Sorry, Apocalypse Lovers: Mayan Calendar Doesn’t Actually End in 2012

Oh, good News: the world will not end in 2012! The millions of people no doubt living in abject fear of the end of the Mayan calendar can breathe a sigh of relief, because the conversion of dates from the Mayan calendar to our calendar could be off by 50 to 100 years, a new textbook argues.

Here's a Mayan Calendarin Playa Del Carmen Centro, Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The Maya calendar is a system of calendars and almanacs used in the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and in some modern Maya communities in highland Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo: Cathy K/Flickr

Sorry, apocalypse lovers and good news for others: the world will not end in 2012! So, if you made plans for December 21st, 2012 – don’t break them just yet.

That’s the day the apocalypse is supposed to occur according to the Mayan calendar. It turns out the calculations may be incorrect and the world might not end after all.

Errors made in calculating the Mayan calendar means it may be inaccurate according to a recent textbook. That means those waiting for the world to end on Dec. 21, 2012 might be in for a big disappointment.

Even worse, if the calculations turn out to be incorrect, believers will have no way of knowing when the world really will end.

A new critique, published as a chapter in the new textbook “Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World” (Oxbow Books, 2010), argues that the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years.

Here's a Maya mask in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Stucco frieze from Placeres, Campeche. Photo: Wolfgang Sauber/Wikipedia

That would throw the supposed and overhyped 2012 apocalypse off by decades and cast into doubt the dates of historical Mayan events. (The doomsday worries are based on the fact that the Mayan calendar ends in 2012, much as our year ends on Dec. 31.)

The Maya calendar is a system of calendars and almanacs used in the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and in some modern Maya communities in highland Guatemala and Oaxaca, Mexico.

The essentials of the Maya calendric system are based upon a system which had been in common use throughout the region, dating back to at least the 5th century BC.

The Mayan calendar was converted to today’s Gregorian calendar using a calculation called the GMT constant, named for the last initials of three early Mayanist researchers.

Much of the work emphasized dates recovered from colonial documents that were written in the Mayan language in the Latin alphabet, according to the chapter’s author, Gerardo Aldana, University of California, Santa Barbara professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

Here's a magnificent Mayan Pyramid, Pyramid Of Kukulcán. This structure is the principal attraction of Chichén Itzá. Beautifully constructed, with many significant connections with the Mayan calendar, the temple on top was where priests would determine the best times to do things, from planting crops to invading neighbours. Photo: Richard and Jo deMeester/Flickr

Later, the GMT constant was bolstered by American linguist and anthropologist Floyd Lounsbury, who used data in the Dresden Codex Venus Table, a Mayan calendar and almanac that charts dates relative to the movements of Venus.

“He took the position that his work removed the last obstacle to fully accepting the GMT constant,” Aldana said in a statement. “Others took his work even further, suggesting that he had proven the GMT constant to be correct.”

But according to Aldana, Lounsbury’s evidence is far from irrefutable. “If the Venus Table cannot be used to prove the GMT as Lounsbury suggests, its acceptance depends on the reliability of the corroborating data,” he said.

He said that historical data is less reliable than the Table itself, causing the argument for the GMT constant to fall “like a stack of cards.”

Aldana doesn’t have any answers as to what the correct calendar conversion might be, preferring to focus on why the current interpretation may be wrong.

Looks like end-of-the-world theorists may need to find another ancient calendar on which to pin their apocalyptic hopes. [Wiki via LiveScience]

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