Doomsday and 2012. You’ve probably heard rumblings, if not more, about a supposed connection. Many people point to an ancient Mayan calendar – made 1,200 years ago – as the source of the rumors. EarthSky spoke with Kathryn Reese-Taylor, professor of Mayan archaeology at Canada’s University of Calgary about what archaeology says about 2012 and doomsday prophecies.
What are the important facts people should know about 2012 and the Mayan calendar?
I think that what people should know about 2012 is that it is basically something that we created, in the west. The Maya did not predict the end of the world, or even a huge transformation in the way that we’re conceiving of it today. The “2012” phenomenon came about through different kinds of grass-roots spiritual movements, interpretation of Maya writing that happened prior to really understanding what the glyphs were actually saying. So it’s an interesting phenomenon, but there is no archaeological basis for this phenomenon. And the Maya calendar does not really predict it ending in 2012.
Many point to the Tortuguero Monument Six, an ancient Mayan carving in modern-day Tabasco, Mexico, as the source for the 2012 prophecies. What do scientists know about it and what does it say?
Tortuguero Monument Six is a monument that was carved during the late classic period, which is approximately 600 to 800 A.D. The monument has probably around 80 glyphs – 80 different phrases or words or sentences on the monument. It’s quite a long inscription. The very final eight glyphs of the monument are the only ones that deal with the future date, 2012, in any real way. Those particular glyphs say that this date, which happens to be a date in the Maya long count, 130,000, will happen. And on that day, this particular deity will descend.
This particular deity is a very interesting deity, because he’s the patron deity of something called “period endings.” Period endings are long cycles of time that end. The Maya have a katun, which is 20 years. It’s kind of like our decade. And they have 400-year periods, one of which is ending on December 21, 2012. And this patron deity is going to descend because he is the patron deity that’s going to oversee all the ceremonies that happen on this particular day. That is all the Maya say about 2012, on December 21st.
Did you leave out the part about the end of the world?
No, because they actually didn’t say that. Nowhere did the Maya say, at any point in time, that the world will end. They don’t even say that their calendar will end and it is going to restart. The Maya, in many inscriptions, such as from the Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, talk about dates far into the future. They have a date that is at 4772 A.D., more than twice as far ahead of us as 2012 is from our year one. The Maya really didn’t concern themselves with this date nearly as much as we do now in the 21st century.
Listen to the 8-minute and 90-second EarthSky interviews with Kathryn Reese-Taylor on the Mayans and the 2012 doomsday prophesies (at top of page.)
Jorge Salazar has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists in the process of creating science content for EarthSky. He also helps host the 90-second EarthSky podcasts. Jorge has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He knows a lot about a lot of different things. For EarthSky, he has explored subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. His penetrating research style, poetic writing, and ability to track down and speak with Nobel prize-winning laureates, all make him a huge asset to EarthSky.