomy survivors to be in charge of what is acceptable or permitted.

  10. EdG says:

    Ah yes. Castenada. Memory Lane indeed.

    I think the Mayans got more traction in popular mythology because of the way the remains of their civilization were found overgrown in the jungle, Indiana Jones style.

    In contrast the downfall of the Aztecs with the arrival of the Spanish and their smallpox viruses lacks that element of mystery and has plenty of other aspects that people would rather not think or know about. After just defeating the Moors in Spain the Spanish were more than a little zealous in their religious views, making nonbelievers like the people in the Americas seem less than human to them – with inevitable results. Not nice.

    There is another reason that should make the Mayans even more of a poster chiild for modern doomsday thinkers, though I seldom see it mentioned. Although I know that I am supposed to avoid pounding away on this topic too much, it is very relevant here:

    “Climate change and population history in the Pacific Lowlands of Southern Mesoamerica”

    “Population growth and cultural florescence during a long, relatively moist period (2800″“1200 B.P.) ended around 1200 B.P., a drying event that coincided with the Classic Maya collapse.”

    As for the world ending on Dec 21, 2012, I guess it will for anybody who dies that day. But I think the boys at South Park or somebody have updated the schedule for the actual full blown End of The World. I guess we’ll find out eventually. 

  11. EdG says:

    #9 hunter

    Seems to me that a good sense of humor is an essential adaptation to our current world, so I sure do pity “humorectomy survivors.”

    The end of the world should be as enjoyable as possible. 

  12. Mary says:

    Oh, I get the humor–martyrdom claims have been funny to watch for a long time:
    Help–help! I’m being repressed!!1!1 
    And truly the most humorous stuff out there is the crankery. I love to read conspiracy theories and watch leaps to absurd conclusions. But if I find out that someone on the school board is advocating for Intelligent Design to be taught, I’m gonna show up at the school board meeting and work against that.
    What–are you trying to repress me???1!!??

  13. BBD says:

    Hunter is being charmless. You must be right about something.

  14. hunter says:

    I particualry love the conspiracies that involve how skeptics are working for the Koch brothers or Exxon. I also love how the believers claim that skeptics don’t care about their children or the future of the world.
     And Hansen, Suzuki, and the many others, with their calls for criminal treatment of skeptics and those who dare disagree with them are at elast as charming. Not quite sure why AGW beleivers confuse skepticism of climate apocalyse and ID, but that is quite charming as well.
    Merry Christmas, Mary & all.

  15. Louise says:


    I particularly love the conspiracies that involve how IPCC scientists and the UN are trying to put in place a socialist world government. I also love how deniers claim that realists are eugenisists. And Monckton, Delingpole, Morano and many others, with their calls for criminal treatment of scientists and those who dare to disagree with them are at least as charming. (see Not quite sure why deniers confuse science with socialism – that ain’t charming at all.
    Merry Christmas, Mary & all

  16. huxley says:

    Keith Kloor & Climate Orthodox: It’s easy to make fun of Castaneda’s fantastic fictions, but never forget — Castaneda received his Ph.D from UCLA on the basis of his Don Juan writings, he was feted by some of the most prominent anthropologists of his era, and even after it became clear to anyone capable of critical thinking that he was a charlatan, UCLA was petitioned to acknowledge Castaneda’s fraud, but UCLA never backed down.
    Castaneda was busted by amateurs, notably Richard de Mille, not by academics and scientists, who continue to ignore this egregious failure on their part.
    The Castaneda story is truly a shameful episode in the history of academia and ought to be a cautionary tale for those who prattle on about consensus.

  17. EdG says:

    #16 – Lest we forget Piltdown Man.

  18. Mary says:

    Pbbbfffttt. There are WAY better CTs out there than those. You guys are amateurs.
    Happy holidays–whatever you choose to believe.

  19. huxley says:

    Not quite sure why deniers confuse science with socialism ““ that ain’t charming at all.

    Louise: You could try reading and considering what we skeptics actually say rather than calling us names.

    The overlap between climate change advocates and liberal/leftists is well over 95%. The solutions proposed by climate change advocates largely involve moving towards bigger government, more taxes, more regulations, and correspondingly less freedom for markets and individuals.

    While that’s not textbook socialism, it’s heading in that direction and closer than many of us want to get. 

  20. huxley says:

    #16 ““ Lest we forget Piltdown Man.

    EdG: Piltodwn was formally acknowledged as a hoax, even though it took forty years.
    We are two years short of that mark with Castaneda, but who is betting that UCLA and anthropologists will acknowledge the failure of their gatekeeping?

  21. Keith Kloor says:

    huxley (19)

    Right. And one world government is one step removed from that. Please. This is where the climate skeptics lose all sense of perspective, when they start bugging out about a so-called liberalism>socialism>Marxism road…

    This kind of fevered thinking really is similar to the fossil fuel/climate skeptic nexus conspiracy, you know the one that is keeping China and India from reducing its carbon emissions. 🙂 

  22. BBD says:

    huxley @ 19
    The overlap between climate change advocates and liberal/leftists is well over 95%.
    The overlap between informed opinion and ‘climate change advocates’ is also considerable.

  23. huxley says:

    KK: I was clear enough about my concern and it was finer-grained than your paraphrase. Typically you trivialize without argument, just handwaving about “fevered thinking” etc.

    Whenever we get close to the Red/Blue divide, you condescend with the usual Blue snarkiness that is the specific point I am making.

    If you want to reach us on the Right, I suggest, again, respect. Our concerns may seem laughable to you, but you can be sure we hear the laughter and we write you off.

    On the off-chance your side needs our votes for action on climate change you might reconsider your approach. 

  24. huxley says:

    In Commentary,  Jonathan Tobin and Peter Wehner have launched a discussion about conservatives and climate change. I strongly recommend Wehner’s post: Conservatives and Climate Change: Facts Need To Be Our Guiding Star. Here’s a taste:
    The point is that these reports are sober, measured and serious. They make a scientific, not a polemical, case for AGW. It’s possible they are wrong. But their case has been made in a persuasive and empirical manner. And while there are some serious scientists who dissent from this finding, and their concerns are certainly worth taking into account, it matters that all the world’s major science academies have said that AGW is occurring, and they have supplied the empirical case for their findings. The challenge for conservatives is to engage the most serious and honest arguments of those who believe in AGW, not simply lock in on the global alarmists. And the temptation conservatives need to resist is to portray the entire climate change movement as consisting of individuals who are more interested in ideology than science.

    If the orthodox are looking for an opportunity for dialog and possibly collaboration with conservatives on climate change, this is one of the best openings I’ve seen.

  25. Fred says:

    I though Keith could come up with lots of interesting and informative non-climate change topics. Looks like I was right on that (just like I am right on the non-existence of harmful AGW, of course).

  26. Anna Haynes says:

    O/T (feel free to delete) but Keith, Hank has a question for you over at Tim’s (link) (pls overlook the “tone”-rich commenters there, & address Qs about the science)

  27. hunter says:

    So, when Hansen, Suzuki, and other prominent AGW opinion makers call for suspension of democracy and a need to criminalize climate dissent, skeptics are to be ridiculed for noticing this? And when the head of the IPCC calls for skeptics to be sent on one-way trips to space, or 10:10 asserts it is cool to kill skeptics, we are wicked for noticing this as well.
    And a UN process that relentlessly and publicly moves to tax the West for ambiguous goals with the money controlled by proven crooks, if skeptics notice that they are evil conspiratorial accusers.
    Believers are fools, at heart.

  28. hunter says:

    huxley, If one is willing to confuse a corrupt process that is not transparent and is designed to impose a predetermined outcome on its communication with sound science, go right ahead.

  29. BBD says:

    Believers are fools, at heart.
    Oh, the irony.
    Make a resolution for the New Year: read.

  30. BBD says:

    Has Hansen called for a ‘need to criminalize climate dissent’? Doesn’t really sound like his style.
    Or is this just a lie?

  31. Barry Woods says:

    BBD: First thing google popped up – hansen criminalise climate denial

    James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

    BBD: Quite clearly he and others have called for this sort of thing. took me 5 seconds to find one axample.. You are very quick to accuse others of ‘lying’

  32. Fred says:

    Hunter (28) notes:
    Believers are fools, at heart.

    Very true indeed. One example is the greens support for the electric car initiative. Five billion $ have been put into “incentives” (i.e. subsidies) for the manufacturers, suppliers, and customers of electric cars. Demand has not materialized and the industry is an economic fiasco.

    BBD talks about the overlap between believing in climate change and “informed opinion.” I believe hunter is right: the overlap is between being a believer and being a fool.

  33. BBD says:

    Barry Woods @ 32

    I asked:

    Has Hansen called for a “˜need to criminalize climate dissent’?

    The Guardian article you link says:

    James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

    Some confusion over terms:

    Hansen thinks energy industry executives are culpable. Not all climate dissenters.

    This is what Monbiot, from your link, says about how energy industry executives have, over time, perpetuated disinformation:

    The operation sprang directly from Big Tobacco’s war against science. It has used the same fake experts, the same public relations companies and the same tactics: as I showed in my book Heat, the campaign against action on climate change was partly launched by the tobacco company Philip Morris. But while the tobacco companies’ professional liars were smoked out by a massive class action in the US, the sponsored climate change deniers still have massive influence over public perception. A survey published yesterday by the Observer shows that six out of ten people in Britain agreed that “many scientific experts still question if humans are contributing to climate change.” This is an inaccurate perception, which results from Big Energy’s lobbying.

    Hansen has a point. You do not.

  34. Anteros says:

    I think Hansen is merely being offensive with much of his rhetoric. Apparently it was three of his colleagues that persuaded him to apologise for likening coal supplies to ‘death trains’, and mentioning crematoria at the same time. It strangely didn’t occur to him that he might be trivialising the suffering of millions who lost relatives in the holocaust.
    I’m more concerned that his position as a ‘scientist’ and alleged expert is undermined by his fundamentalist mindset and the fact that he talks of things about which he hasn’t the faintest clue. If he firmly believes that “coal is the single greatest threat to civilisation and all life on our planet” perhaps he should be quietly pensioned off and given a new regimen of medication.

  35. Fred says:

    AGW Proponents have had a considerable sway over political leaders pushing them to make decisions which have had sharply negative economic effects. This includes delay/possible cancellation of the Keystone Pipeline, wasted billions on solar and wind energy as well as on electric cars, as mentioned above. Environmental regulations related to CO2 may have potentially billions/trillions more in negative effects. Our entire energy policy is held hostage to this theory.
    So far, I can find no evidence of economic damage caused by increasing CO2 levels. Nor am I aware of any evidence that CO2 can cause harmful warming. But there is abundant evidence of economic damage and dislocation caused by AGW theory-inspired attempts to curtail the increase in CO2 levels. Keep in mind that increased unemployment levels are tied to increased suicide levels. So the human toll of AGW theory is immense and growing.
    As AGW theory becomes more widely recognized as untenable it will be interesting to see what calls for “accountability” are issued.

  36. Anteros says:

    Fred –
    I have some sympathy with your view that rising Co2 levels are currently unrelated to net negative effects. But does that make AGW theory untenable? Do you mean CAGW?
    It seems to me that it is the suggestion that increasing levels of Co2 won’t/don’t have an effect on climate that is untenable.

  37. hunter says:

    Speaking of irony. I would suggest that sanctimonious believers who are ignorant of what their opinion shapers and leaders say would benefit more from following your suggested New Year’s resolution.
    Not to speak for Fred, but I would suggest that a better way to ask the question would be: Will CO2 increases in the atmosphere cause problems anything close to the apocalyptic clap trap espoused by mainstream AGW opinion leaders?

  38. hunter says:

    And,BBD, your rationalization of Hansen’s disgusting call for climate purity is no different than a dreary number of enlightened groups that started off with only being mad at the rich ones.

  39. Anteros says:

    hunter – now you put it like that, I can say ‘of course not’. I like Garth Paltridge’s way of putting it – the unanswered question is whether it will be noticeable..

  40. Fred says:

    Anteros (37) says:
    “It seems to me that it is the suggestion that increasing levels of Co2 won’t/don’t have an effect on climate that is untenable.”
    Please note that is not what I said. I am fully aware that CO2 is a greenhouse gas comprising around 4/10,000 of the atmosphere. What I said is that I was not aware of evidence that it causes harmful warming, which is something else. This is also in line with hunter’s way of asking the question.
    I wonder if BBD or any other warmist can provide evidence to support the idea that CO2 causes harmful warming or “anything close to the apocalyptic clap trap espoused by mainstream AGW opinion leaders” as hunter more eloquently puts it. 
    As my posts (33 & 36) mention, the clock is ticking and the toll of economic misery and human suffering caused by AGW theory due to its impact on public policy is evident and rising.

  41. Anteros says:

    Fred –
    I guess I was playing devil’s advocate and jumped on your statement
    As AGW theory becomes more widely recognized as untenable”
    which is why I enquired whether you meant CAGW. It’s hard to know what people mean by ‘AGW theory’ as it has many interpretations. I just took the most simple – which neither of us have any problem with – and which is used by many believers to accuse sceptics of being ‘deniers’. Perhaps ‘sceptic’ has as many uses as ‘
    You’re right – hunter puts it eloquently because for myself, and I think a large number of people – the point of disagreement focuses on just that ‘apocalyptic clap trap‘.
    I actually find myself in agreement with warmist scientists when they say things like this from Richard Betts –
    “Most climate scientists do not subscribe to the 2 degrees “Dangerous Climate Change” meme (I know I don’t).”
    Then I’m tempted to add that I don’t see people as being vulnerable to climate change but just to climate. and of course the people that are most vulnerable to climate are the least economically developed. So anything that impedes economic development perpetuates climate vulnerability, which as you say, causes suffering and misery.

  42. Barry Woods says:

    34  spliiting hairs
    if I everr see a single dollar of big oil fossil fuel pr money come my way i might agree with you.. a straw man.

  43. Keith Kloor says:

    Fred, Hunter, et al,

    This is an archaeology thread. I know some of you climate skeptics have global warming on the brain, but I would prefer you not hijack even unrelated posts to indulge your pet peeves. Those who can’t help themselves will be put on moderation.

    Think of this as a second cautionary warning. Going forward this blog is going to increasingly expand to topics OTHER than climate change. That means the same tiresome complaints that I’ve seen a thousand times won’t be tolerated on non-climate change related posts. 

  44. Anteros says:

    @44 –
    Point taken, but is it only climate skeptics that have global warming on the brain? I’m not sure all the hijacking is exclusively carried out by the non-alarmed fraternity…
    Something that has a modest impact at Climate Etc is a note at the bottom of posts stating that ‘this is an x, y, or z post and will be moderated for relevance‘. That it has even a modest impact is remarkable because it is well known that Dr Curry does precisely zero moderating. I think in your case, the note would be taken that bit more seriously.
    I mention it because only a small proportion of your readers may spot the second caution above, and you might get unduly hacked off if the hijacking continues willly-nilly. Crowd-control requires that the crowd hear your instruction, however mild.

  45. willard says:

    > Going forward this blog is going to increasingly expand to topics OTHER than climate change.

    Sounds like a good idea, Keith.

    Happy holidays!

  46. hunter says:

    It will be a pleasure to speak on topics other than AGW. I am incredibly bored with the topic, to be frank. If you want to assign fault to the few skeptics for posting on the topic, so be it- it is your blog and I am a grateful guest, happy to comply with your wishes. You run an excellent blog, and I have no wish to be moderated or banned, anymore than if I were a guest at a good cocktail party, would I seek to be asked to leave.
    Thank you for the heads up.

  47. BillC says:

    Had to scroll all the way through the comments to see if someone already said this. #3 is close. But if you go to Mexico City, see the Museo Nacional de Antropologia:

    Lots of good Aztec stuff. The reason Mayas get attention is their story, which happens to have occurred in Mexico. The reason Aztecs don’t get as much attention, is they are, well, Mexicans. Ask a Mexican.

  48. huxley says:

    I find it fascinating the way the 2012 craze has fizzled out.

    Years ago I ran into people who were expecting catastrophe or transformation. I knew a couple who were actively seeking property in Chile as a safe haven. (Why Chile? I don’t know.)

    But I don’t hear boo about 2012 anymore, aside from that big blowhard of a movie that came out a few years ago. As I recall, the approach of Y2K was a bigger deal than what we see now with 2012.

    I have three theories: (1) The closer 2012 gets, the more likely people realize that it will be just another year. (2) People are far more concerned about the ongoing and all-too-real financial concerns verging on apocalypse. (3) The messianic expectations that liberal New Age folks invested in Barack Obama have come to naught but disappointment.

  49. Alexander Harvey says:

    “The Double Helix” (Watson 1968), was to be published by Harvard University Press as non-fiction but was protested and Havard withdrew. It was published privately but concerns over its accuracy never went away.

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