The Maya Long count calendar is just like the odometer on a car. There are five digits, and it ticks one digit for every day. Here are some dates:
188.8.131.52.15 ---- July 2, 292 (a date from the Maya city of Tikal)
184.108.40.206.15 ---- December 21, 2011 (today)
220.127.116.11.19 ---- December 20, 2012
0. 0. 0. 0. 0 ---- December 21, 2012
|The 2012 text from Tortuguero|
(This is a base-20 numbering system, with the middle digit only going up to 18 before repeating).
So, what did the Maya predict would happen on the zero date? There is exactly one (count 'em, one) ancient Maya hieroglpyhic text that talks about this, monument 6 at the site of Tortuguero (see photo at right). Apart from the fact that key parts of the monument are broken, the text is a bit enigmatic. One recent translation (from Gronemeyer & MacLeod 2010) reads:
- It will be completed the thirteenth Baktun [i.e., the end of the cycle]
- It is 4 Ajaw 3 Kankin [the day and month designations]
- And it will happen a "seeing"
- It is the display of [the god] Bolon-Yokte
- In a great "investiture."
Hmmmmm, this is not about the end of the world, or a new beginning. It is an enigmatic statement that some god (whom we know next to nothing about) will show up on that date.
So why does everyone go around talking about the end of the world? Try typing "2012 Maya prophecy" into the search window in Amazon.com. There are more than 100 books about this topic. People are making money by inventing bogus claims about the 2012 Maya Long count event. It is a commercial feeding frenzy, involving wildly inaccurate and made-up claims by fake scholars. Read my lips:
THE MAYA DID NOT PREDICT THE END OF THE WORLD IN 2012.
The Maya were accomplished astronomers, mathematicians, and scientists. They devised a whole series of incredibly accurate calendars. They invented the concept of zero. They extended the Long count calendar more than a millennium into the future. But they die NOT predict the end of the world. To read about Maya calendars and culture, and some scientific details about the 2012 nonsense, read any of these books, all by recognized experts in the field:
Aveni, Anthony F. (2009) The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012. University Press of Colorado, Boulder.
Restall, Matthew and Amara Solari (2011) 2012 and the End of the World. Rowman and Littlefield, New York.
Stuart, David (2011) The Order of Days: The Maya world and the Truth About 2012. Random House, New York.
Van Stone, Mark (2010) 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya. Tlacaelel Press (private publication, Imperial Valley, CA.
But please avoid the nonsense found in commercial books on Amazon.com. Check out the authors on the internet. The authors of the books listed above are all recognizied experts, easy to tell from a number of websites.
|Aztec astronomer observes the stars|
But what about the Aztecs?
It turns out that the Aztecs DID predict the end of the world. Their priests observed the heavens, and their mythology predicted the destruction of the world. This will come at the end of a 52-year calendar cycle, but we don't know which cycle! At the end of each cycle, the Aztecs would put out all their fires and wait around to see if the sun would rise again for a new period of 52 years. New fires were then lit (it was called the "New Fire Ceremony"), and the world was saved for another 52 years. The last such ceremony before Cortés arrived took place in 1507. To read more about this, check out the new 3rd edition of my book, The Aztecs, in which I've boosted the coverage of the New Fire Ceremony.
|Lighting of the Aztec New Fire+|
As an Aztec specialist, this whole Maya 2012 nonsense really bugs me. The Maya always get all the publicity, and the Aztecs get very little. The Maya are always on the History Channel or in National Geographic Magazine. Maya, Maya, Maya! We Aztec specialists often get an inferiority complex with respect to the Maya.
The Aztecs actually DID predict the end of the world, but who gets all the credit for ancient prophecies for doom and destruction: the Maya, who didn't even make such prophecies.
This morning, I was interviewed on local TV about the Maya 2012 bit. I didn't get to say very much, but check out the video.