The Mayan Calendar, 2012, and Doomsday: A Primer

January 25, 2012

It's no secret that the ancient Mayans (as opposed to the modern ones, some of whom work in offices and use cell phones) had a famous calendar that "runs out" in December of this year. Just what that means--if anything--is the question. Does it hold any particular significance for Doomday, the Apocalpyse, or Armageddon? Here's a (very) short primer on the Mayan calendar.

The Mayan calendar, also called the Long Count, is too complex to describe in much detail, but here are the basics: It's divided up into different units, including the kin (one day), uinal (20 days), tun (360 days), katun (7,200 days), baktun (14,400 days) and 13 baktuns (1,872,000 days). Adding notation from another Mayan calendar system (blending a 260-day tzolk'in cycle and a 365-day haab cycle-don't ask), the first day of the 13 baktun is written as "0.0.0.0.0 4 ahau, eight cumku," and the final day is written as "13.0.0.0.0 4 ahau, three kankin." The calendar began Aug. 11, 3114 B.C. (0.0.0.0.0) and will end on Dec. 21, 2012 (13.0.0.0.0).

Thus it is technically true that the Long Count ends in December.

 "So what?" you're asking? Good question. Perhaps you're wondering why we should pay special attention to the Mayan calendar. What's so special about it anyway? After all, there are hundreds of calendar systems. This year may be 2012 to most folks, but in the Jewish calendar it's 5772, a difference of about three millennia, give or take; the Hijri Arabic calendar says it's 1433. And so on. Since all calendar systems are man-made, it can be whatever year you want it to be. The calendar on my wall "ends" on Dec. 31, but that doesn't mean that there won't be a Jan. 1.