My good friend, talented writer and co-author Greg Fish, sent me this cartoon last night and I got a giggle out of it, so I thought I’d share. I think it exemplifies just how something so small can be blown completely out of proportion. Although the cartoon depicts two Mayans constructing the “Sun Stone”, it was actually the Aztecs, another mesoamerican culture, who constructed the Sun Stone. But that’s not the point of this article (besides, several doomsayers are clueless about the difference between Mayans and Aztecs anyway).
The Mayans built a calendar so they could better organize their time, document historical events and enable them to make plans for the future (like any good calendar does). So, out of necessity, the Mayans put together an amazingly complex system of embedded calendars of various lengths. They came up with an innovative idea so they didn’t have to rely on short-term cyclical calendars (the longest was only 52 years), they created one of the first number-based calendars devised:
“The Mayans had a solution. Using an innovative method, they were able to expand on the 52 year Calendar Round. Up to this point, the Mayan Calendar may have sounded a little archaic – after all, it was possibly based on religious belief, the menstrual cycle, mathematical calculations using the numbers 13 and 20 as the base units and a heavy mix of astrological myth. The only principal correlation with the modern calendar is the Haab’ that recognised there were 365 days in one solar year (it’s not clear whether the Mayans accounted for leap years). The answer to a longer calendar could be found in the “Long Count”, a calendar lasting 5126 years.” — Me, “No Doomsday in 2012“, Universe Today, May 19th, 2008 (there’s nothing quite like pimping your own megahit articles!)
So, the Mayans created a number system that lasted 5126 years. Judging by their love of cycling calendars that reset after 260 days (Tzolk’in calendar), 365 days (Haab’) and 52 years (Calendar Round), isn’t it logical to assume the Long Count calendar was designed to do the same thing? And why didn’t the Mayans explicitly say: “the Long Count will cycle again after 5126 years“? That’s because they were still in their first cycle. And within this first cycle, their entire civilization rose and and crashed back down again. They never got the chance to experience one whole cycle, resetting the Long Count or, indeed, simply extending it.
In short, the world isn’t going to end in 2012 (the coincidental end-date of the Mayan Long Count calendar), it’s the last stand of an ancient culture.
It’s actually rather sad; assuming the historians are correct, and the Long Count does end on December 21st, 2012, that is the final end date for an entire civilization. Although their cities may have crumbled and civilization faded into the history books, at least the Mayans had a calendar that endured hundreds of years after their downfall. The Mayan Long Count calendar outlived a civilization, perhaps December 21st, 2012, should be a celebration of a lost mesoamerican race, as this date will truly be the end of ancient Maya.