Time Keepers

Calendars are not only tools to measure time; they are also magnificent instruments to connect the cosmic time with the human time. They are doors that allow men to access the mystery of the cosmos and at the same time to correlate the activities of men with the rhythm of the Stars. [1]

Indigenous Peoples from the Americas have been tracking time since they arrived to Abya Yala.  Their solar calendars are the most exact calendars. [2] Their lunar calendars accurately determined ecosystem cycles and, since seven thousand years ago, agricultural cycles too. Their precise recordings of Venus as morning and evening star affirmed their ever-cyclic relationship with the cosmos above them and the underworld beneath.  

Cosmograms from Abya Yala tell us that cycles are conceived to come to completion where they began, thus reassuring emergency of an equivalent cycle at a next level.  Mayans handled this knowledge exquisitely: indeed, the future was recorded in the past.[3]  Because the past was known and visible, it was in the forefront of their understanding of time. In order to confront their future, the Mayans studied the past, because they felt “the future was written in the ancient recordings of the k’atun.” According to their cosmovision, the agents of change were celestial bodies, because it was in their cyclical re-emergence that knowledge-holders understood how changes of time correlated with changes of climate and other associated natural phenomena.  

To register and foretell history, the Mayans used the wheel of thirteen K’atuns, each one amounting to nearly twenty years. In this way, they felt they knew in advance what would happen once the K’atuns with the same name returned, and, with them, their associated influences. The Mayans strove to understand these cycles because they felt they could change negative to positive influence by correlating actions and measures that would be in accord with the attributes of the returning k’atun. For the Mayans, prophecy was a theory of history. Mayan leaders felt that they had to investigate the past in order to gain insight into the future. They felt prophecy was one way they could make history a resource for obtaining security in the future.[4]   

According to Mayan scholars, on 21 December 2012 a 13 Bak’tun cycle ended and, if we follow the cyclic logic, its completion is identical to its start, only that the start is in the next level of the spiral. The peoples from central Mexico called it the end of the Fifth Sun and the beginning of a New Dawn. Multiple ceremonies have been performed across the continent to celebrate the end of this “era”.  But what does it mean that a 13 Bak’tun has ended and a New Dawn has begun? Is the closing of 13 Bak’tun in an astronomical context, and what happened at its inauguration? What has happened during this Bak’tun?  What can we expect from this new time, based on the occurrences of the past? 

Because all of these questions are still relevant –as we have witnessed over the past few months in Mexico, Guatemala and beyond–, we need, more then ever to understand the ancestral conception of time or time-space, and the transcendence of this cosmovision for the realities that we are living today. 

1 Michela Craveri, Adivinación y pronósticos entre los mayas actuales

2 Mercedes de la Garza, El universo temporal en el pensamiento maya

3 Erik Velásquez García, El antiguo future del k’atun Historia y profecia en un espacio circular

4 Nikolai Grube, Augurios y pronósticos en los códices mayas 


Our goal is to bring together Indigenous Time Keepers to discuss the meaning of time as it relates to today and to the past. This program brings together community and academic leaders to discuss ways by which there can be more understanding about the post 2012 time that is upon us now.  

For more information you can contact the project Director, Jorge Garcia at mexicatl@unm.edu or for more information you can also visit XXXXXXXX.