December 22, 2012 [LINK / comment]

End of the world? Not yet!

I was amused by all the recent flurry of fretting about the end of the world which was allegedly predicted to happen on December 21, 2012 by the ancient Mayans. Newspaper cartoons, movies on TV, and news today were all about The Apocalypse. Well, it didn't happen yesterday, obviously, so does that mean we can relax and calmly go about our daily lives? Not yet! According to A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, by Linda Schele and David Freidel (1990), page 82, tomorrow is the big day:

December 23, 2012, will be 4 Ahau 3 Kankin, the day when the 13 baktuns will end and the Long Count Cycles return to the symmetry of the beginning. The Maya, however, did not conceive this to be the end of this creation, as many have suggested. Pacal, the great king of Palenque, predicted in his inscriptions that the eighieth Calendar Round anniversary of his accession will be celebrated after the first eight-thousand year cycle in the Maya calendar ends. In our time system, this cycle will end of October 15, 4772.

The Mayans had a complex calendar system, with tzolkins (260 days) overlapping with haabs (365 days), which consisted of 18 months lasting 20 days each, and then a five-day period of rest. It took 52 years to complete the cycle, such that the tzolkins and the haabs would (briefly) be in sync once again. A baktun is a cycle of 400 years. The photo below depicts the ancient calendar system, engraved in a huge stone wheel.

I visited the archelogical ruins of camera Palenque in 1985, with my late friend Joe Cash. See the Mexico photo gallery (1985 and 2003) for more.

The Washington Post reported that some New Age enthusiasts in Mexico are taking a more benign view of the impending calendar milestone, something akin to the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Groovy!

Aztec calendar

A calendar stone in the Museum of Archeology in Mexico City, February 2003.