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50 years of exploration at Izapa uncovers a lost Preclassic Civilization–The Truth is Carved in Stone at Izapa

In his book Izapa Sacred Space: Sculpture Calendar Codex, Garth Norman’s masterful interpretation of the past communicates an important message for our future. (

Over the past century, calendar research was the major key to deciphering Maya hieroglyphic writing. Breaking the Maya code enabled scholars to reveal the history of the Classic Maya civilization. Likewise, calendar research by Garth Norman over the past half century has been the major key to decoding the Preclassic history of Izapa (ca. 500 BC to 200 AD) by interpreting the hieroglyphic narrative carved in stone at this sacred site.

Explore the founding and creation of Izapa by highly educated, bearded migrants in the 5th century BC. They merged with local surviving Olmec peoples (1500 BC to 500 BC) to design and build a massive sophisticated micro-cosmic pilgrimage temple center, equal to the scale of Teotihuacan (1st Century AD).

Marvel at the Izapan priest astronomer’s building design skills, inherited in part from the eastern Mediterranean world, using hard science design tools that included astronomy, calendars, geometry, and standard measures. They mapped and aligned mounds and monuments to eastern mountain horizons, to rivers, to the ocean, and to the heavens. The plazas and pyramids were oriented to harmonize with the cycles of the sun, moon, Venus, and the constellations. The “great year”–the 26,000-year precession of the equinoxes is even tracked by a map of Orion on Izapa Stela 4.

Be intrigued by the discovery of the first Mesoamerican codex history carved in stone at Izapa. It is the ancestor of the picto-graphic narrative writing that appears in Maya and Mixtec codices over a thousand years later. Savor fascinating Izapan historic records, related in part to the Maya’s Popol Vuh, of Izapa’s first ancestors who came from across the sea in 592 BC (Stela 12 dates), dramatized on Stela 67. Carvings on Izapa Stela 12 bring to light this earliest dated Mesoamerican historical event, celebrated after the passage of eight Calendar Rounds (8 X 52 = 416 years) on the 1 Imox 4 Pop Izapan/Maya New Year (September 21, 176 BC).

Delve into the depths of Iapa’s temple archive on a world stage, where sophisticated calendar knowledge records world history and prophecy from creation to the afterlife. Engravings on Stela 12 and the cubit scale measurements evident within the world history tree carved on Stela 5, incorporate the “great year” to record the five world ages in a historic “real and prophetic” manner.

Ponder the value of Izapa’s temple archive that could become the first major achievement of the ultimate goal of archaeology, that is, according to the late leading New World anthropologist Gordon R. Willey of Harvard University: “to discover the ideologies of lost civilizations and be able to assess their effectiveness to a greater or lesser degree for ensuring political and social success.”  Can a deeper understanding of the Preclassic history evident at Izapa and its cultural heritage that spread to all of Mesoamerica be evaluated for application to modern political and social challenges?

Izapa gained worldwide notoriety during the countdown to the “end” of Maya five world ages on December 21, 2012. Traditional Highland Maya “Day-Keeper” Elders went to Izapa on that date to perform a sunrise fire ceremony to usher in the new 13 Baktun Age. Thousands gathered in darkness to be bathed by the light of the new resurrected sun. As the ceremonial circle of fire dimmed, the sun’s first rays beamed down the axis of the ball-court to re-enact creation in the ancient ballgame tradition. This was reminiscent of the K’iche’ migration creation celebration in the Popol Vuh when the Maya ancestors arrived in Guatemala in darkness and climbed a mountain to await the first appearance of Venus to usher in the first sun of the creation of a new age. View an important Maya fire ceremony at Izapa on YouTube: or link to the video on Norman’s book offers a new launch pad for penetrating Izapa’s creation mystery into this 13th Baktun New World Age for inspiration to build a better world in partnership with the vision of our Maya friends today.


Dr. Allen J. Christenson, Author-Translator of the Popol Vuh, Literal Poetic Version 2004.

“Garth Norman’s discovery of a massive calendar observatory system with astronomical alignments of mounds and monuments convincingly demonstrates that the Izapa monuments must be studied and interpreted as a whole, rather than try to read them individually or out of context. In addition, he masterfully demonstrates that Izapan artistic symbolism is just as highly developed a system of communication as the later hieroglyphic texts of the Maya, and a precursor to their development. Norman’s profound understanding of the underlying Mesoamerican theology of Izapa and related cultures uses the myth narratives of the Popol Vuh, sacred book of the K’iche’ Maya, and ethnographic sources creatively, showing that the Izapans were not just interested in the dance of planets and stars in the heavens, but also in what these movements say about the cycles of life itself. This book will surely prove to be of great interest to anyone interested in the art, science, and culture of ancient Mesoamerica.”

Dr. Scott Olsen, Professor of Philosophy, College of Central Florida; author of The Golden Section, Nature’s Greatest Secrets, 2006.

“Careful research and observations at the Izapa temple site, combined with some of the most comprehensive knowledge of ancient Olmec-Izapan-Maya calendar systems is contained in V. Garth Norman’s latest book, Izapa Sacred Space. Norman’s stunning discoveries of geometric design planning, and standard measures in monuments and architecture, as well as the 260-day sacred Maya calendar at Izapa attest to the astonishing knowledge gathered by the priest-astronomers at Izapa.”

Dr. Jason Jones (University of Warwick, England)

In 2012 Dr. Jones conducted RTI (Reflectance Transformation Imaging) digital technology recovery that confirmed the accuracy and integrity of Norman’s NWAF sculpture project (1973, 1976), questioned by flawed artistic re-drawings in the late 1990’s. Also in 2012, Dr. Robert M. Rosenswig (University of Albany), confirmed the accuracy of NWAF’s Izapa topo site map with LIDAR mapping. These studies back Izapa’s Precession measures site layout, and Stela 5’s World Tree time scale and geometric site map discovered by Norman.

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