A popular topic of conversation in the past few months has been the Mayan calendar; specifically, the ‘doomsday’ date of December 21, 2012. In order to understand the hype surrounding this date, one must understand the significance of the Mayan Long Count calendar, and what current research says about this debate. Only by sifting through the evidence are we able to determine whether the possibility of an apocalyptic event is valid, or whether it is just a coincidence.
The Mayan civilization existed in Mesoamerica (which included Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Southern Mexico, and parts of Honduras) in approximately 250-900 A. D. They used several different calendars for various periods of time, most of which have been deciphered by archaeologists. The Mayan calendars are very sophisticated, were also used by the Aztec and Toltec cultures, and are the most understood and best documented calendars of the region.
These calendars are referred to as the Tzolkin a sacred calendar that was comprised of 260 days; the Haab, a civil calendar that was the Mayan year; and the Calendar Round, which was roughly the length of an individual’s life, or 52 years. In order to keep track of dates longer than a lifespan, this culture developed the Long Count calendar. This is very accurate and complex, but once understood it is a marvel of ingenuity, being the result of years of careful observation. All three calendars were used simultaneously with each other.
The Long Count spans 5,126 years and has been a source of debate among scholars and conspiracy theorists. It is based on a mathematical system that calculates dates based on the Mayan day of creation, which is believed to correspond with August 11, 3114 BCE on the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, the 5,126 years is due to run out in 2012-this date has been further narrowed down to the beginning of the winter solstice, which is December 21, 2012. The Long Count also has some basis in astronomy, as well.
Most scholars feel that the date does not have apocalyptic significance, although it does correspond with some events in our solar system that will occur on that day. However, they are not expected to cause any disruption. In a nutshell, the sun will essentially move across the sky in a certain path, combined with a particular alignment of Mars, Pluto, Venus, and Mercury. This action symbolized to the Maya the triple rebirth of the Sun. There were, however, no predictions of catastrophe. Some scholars feel the Maya may not even been aware of the precise location of the planets on this day. The Long Count, being mathematically and astronomically based, simply ends its cycle on this date. It essentially resets the counting of time to zero, beginning a new set of 5,126 years.
Some people, however, are not convinced. Doomsday and conspiracy theories are thriving in books, movies, and websites. Just searching for this date online will produce everything from factual, scholarly accounts to garish sites proclaiming that everyone is being lied to and the end is near. Movies have been made that show catastrophic disasters. Self-described prophets predict the collapse of governments, nations, and the destruction of the planet.
Many feel that the significance of the Long Count calendar is much more than just one cycle ending and a new one beginning. Some archaeological finds in the past few decades in the Mesoamerican area have mentioned the 2012 date. One tablet found in the 1960s discusses the return of a Mayan god at the end of the calendar’s cycle. Because the Mayan culture is viewed by many to have had some mystical knowledge, any reference to this date is taken as foreknowledge of the end of the world. However, many ignore the fact that other references have been found that mention dates later than 2012.
Another common Internet hoax is the idea that the Mayans somehow predicted that an unknown planet would crash into the Earth in 2012. This has been adamantly denied by no other than NASA and other astronomical organizations. If some previously unknown planet or meteor were close enough to Earth to be able to reach it by 2012, even amateur astronomers would long have known it.
The Mayans were excellent mathematicians and astronomers who created an incredibly accurate set of calendars, but they did not record any prophetic pronouncements. Attempts by many to claim otherwise are mostly hype. Just a short amount of time researching is all that is needed to convince many that the calendar does just what it is supposed to do-accurately count the passage of time and give us a glimpse of future days.