THE ATLANTO MAYA CALENDAR
The form that Atlantean astrology or its predictive procedures took may, in fact, have best survived in the Maya calendar or, more properly, Mesoamerican calendrics, of which the Maya were a part.
At the zenith of its power, Atlantis was the capital of an imperial enterprise that extended from “the opposite continent,” as Plato referenced America, to Western Europe as far as Italy and North Africa on the Egyptian border. As Plato cited, Azaes, one of Kleito’s sons, ruled a province of the Atlantean empire. Azaes’s name bears a striking resemblance to the Itzás, a Maya people who occupied coastal Yucatán, where they are most famously remembered for their impressive ceremonial city, Chichén Itzá. Its centerpiece is the pyramidal Temple of Kukulcán, the Feathered Serpent.
While the term serpent was often used as a title signifying “power,” the Mayas were unable to grow facial hair, and therefore possessed no word to describe Kukulcán’s bearded appearance. They had to rely on their next closest adjectivefeatheredto characterize the bearded founding father of Mesoamerican civilization. Had they not seen this foreigner from the ancient Old World with their own eyes, they would never have been able to dream up such a figure.
Kukulcán’s conception as a bearded white man is by no means confined to pre-Columbian oral traditions. The walls inside a small, masonry structure at the north end of Chichén Itzá’s Great Ball Court are covered with bas relief carvings clustered around the representation of Kukulcán as a male figure with a Semitic nose and long, full beard. This structure itself is known as the Temple of the Bearded Man.
The Itzás were a Maya people named after a variant of the Feathered Serpent, Itzamna. In a Maya cosmology known as the Chilam Balam and Juan Darreygosa’s sixteenth-century Historia de Zodzil, Itzamna bears the title Serpent from the East and is described as “the first after the flood” that engulfed his island kingdom in the Atlantic Ocean.
He arrived first on the island of Cozumel, off the Yucatán coast, where some temples dedicated to him still stand. Proceeding to the Mexican mainland, he built Chichén Itzá, or Mouth of the Well of Itzá, and one hundred forty-nine other cities. In temple art such as friezes at the Maya ceremonial center of Tikal, in Guatemala, he is portrayed as a long-nosed, bearded man rowing his boat across the sea from which he came. In the background of this sculpted frieze running around the top exterior of the acropolis is a volcanic island in the process of a major eruption while a stone city topples into the sea and a blond-haired man drowns in the foreground.
The identity of this scene could hardly be more self-evident. When Teobert Maler, the Austrian archaeological photographer who found the frieze, saw it for the first time in 1915, he exclaimed, “Until that moment, I dismissed Atlantis as a baseless myth. I knew at once that I had been mistaken.”
Itzamna’s followers from the Red and Black Land of Tutulxiu, the Land of Abundance or the Bountiful, far across the sea, “where the sun rises,” were the Ah-Auab: “foreigners to the land,” “white men,” or the True Men. On the twenty-seventh stele at Yaxchilan, the eleventh stele at Piedras Negras, and on the Temple of Warriors at Chichén Itzá, they are portrayed as bearded, with long, thin noses and European facial features.
The Chilam Balam tells of life in the Red and Black Land as ideal for many centuries. One day, however, “a fiery rain fell, ashes fell, rocks and trees crashed to the ground. Then the waters rose in a terrible flood. The sky fell in, and the dry land sank into the sea”doubtless the same event depicted on the acropolis at Tikal.
The Red and Black Land was also known as Tayasal and described in the Popol Vuh as “the lost homeland of the Ah-Auab, who came from the other part of ocean, from where the sun rises, a place called Patulan-Pa-Civan.” These oceanic origins were naturally embedded in the very name of the people that built Chichén Itzá. It stems from the Mayan itz, for “magic,” and (h)á, meaning “water,” to form “magicians of (or from) the water (i.e., sea).”
Given their city’s abundant Atlantean pedigree, evidence for the sacred numerals in its ceremonial architecture might be expected, such as the Temple of Kukulcán’s ten levels. Buried in the heart of the step pyramid, directly beneath the summit’s Bacabs positioned at the Cardinal Directions on the four walls of its shrine, reposes a blueeyed statue, known as a chac-mool, to create the sacred center and fifth numeral.
A few paces to the northwest, a sculpted panel in the Great Ball Court depicts a decapitated victim from whom six streams of blood transform into serpents. Feathered serpents from Atlantis carried the technology and spirituality of their overseas homeland to establish a colony in Middle America at YucatánPlato’s Azaesfrom which their descendants, the Itzás, derived their name and identity. As such, they were culture bearers who sparked Mesoamerican civilization, a synthesis of introduced Atlantean know-how and indigenous influences.
Among the most important gifts carried away from the island kingdom of Atlas was a scientific reckoning of time. Its original configuration was gradually eroded and eventually lost through the influence of successive, native inflections from the late fourth millennium B.C. Olmec and third century B.C. Maya, over the millennia to its last custodians, the Aztecs, in the early sixteenth century A.D. Yet its core mechanism remained intact as developing cultural variations replaced one another. The better known of these are the Maya calendar and the so-called Aztec Calendar Stone.