2012 and the Mayan calendar

The truth about the Mayan calendar

A misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar has created a mini-doomsday industry in the past few years.  This misapprehension inspired a Hollywood film about a supposed apocalypse, as well as a plethora of speculation and news stories.  The truth is, the ancient Mayans did not predict that the the world as we know it would end with 2012.

Solar Year

However, Mayan astrology is worthy of attention for other reasons. The basic unit of time of the Mayan Long Count Calendar is the 360-day tun, which, like our calendar’s year, is roughly equivalent to one revolution of the earth around the sun. Twenty tuns make a k’atun and twenty k’atuns (or 400 tuns) form a bak’tun.  A bak’tun is roughly equal to 395 of our years.  The ancient Mayan Long Count calendar includes 13 bak’tuns, ending with the winter solstice of 2012.  Mayan cosmology contained stories of an earlier era preceding their calendar lasted for 13 bak’tuns. The transition from that era into the current 13 bak’tuns was smooth and natural, rather than a period of devastation and destruction.

Contrary to pop culture hype, Mayan predictions envisaged a similar natural transition with the approaching shift of eras.  Those who have studied the Mayan calendar closely believe the notion of a “Mayan prophecy” of doomsday occurring on December 21, 2012 is a fallacy similar to the notion some people had that the world as we knew it would end with the transition from 1999 into 2000.

Mayan zodiac year

In addition to their solar calendar measurements, the Mayans, like other Mesoamerican cultures, also used a 260-day astrological divinatory calendar.  This 260-day sequence, which repeats itself continually, includes 13 cycles of the Mayan 20 zodiac signs.  Like other styles of astrology, these zodiac signs characterized an individual based on time of birth.  These 260-day counts are called tzolkins and are based on the cycles of the Moon, Venus and Mars.  The Mayans also believed that human gestation lasted 260 days so that the zodiac sign at the time of an individual’s conception and birth were the same.

The Mayan measurements of time were based on achievements of astrological observation amazing for a period before the existence of modern telescopes.  The Mayans made amazingly accurate predictions about the movement of the planets over a long period of time.  Ancient Mayan astronomy observation sites, as well as mounds built by other Native American cultures, are based on a precise awareness of alignment with planetary positions on key dates such as the solstices and the dates when Venus is most visible in the sky.

These scientific achievements deserve recognition as evidence of the advanced knowledge of cultures once dismissed as “primitive” in comparison to the Europeans. To make these achievements nothing but fodder for cheap doomsday speculation is a failure of intellect and understanding on the part of those who propagate the 2012 end-times theories.


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