Thursday, March 10, 2011

The End is (not) Nigh

I meant to write this on Tuesday, so I'm going to pretend like it still is, because it's more relevant that way.

Today is Tuesday, March 8, 2011! According to the Maya calendar (as I was informed today by my Mayan Archaeology professor), the date is:, 13 Cimi, 19 Kayab

Those numbers refer to the different position on the Maya calendar that today is. Bear with me, this may get complicated. There are two calenders that the Maya used-- a 260-day one and a 360-day one. The two calenders combined created a calender that you rotated through in which there were periods of days with one name (pretty much like our months), and a certain number of days that made up units that were numbered (like March 11, for example). With the two calenders combined you get two names for each day. The system kind of looks like a series of gears rotating and lining up periodically.

You cycle through these and no day will be repeated until the end of a cycle. A cycle typically lasts about 52 years (although there is a longer cycle that I don't really get...), and then the calender realigns at "1." These 52-year cycles are rather like our centuries, and the Maya celebrated them like we do. Part of the celebration was carried out in fear, however, because the Maya believed, like many of us do, that one day the world would end. The end of the world would occur, they believed, at the end of one of these cycles, though the Maya didn't know which one it would be.

Now, Maya recorded their dates by the number of days since the beginning of the last cycle. That's another reason the number that is today's date is so long-- it takes a lot longer to say what day it is if you're counting DAYS from 0 AD up to March 11, 2011. This system is called the Long Count. Long Count dates were used primarily during the Maya Classic period (and before, but not as extensively). However, in the Postclassic Period, the Maya got lazy and started using what we call the Short Count. Instead of starting at the very beginning, they started at the beginning of a 7,200-day cycle, called a Katun (read like "cartoon" without the R...and I swear every time my prof says "katun," I think of Daffy Duck, really). When the Spanish arrived in the Yucatan in the 16th century, the Maya were still using the Short Count.

Since the Maya switched the way they recorded dates, we have a hard time lining up their calendar with the Gregorian one that we use. Also, there is apparently some disagreement over whether one part of the Long Count calendar ends after 13 units or 19 units.

Now, as you all know, people are freaking out about December 21, 2012. I'm pretty sure you've been told that "the Maya predicted the end of the world," or "the Maya calendar ends, at that means the end of the world," or some other such nonsense. Here's the deal:
-IF the cycle is only 13 units instead of 19, then the date on Dec 21, 2012 will be the date that marks the end of that particular CYCLE.
-IF the cycle is 19 units, we have a good 4,000 years to go before the end of the cycle.

Aside from the fact that Maya scholars (who know WAY more about reading the Maya calendar than you and I, I promise) cannot figure out for sure whether the end of the cycle is next year or four millenia from now, and aside from the fact that I'm pretty sure YOU are not Maya, or even subscribe to the Maya religious beliefs, and aside from the fact that Y2K came and went without a hitch, I really think that you (meaning the world, not you in particular) really need to calm down.

Although maybe it would be better if the world ended before I had to translate this huge load of number and date glyphs...

That's all. Phew!

P.S. I just read through this and it's sort of confusing/possibly contradictory. Sorry, it's because I'm still trying to understand it myself. But you get the point.


eric and adrien said...


no but really. i remember him talking about all of this so at least this all made sense to me...if it was a little foggy in my mind. i need glasses or something.

but yeah, pplz need to take it down a couple of notches with the whole END OF THE WORLD thing. heh.

also, my word is definitely "mushes". you're welcome.

LP said...

Very interesting, and I love that cartoon. And according to the EBible Fellowship, the Mayan calendar has to be wrong because 21 May 2011 is Judgement Day. (So happy birthday to you!) And then, after five months of horrible destruction, the end of the world actually comes on 21 Oct 2011. So, who are we to believe, the Maya or the EBible Fellowship? I personally lean a little on the side of the Maya because their calendar is way cooler looking.