On July 16th, 1945, the human race detonated the first nuclear explosive and gained an ability that it had never previously possessed: the ability to destroy its own planet. Perhaps as a result of this, we’ve had an increased focus on tales of destruction and endings… and of these stories, one of the most-mentioned is the doomsday prophecy of the Mayan Calendar, which supposedly foretells the end of the world on the Winter Solstice of this very year. But what’s the truth about the calendar that launched a thousand tales?
The Mayan Long Count Calendar (sometimes referred to instead as the ‘Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar’) is a complex work that has been repeatedly discovered in sites of the Mesoamerican civilizations, with the earliest found dated 32 B.C. Calendars for shorter periods existed as well, but the “Long Count” version was calculated to begin on August 31, 3114 BC, and the start of the first b’ak’tun (a specific time period the calendar used, equal to a little over 394 years). The Calendar itself uses a version of base-20 and base-18 calculation, and 2012 marks the beginning of the 13th cycle… so what is the importance of this particular date and the end of the world?
Actually, there is no such prophecy from the Mayan people. According to Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, “For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle” and the idea of a doomsday event is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.” Others have indicated that certain monuments and records mentioned dates past the 13th b’ak’tun, and that considering how comfortable they were with the idea of previous cycles, it is unlikely they would have been bothered by the idea of a new cycle beginning.
However, there is some historical evidence behind the stories of doomsday. According to Mayan scholars, the previous cycle of creation ended on 18.104.22.168.19 in the Long Count calendar (the second digit from the right rolls over at 18, not 20, and hence this is effectively a ‘maximum’ date), which is the same date as December 20th, 2012 when calculated using the calendar. No evidence has been uncovered that the Mayan people believed this cycle would also end on that day, however, and so the Mayan calendar merely remains as an outstanding work of astronomical observation and timekeeping by an ancient people.
Editors Note: Some believe that the Mayan calendars’ end date is December 21st, 2012. Also, other studies have given scholars reason to believe that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar we use now, may be off by as much as 50 to 100 years. Lastly, according to Wikipedia: “Misinterpretation of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar is the basis for a popular belief that a cataclysm will take place on December 21, 2012. December 21, 2012 is simply the day that the calendar will go to the next b’ak’tun, at Long Count 22.214.171.124.0. The date on which the calendar will go to the next piktun (a complete series of 20 b’ak’tuns), at Long Count 126.96.36.199.0.0, will be on October 13, 4772.”