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Does the Mayan calendar predict the end of time?

Updated on June 19, 2010
Mayan calendar showing basic number system
Mayan calendar showing basic number system
A page from the Dresden Codex
A page from the Dresden Codex
Mayan 'days'
Mayan 'days'

Doomsday predictions

With the release of the film 2012, more and more people are taking an interest in the ancient Mayan calendar and are asking the question 'Does it really predict the end of tiime?' Some regard it as an accurate warning left for us by a civilisation more advanced than our own, whilst others ridicule it and tell us not to let it bother us.

But to decide for ourselves we have to first take a look at this ancient civilisation and examine what little evidence there is. Could these people really have provided such accurate information without any of today's technology, and what did they base their calculations on?


The Mayan civilisation first arose in central America - namely Mexico, Guatemala and Belize- around 250 AD, They were an extremely superstitious race who believed in many Gods, as a lot of civilisations did back then. As long ago as 700BC, a civilisation called the Olmecs lived in central America, and it was the Olmecs who have been given the credit for inventing what is termed as the 'long count' calendar

There is quite a lot of conflicting opinion about this however. Some say it was Lord Pacal, who according to Mayan legend, was the twin brother of Venus. and the founder- God of all life on Earth. Others say the knowledge was passed down from a long extinct superior race, who died out thousands of years ago, due to a major cataclysmic event. And then again, it could have been the work of Quetzalcoatl, who the Maya regarded as their most important deity. The fact is, no-one knows for sure who invented such a complex time-measuring system. However, someone had, and it seems that it was based on their advanced knowledge of the Universe. How they collected their information is a mystery, as most of their documents were destroyed by Hernan Cortes and the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century.


All that remained after the Spanish burned and destroyed everything were a few monuments and four codices (parchment documents) - and even these are not fully intact. These documents mostly tell of day to day life, notably farming and the planting of maise, which the Maya even worshipped as a God. Out of these four, the one that has grabbed the most attention is the one that is known as the Dresden codex. It was given this name because it was initially given to the King of Spain by Hernan Cortes, but ended up in a library in Dresden, Germany. During world war 2 the library was bombed and the codex was badly damaged, but a German scholar named Ernst Forstemann managed to decipher the hieroglyphs and crack the code. What he claimed to have found was a complex calendar within a basic counting system, which although primitive, baffled a lot of people because the Maya, it seems, used the number zero long before the Greeks or Romans. It is known as the 'dot - bar' numerical system, whereby every dot counts as one unit, up to four, then one bar becomes five. so if they wanted to write for example, thirteen, it would be two bars and three dots.


The Maya used three different calendars to measure time, The most important of the three they used was one consisting of 240 days, which was used all across central America. It is known as the Tzolkin, which actually means 'count of days'. It was related to the passing of the sun through the solstices, but could also have been based on crop planting, as this is the duration of time between planting and harvest. Another theory is that is related to the gestation period of humans. For this calendar, the Maya used a system of a numbered week of thirteen days, and a named week of twenty days.This calendar was combined with another of 365 days, which is called the Haab. This one was based on the solar year and was regarded as the 'civil' calendar. It consisted of 18 months of 20 days, followed at the very end of the year by 5 'extra' days which they called the 'Uaeb', or 'the days without names'. The Uaeb was considered to be an unlucky period, and anyone unfortunate enough to be born during this time was said to be cursed by bad spirits.

These two calendars ran concurrently, until a time span of 52 years had elapsed, when the dates of both returned to 'day one', meaning that the entire cycle started all over again.This merging of the two was known as the 'calendar round', and the end point was a time of unrest and dread for the Maya, a time when they prayed to their gods and offered human sacrifices in the hope that they would keep them happy enough to grant them a further 52 years. A point worth mentioning here is that neither of these calendars were used to count the years. They had a far more complex system for this.


The Maya believed in the cyclical nature of time, meaning that the end point became the starting point, but the long count calendar has a linear structure, whereby it continues in one long straight line, enabling the years to be recorded. They gave the start date of the long count as 4 Ahau, 8 Kumk'u, (11th August, 3114BC,) which they believed to be the start of creation - the birth of Venus.

Below is a table of the Mayan long count units.

1 day = 1 K'in

20 days = 20 K'in = 1 Uinal

360 days =18 Uinal = 1 Tun = 1year

7,200 days = 20 Tun = 1 K'atun = 19.7 years

144,000 days = 20 K'atun = 1 Baktun = 394.3 years

1,872.000 days = 13 Baktun *

The list goes on;

2,888,000 days = 1 Pictun

57,600,000 days = 1 Calabtun

1,152,000,000 days = 1 Kinchilitun

The date of 13 Baktun, 4 Ajaw, 3 Uniiw, according to translators, is December 21, 2012 on our calendar. This is the supposed end date of the 13th Baktun, and the date that has become the focus on the 'End of the World' theories, but as we can see, their calendar did not stop there. All this shows us is that it will be the end of the 13th Baktun.

What we should really be asking ourselves is, Did the world begin on 11th August 3114 BC? Of course it didn't. We know that as fact. Their knowledge was limited,and what little they did have had been passed down to them. But we have to acknowledge the fact that this is when they believed the world began - when their Gods Venus and Pacal were born. Another thing we should consider is, in those days, the average life span was 46 years. and when we're talking in 'millennia', facts easily get distorted, especially when there was no written word. All the Maya did was keep the clock ticking - figuratively speaking. Their civilisation died at the hands of Hernan Cortez. They weren't expecting to be wiped out - in fact, they even thought that he was the return of Quetzalcoatl, and welcomed him!

It's in the human nature to romanticise events from the distant past. Because we live in a civilised society, we find it difficult to comprehend the atrocities that were committed in the far reaches of antiquity, The time span is so vast we can't even begin to imagine what life must have been like, so we tend to airbrush all the bad bits out and glamorise the rest - and what we don't know, we make up

Many people have cashed in on these erroneous theories. Countless books have been written, films have been made and there are even sites on the internet with countdown clocks.

It goes without saying that there will be a lot of us who actually believe the 'end of time' theories. I was one of them, until I decided to dig for the facts. Our world is a fragile place, but it's through our own doing that it has become so fragile. The Universe is vast and I doubt humans will ever unlock its secrets. But Planet Earth has spun on its axis for billions of years and survived many catastrophes. Civilisations and animals have been wiped out through natural disasters throughout time, and it still happens. We only have to look at events like the Tsunami and recent volcanic eruptions to see this, but Earth and humankind have continued to survive.

The world still turns, and will continue to turn long after 21.12. 2012.


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    • Timmy(B) profile image

      Timmy(B) 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Excellent hub. Hopefully the world will end after watching the London Olympics in 2012.

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Well, as for me, I am totally sick and tired of all this doom and gloom. I just went to my chiropractor who talked the whole time about how we should all get guns, store our food in our walls, and buy silver and store it in a safe. I will just continue writing on HP and act like the sun will come up tomorrow, just like it did today. I am slowly building up my food storage and growing a garden. I guess time will tell.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Thanks for reading Katyzzz. I'm pleased you enjoyed it.

    • katyzzz profile image

      katyzzz 7 years ago from Sydney, Australia

      Strange stuff but some of these things really are quite fascinating, I'd not hear of this before so it was good to learn about it.

    • OriginsBlog profile image

      OriginsBlog 7 years ago

      You're right about the age of Noah. It all comes down to whether or not you believe in the Bible. The Bible shows us clearly that the average lifespan before the flood was around 900 years. That didn't change, until the flood.

      From that point on, the average lifespan began to decrease. By the time of Abraham, the average lifespan was less than 200 years. By the time of King David, the average lifespan was about 70 years.

      There are many factors that caused this; but if you fail to recognize a global flood, I'm wasting my breath. When I was younger, scientists tried to deny flooding altogether.

      Now, because of mounting evidence, they are claiming that there must have been many "localized floods". It is safe to say that a global flood may have happened, even if you don't believe in the Bible.

      It is also safe to say that we cannot truly understand the Earth before this time. It was very different. Many gather from the scriptures that it may not have rained before the flood, and the scripture does say that the Earth was surrounded by a "firmament".

      Think about it, scientist today believe that a large enough asteroid hitting the Earth would turn it molten - evaporating all of the water.

      Where would it all evaporate to? It would, of course, evaporate into the atmosphere until the temperature cooled enough for it to condense and fall again as rain.

      So if you believe, like I do, that the Earth was formed the way scientists today say it was, it is not a stretch to assume that we could have had such a water vapor canopy around Earth at one time. Maybe several times.

      With that being said, during those times, life must have been radically different than what we know today.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      I may have little knowledge of biblical facts- however, Genesis chapter 9 verse 28& 29 read;

      'After the flood Noah lived for three hundred and fifty years. All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.'

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Thank you for your comment originsblog, and I appreciate you taking the time to come back. It's always good to get a different perspective on things and I am always open to suggestions. I dont want to turn this hub comments into a debte about Christianity - I can write a hub about that and then wait for the backlash I suppose.

    • OriginsBlog profile image

      OriginsBlog 7 years ago

      For the record, I believe in an old universe and evolution. Nothing about science conflicts, or can conflict, with my particular religion - Christianity.

      You are comparing written history with theoretic speculation. Those are two completely different animals.

      You seem to have little knowledge of Biblical facts. Nowhere does the Bible say that Moses and Noah lived to be 900+ years old.

      Neither does the Bible give any age to the Earth, nor the universe. A 6,000 year old Earth only works if you believe that all life began with Adam and Eve.

      You assume too much. Genesis, and the Bible in general, is open to many different interpretations. None of which are intended to be scientific texts.

      The basic theme of Genesis was to tell us what God is, and how humans relate to His plan, and how we have fallen short of His glory. That theme comes through loud and clear.

      It's proven that the Bible contains historically accurate accounts, yet we also know that some of the lessons in the Bible are stories. Example: the story of the prodigal son.

      Because some lessons are admittedly in the form of stories, are we to assume that all of the Bible is a story?

      Like I said, we have already proven, extra-Biblically, many of the account to be accurate historical records.

      Also, what someone or a group does in the name of Jesus does not define Christianity. This is just the latest weak sauce excuse for hating Christians.

      Example: Constantine merged church and state, and began to kill those who didn't profess their allegiance to the Roman Catholic faith.

      Do any real Christians think that what he did was a good thing? NO! The Bible tells us not to kill, and that God gave us free will to choose or deny Him.

      Some of what you say sounds silly to me, however I imagine that you and I, scientifically, would have a lot in common.

      The difference, of course, is that I believe that science is the answer of how, and the Bible is the answer of why.

      Science is not equipped to answer the whys of the universe. Science is merely the study of the natural world.

      Science cannot answer why there are universal, unchanging laws, like mathematics and moral law. So the question is, "Do we just take these supernatural questions off of the table?"

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Rafini - you're absolutely right. A woman doesn't need to have sex, but I don't think they were big on artificial insemination 2000 years ago, and even if they were, surely they would need human sperm to make a baby, just like we do these days. Look, (I'm just trying to look at things logically here, even though we are digressing, and going off topic slightly)If a young virgin woman came forward today and said she was pregnant, and that an Angel had been and told her the child was God's, who would believe her? (apart from the fact that these days it IS possible for a virgin to get herself pregnant if she so wished - as you pointed out)but why go to such lengths in the first place? Illegitimacy was unacceptable back then. Women were stoned to death in the street - apparently - if they were found to be 'fornicators'. Whatever anyone chooses to believe is entirely up to them. Personally, I try to let common sense (and logic) prevail. Apart from advances in medicine and technology, humankind 2000 years ago was prety much the same as today.If we are to believe the bible (which millions do) we accept that it wasn't written in a week, or a year, but over several hundreds of years. It wasn't just one book that someone put together, like it is now. If we are to believe this 'book', we have to believe that Moses and Noah etc lived to be 900+ years old. Well isn't that nearly one of the 'creation' days? We are supposedly now living in God's 'rest' day of 1000 years. I think Noah's lifetime just about covered that.

      The human race was not exclusive to Israel and Egypt and the surrounding areas that have become known as 'The Holy Land' There were people all over the planet. The Spanish invaded central America and anihilated an entire civilisation in the name of Christianity. They burned all their ancient texts and destroyed everything apart from a couple of things that someone managed to save and hide. All in the name of Jesus? But, OriginsBlog, did it REALLY happen? Or can this also be categorised as 'Educated Speculation'?

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Hi OriginsBlog. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment. Everyone has a right to their own opinion and belief. You're right of course, it is extremely arrogant to say we know for a fact how old the Earth is, after all we weren't around at the time. In my hub I said we know for a fact that it was older than 5000 years. Maybe all the scientists got it wrong then. Maybe the dinosaurs didn't come from the Jurassic era. Perhaps Neanderthal man never existed. Maybe the world will end in 2012................

    • OriginsBlog profile image

      OriginsBlog 7 years ago

      I'm with Rafini on this one. It is extremely arrogant to say that we know for a fact how old the Earth is or when if at all different lineages started to branch off.

      The simple fact is that most of what we think we know about the past is educated speculation.

    • Rafini profile image

      Rafini 7 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

      :-) Hi again.

      Yes, I understand what you're saying about dating the planet but I'm still skeptical - even of the dates 'determined' by studying the Bible. I personally don't think it's possible for anyone to backdate the birth of our planet and universe. That's amazing that animals were found (in ice) with food still in their stomachs, but I don't understand your point. I believe a neanderthal was also found in the ice. (or some kind of human)

      As to what the Bible says or doesn't say - to each his own, but I understand the Bible must be interpreted in order to be understood. I gave up a long time ago and would only use it for guidance at this point in my life. (I've internalized what I felt I needed to from the Bible and have accepted different points of view from many other sources - at this point I'm no longer searching for those answers)

      I thought it was understood a woman does not have to have sex in order to become pregnant. The only necessity is for sperm to enter the vagina.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Rafini thanks for popping back. Have you heard of a book called 'Fingerprints of the Gods' by Graham Hancock? It's a fascinating read. The author shows how there was animal life and vegetation on the continent of Antarctica long before it was an ice-cap. It has nothing to do with carbon-dating, everything is preserved in ice. They've found animals with food still their stomachs, and they have a sophisticated way of dating ice which unfortunately, I'm not knowledgeable enough on the subject to write about. The bible dispels the Dinosaur myths as works of the devil, and would have us believe that the world was created in seven days, whether they be the literal 24 hour days or, as has been now interpreted, 1,000 year days. But why call them days if they were millennia? The bible would have us believe that a big fish swallowed a man and spat him out three days later - alive! and that a human woman found herself pregnant but had never had sex. It's things like this that my logical brain finds difficult to believe. Therefore, to my mind, we can't always believe what we are told, even if it's written down. It's widely accepted that the Earth is billions of years old. Coal and diamonds were formed by compression of vegetation over millions of years. The mountain ranges were formed by the pressure of tectonic plates grinding together, (and this is still happening, so we have the proof of this) We don't always need the evidence of carbon dating to date the age of the planet.



    • Rafini profile image

      Rafini 7 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

      Hi, just popped in to read your reply. :-)

      I'm skeptical of anyone stating with confidence that there is an accurate way to determine the age of Earth. I don't believe it's possible - because there is no-one here on Earth today to say if it's true or not. I don't buy into carbon dating, because who knows for sure if it works? We can only assume and assumptions mean nothing. :/

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Thank you for reading my hub Courtney. I think as the date draws nearer, more people will be searching for an acceptable explanation, just like I was. This was what drove me to research and write it in the first place. There are so many awful predictions flying around, and the world is a scarey enough place already,without having to listen to the doom-mongers.

    • Courtney_CollinsD profile image

      Courtney 7 years ago from Las Vegas

      Very good hub. This topic is widely used today and many people are freaking out thinking the world will end on that day. I agree with you though, the world has been through so much already and to believe that these people predicted the end of the world is a little ridiculous considering the facts you can find when you look for them.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Thanks for reading my hub Rafini, and for your comment. whilst I agree with you that the actual date of birth of the world is unknown, we have to acknowledge the fact that it has to be older than 5,000 years, considering that scientists have proof of the following.

      Yellowstone supervolcanic eruption - 2,58 Million years ago.

      Human & Neanderthal lineages start to diverge genetically 700,000 years ago.

      Invention of the wheel - 5,500 years ago

      So all I was pointing out was that creation couldn't have taken place 5000 years ago

    • Rafini profile image

      Rafini 7 years ago from Somewhere I can't get away from

      Good hub, I enjoyed reading it. Only 1 issue though...

      ----What we should really be asking ourselves is, Did the world begin on 11th August 3114 BC? Of course it didn't. We know that as fact.----

      We don't know this as fact. The actual date of the birth of the world is unknown.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Thank you very much wavegirl. I'm pleased you enjoyed it.

    • wavegirl22 profile image

      Shari 7 years ago from New York, NY

      Really great Hub .. and I love the way you have a knack to dig for information. Rated upwards!

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      CMHypno - thanks for your comment and I absolutely agree. The world will go on turning long after we have gone. It's a sad thought but we (the human race) will be the cause of our own destruction.

    • CMHypno profile image

      CMHypno 7 years ago from Other Side of the Sun

      Interesting Hub on the Mayan Calendar, lucieanne. For some reason the human race has always been obsessed in Doomsday scenarios, but the world still goes on. I think that is also hard for a lot of people to realise that the end of the human race is not the same as the end of the world. Earth was here millions of years before us, and could be potentially be here millions of years after we are gone.

    • lucieanne profile image

      lucieanne 7 years ago from Boston United Kingdom

      Thanks for your comment John. The way I see it is - if something IS going to happen, we will be powerless to stop it, so we might as well just live our lives and try not to dwell on it. There's always another side to the coin, and maybe a solar flare will upset the Earth's equilibrium (as has evidently happened before, causing a shift in the poles) but this is a natural occurance, happening once every 26,000 years anyway, and according to the 'experts' that only happened roughly 4,000 years ago. The only thing we can do is wait and see.

    • aguasilver profile image

      John Harper 7 years ago from Malaga, Spain

      "They weren't expecting to be wiped out - in fact, they even thought that he was the return of Quetzalcoatl, and welcomed him!"

      Hmmmm.... that seems to have happened again recently with Barry Obama, hope we get a better result!

      Beware of Greeks bearing gifts is what I say!

      Great hub, good research and very informative..... there is obviously something quite dramatic going to happen around now, and 2012 is very 'now' (for someone who can remember 1962 clearly, but has trouble remembering where I put my reading glasses!)we have news of the Mayan calender, excessive sun activity (which would stop us using computers.... think on that (selah) and numerous other predictions, ah well, may as well open another beer!

      Thanks for the hub, good read.


    • profile image

      Lisa 7 years ago

      I think this is very intresting. In my own oppinion i would like to think that something catastrophic will happen, but i really don't think it will be the end of our beautifull planet.


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