The ancient Maya of Central America and Southern Mexico are famous for developing grand monuments, advanced mathematics, accurate astronomy and beautiful writing. They are also famous for perfecting a calendar to which many attribute predictions that the world will end on December 21, 2012.
EarthSky spoke with Professor David Stuart, an archaeologist and expert on the ancient Maya at the University of Texas at Austin. He told us that neither the Maya, nor their calendar, ever predicted the end of the world.
The ancient Maya’s calendar system was developed 1200 years ago. But instead of using just one, they devised a series of calendars to help order the passing of time. These are the Tzolk’in, which measures cycles of 260 days; the Haab, which measures cycles of 365 days; and the Long Count Calendar, which measures cycles of 400 years. Each calendar was used to track different things, such as agricultural, political and cultural events.
On December 21st of this year, the Long Count Calendar will finish a cycle. Many predict that when this cycle ends, so too will our world. But Dr. Stuart said:
There is a date this year – in the year 2012 – in late December, which will see the turn of a cycle. And this is a cycle we call a bak’tun, and a bak’tun occurs every 400 years. So it’s a significant point in the ancient Maya calendar. Now, did the Maya ever say anything about this date? Did they ever predict anything? No – absolutely not.
So where did all this commotion linking 2012 to the end of days actually come from?
Scholars point to “Estela numero seis,” también llamada “Estela de Tortuguero”, an ancient Mayan carving from modern-day Tabasco, Mexico, as the source of the 2012 doomsday myths. This is the only inscription where the ancient Maya mentioned the year 2012. So, we asked Professor Stuart, what does the carving say?
It doesn’t say much. It cites the date but there’s no real prophecy with it. The ancient records actually talk about dates in the future well beyond 2012.
For example, the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, discusses events slated to occur in the year 4772 A.D., far in the future. Stuart said:
The Maya calendar not only doesn’t end, but it keeps going for eons and eons beyond 2012. If you look at the real structure of the calendar it’s almost endless. It goes well beyond the end of our universe and our own kind of scientific cosmology.
Bottom line: Professor David Stuart, an archaeologist and expert on the ancient Maya, told EarthSky that neither the Maya, nor their calendar, ever predicted the end of the world.