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Does the Mayan calendar predict the end of time?
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?
WHO ARE THE MAYA?
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.
THE DRESDEN CODEX
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 LONG COUNT CALENDAR
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.