The “Mayan Doomsday”

Here’s a little excerpt from a long, angry rant thing (minus a bit of the angry verbiage for the sake of professionalism) that I wrote back in 2012, when everyone was still in the midst of all the “December 21 2012 is the end of the world oh nooo” thing.

For a little bit of background, around the time I wrote this, there was a post on Popular Social Media Website that I was getting pretty sick of seeing which claimed the following:

“There have been about 514 Leap Years since Caesar created it in 45BC. Without the extra day every 4 years, today would be July 28, 2013. Also, the Mayan calendar did not account for leap year…so technically the world should have ended 7 months ago.”

First off, this is worded very poorly. The original writer seems to be implying that if you take away the days given by leap year, we somehow end up in the future. This is obviously untrue, because it’s really stupid. Instead, what I think they meant was that the date would be 28-7-2013 if we used a calendar that consistently counted a 366-day(?) year instead of the 365.25-day year first implemented by the Julian calendar.

 Where this idea came from, I’m not sure. The Mayans did not have a 366-day calendar, or anything of the sort. I doubt many people even know what they’re talking about when they say all this nonsense about the Mayans predicting the end of the world.

 The Mayans are commonly believed to have used two calendars: the 260-day Tzolk’in and the 365-day solar Haab’. These two calendars did not identify years, but days. The combination of a Tzolk’in and a Haab’ date marked a specific “date” which would not repeat for approximately 52 Haab’ years. So, for example, the Mayan’s creation date is 4 Ahau; 8Kum’ku. This combination of days, one pulled from each calendar, would not repeat for 18,980 days, or 52 years. This period is referred to as a Calendar Round.

 Oh, but what if you had to keep track of events that happened in periods longer than 52 years? Well you were out of luck, then… unless you resorted to what is referred to as the Long Count calendar. The Long Count calendar counted the number of days had passed since the Mayan’s creation date and thus could be used to make more accurate measurements of periods over 52 years.

 The Mayan word for one day on the Long Count calendar is a k’in. Twenty k’ins made one winal, eighteen winals made one tun, twenty tuns made one k’atun, twenty k’atuns made one b’ak’tun, twenty b’ak’tuns made one piktun, and so on.

 First of all, one important thing to note, and another thing that makes comparing the Mayan to the Julian calendar pointless, is that the Mayans counted in base-20 and base-18 (most western counting systems use base-10). Therefore, 0.0.0.0.1 (representing one k’in) is equal to one day. But 0.0.0.1.0 (representing one winal) is equal to 20 days. Thus, 0.0.0.1.5 is equal to 25, and 0.0.0.2.0 is equal to 40. Since there are eighteen winals in one tun,  0.0.1.0.0 is 360 days, not 400. Given all this, one b’ak’tun (1.0.0.0.0) is 144,000 days, or approximately 394.3 solar years.

 Again, the Long Count calendar does not count years, but days. Specifically, the number of days since the aforementioned creation date, 4 Ahau; 8 Kum’ku, which is estimated by historians to be roughly around 11-8-3114 BCE on the Gregorian calendar.

 If it were not already incredibly obvious, you might have noticed that, given the way the Mayan’s Long Count works, it does not simply end. The Mayans didn’t predict a single thing about anything ending. 21-12-2012 is simply the start of the next b’ak’tun (13.0.0.0.0), roughly 5125.9 solar years after the Mayan creation date. It’s not the end of the world, it’s simply just the beginning of the next cycle in the calendar.

 Sandra Noble, executive director of the Mesoamerican research organization Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, Inc. (FAMSI), notes that “for the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle”. She considers the portrayal of December 2012 as a doomsday or cosmic-shift event to be “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

 In short, all this stuff about doomsday is nonsense and if people would do a little research then they would know that we should all actually celebrate on December 21, 2012 because it’s a huge deal to be around for the beginning of a new cycle!

 Oh yeah, and those of us around on October 13, 4772 will get to see the first piktun (20 b’ak’tuns, or 1.0.0.0.0.0)!

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