Now, researchers exploring the Mayan ruins of La Corona in Guatemala have unearthed a second reference. On a stairway block carved with hieroglyphs, archaeologists found a commemoration of a visit by Yuknoom Yich'aak K'ahk' of Calakmul, the most powerful Mayan ruler in his day. The king, also known as Jaguar Paw, suffered a terrible defeat in battle by the Kingdom of Tikal in 695.
Historians have long assumed that Jaguar Paw died or was captured in this battle. But the carvings proved them wrong. In fact, the king visited La Corona in A.D. 696, probably trying to shore up loyalty among his subjects in the wake of his defeat four years earlier. [See images of the carvings]
As part of this publicity tour, the king was calling himself the "13 k'atun lord," the carvings reveal. K'atuns are another unit of the Maya calendar, corresponding to 7,200 days or nearly 20 years. Jaguar Paw had presided over the ending of the 13th of these k'atuns in A.D. 692.
That's where the 2012 calendar end date comes in. In an effort to tie himself and his reign to the future, the king linked his reign with another 13th cycle — the 13th bak'tun of Dec. 21, 2012.
"What this text shows us is that in times of crisis, the ancient Maya used their calendar to promote continuity and stability rather than predict apocalypse," Canuto said.
La Corona was the site of much looting and has only been explored by modern archaeologists for about 15 years. Canuto and his dig co-director Tomas Barrientos Q. of the Universidad del Valle de Guatemala announced the discovery of the new calendar text Thursday (June 28) at the National Palace in Guatemala.