Did the Maya predict the world would end in 2012?

You have probably heard someone (or some people) saying that the world was meant to end on December 21, 2012. There was even a movie about it, though it wasn’t really a memorable movie. The date of December 21, 2012 was oddly specific, and was based on the Ancient Maya calendar, and was the day they believed the world was going to end.

Or at least, that’s how it was misinterpreted. Not entirely certain how that particular interpretation started, but once someone started saying the Maya predicted the end of the world, it was all people could talk about. Ancient prophies are almost as interesting as curses!

To make a long answer short, December 21, 2012 was not the end of the world as the Maya say it. Instead, it was the start of a new cycle of time, basically the same way that we would view a new year or, with the importance of this change, more like how we reacted to the new millennium.

Ok, so what’s the long answer?

Aztec

Aztec Calendar

 

The Maya had incredibly accurate time-keeping and calendars

The Maya were among the worlds best astronomers. They observed the movement of the heavens and understood how time changed along with the seasons. The Maya were among the few of the ancient cultures to develop the mathematical principle of the number 0, which allowed them to create an incredibly accurate understanding of time and astronomy. 

Time was incredibly important to the Maya and their astronomical observations allowed them to create an accurate calendar system. Time was so important that the monuments they carved and displayed always have the exact date they were dedicated, as well the dates of the important events/figures they are depicting.

Time wasn’t just used to chronicle important figures or events either. It was used to create astronomical calculations, understand the timing of the seasons and when to plant/harvest their crops, as well as in the practice of divination. 

Our understanding of the Maya calendar occurred in the 19th century, when Ernst Forstemann figured out how the Maya marked and understood time. Interestingly, this happened long before we figure out how to read Maya glyphs.   

The Maya calendars 

Mayan Calendar

The Maya used what archaeologists have named ‘the calendar round’ that is made of three interlocking cycles that repeat on a loop. This is opposed to how we normally think of time, as a straight line that moves forward, rather than repeats. 

The first of the cycles is made of 20 names, followed by a cycle of 13 numbers (which together make the 260-day sacred calendar), with the final cycle being the 365-day solar year. It takes roughly 52 years, or 18, 980 days, for the full cycle to run its course and new one to start. 

The Sacred Calendar (tzol’kin) runs for 260 days and is made of 20 named days associated with 13 numbers, which also had specific names. Each day is given a number, starting from 1 going through 13, until it starts again at 1. Along with the number, it was given a name from the list of 20 unique day-names. In this way, it created 260 unique named days. This calendar was used for understanding when rituals, ceremonies, and divination needed to take place.

The Solar Calendar (haab) was made of 365 days, with 19 unique months as opposed to our 12. The names of the months were recorded by Spanish Friars in after the Spanish Conquest. They are Pop, Wo, Sip, Sotz, Sek, Xul, Yaxkin, Mol, Chen, Yax, Sak, Keh, Mak, Kank’in, Muwan, Pax, Kayab, Kumku and Wayeb.

Most of the months held 20 days each, but the 19th month had only 5 (the wayeb). This final month of 5 days was considered a dangerous time, when the realms of the living and the dead were closest to each other.

The Maya recorded this time as a number+day+number+month (or 0.0.0.0). Used together, the sacred and solar calendars created a cycle that repeated itself every 52 years, or the full course of the Calendar Round. And while 52 years is a great way to understand one lifetime, it couldn’t be used to understand the ancient past or the far future.

The Long Count

Like the Calendar Round, the Long Count, the system the Maya used to understand long periods of history, was considered cyclical. They understood that time had always existed and always would but needed a specific date to base as the ‘start’ of their records.

Like us, the Maya used an absolute date to mark the beginning of their Long Count system. In western cultures, we use 0 CE as our marker, with history before that counting down to 0 and events since counting upwards. 

The Maya Long Count start date, or at least the start of great cycle is equivalent to August 11, 3114 BCE in the Gregorian calendar.

Each great cycle lasted 5128 years and was meant to repeat for eternity. The Long Count then counts from this start date and counts the k’in (days), winal (20 days), tun (360 days/18 winals), ka’tun (7,200 days/20 tuns), and bak’tun (144,000 days/20 ka’tuns). So, the start date mentioned above was the start of a new great cycle.

The end of the world on December 21, 2012

Illustration with a Flame maya calendar on fire.

So, what exactly happened on December 21, 2012? Since the Maya didn’t believe that time could end, would they have really predicted the end of the world? Of course they wouldn’t, and they didn’t.

Why was December 21, 2012 important then? Because it was the day that fell exactly 5128 years from August 11, 3114 BCE. It marked the day that the Long Count had completed its great cycle and a new one would start. The Maya would have celebrated this event a lot and it would have been a big deal. Similar to how we celebrated the start of a new millennium on New Years eve 1999. 

Mayan Calendar Gen 2 Graphic

First, a fire ceremony

On January 25th 2020 fires all across Central America were lit, to celebrate a sacred day in the Mayan Calendar “Wajxaqib Batz” or 8 Monkey.

Passed down through thousands of years of oral tradition, the Mayan Calendar is still used throughout Central America and Southern Mexico.

It is on this day “Wajxaqib Batz” or 8 Monkey that new Mayan day-keepers known as Aj'qij are initiated.

As a spiritual guide for the community the Aj'qij perform fire ceremonies, readings, to preserve the Mayan Calendar.

There are multiple Mayan calendars

There are actually many different “Mayan Calendars” that all have their own specific meaning and use.

All together they work like gears in a machine, like cogs on a wheel they fit together to create a system of cycles.

Tzol'Kin

Mayan Pyramids How Old

Tzol'kin Mayan Calendar

The Tzol'kin or Chol'qi is the spiritual calendar of the Maya and literally translates to “order of days”.

This 260-day calendar is made up of 20 "archetypes" (also called Nawals)...

-Monkey (B'atz')              

-Path (E')

-Transformation (Aj)

-Jaguar (I'x)

-Eagle (Tz'ikin)

-Vulture (Ajmaq)

-Knowledge (No'j)

-Flint (Tijax)

-Storm (Kawuq)

-Sun (Junajpu)

-Crocodile (Imox)

-Wind (Iq')

-Dawn (Aq'ab'al)

-Net (K'at)

-Serpent (Kan)

-Death (Kame)

-Deer (Kej)

-Rabbit/Ripening (Q'anil)

-Payment (Toj)

-Dog (Tz'i')

...and 13 numbers or intentions.

1 Initiation (Jun)

2 Duality (Keb')

3 Action/ Multiplication (Oxib')

4 Stability (Kajib')

5 Empowerment (Job')

6 Flow (Wakib')

7 Reflection (Wukub')

8 Justice/ Harmony (Wajxaquib')

9 Patience/ Transformation (Belejeb')

10 Manifestation (Lajuj)

11 Resolution (Julajuj)

12 Understanding (Kab'lajuj)

13 Ascension (Oxlajuj)

The Nawals and Numbers combine

In collaboration, these 20 archetypes and 13 numbers create 260 unique days.

This calendar is used to determine ones character or personality, life path, and destiny.

The Tzol'kin Calendar is an understanding of time as consciousness for the Maya, and with each new day comes ruling energy or spirit.

An interesting fact about the Mayan culture is that the day you are born, in the Tzol'kin Calendar would be your name.

The Haab Calendar

Mayan Calendar

The Haab Calendar

The Haab is a solar calendar of 365 days, similar to the Gregorian, is made up of 18—20 day months with a short 5 day month at the end called the “Wayeb”.

The first day of every Haab month starts at 0, which is also described as the seating of the month and ends at 19.

Each month has it's own significance and purpose in the Mayan year.

Month's of the Haab

Haab months

The Haab Months

-Pop (Mat)

-Uo' (Frog)

-Zip (Red)

-Zotz (Bat)

-Tzec (no translation)

-Xul (Dog)

-Yaxkin (Green/ First Sun)

-Mol (Water/ Jade)

-Chen (Cave)

-Yax (Green)

-Zac (White)

-Keh (Red)

-Mac (Close)

-Kankin (Yellow Sun)

-Muwan (Moaning Bird)

-Pax (Planting)

-Kayab (Turtle)

-Kumku (Ripen)

-Wayeb (5 Nameless/ Unfortunate days)

Both the Tzol'kin and the Haab are used in conjunction. Together they create an approximately 52-year cycle before repeating.

This phasing of days and calendars is a common theme with Mayan time science and lends itself to a broad philosophy that there are cycles within cycles...

Supplementary Series (Night Lords/Lunar)

The Night Lord System is a 9-day cycle, that is associated with 9 “Lords of the Night”.

Also referred to as the “G series” the names of these 9 Lords are unknown.

Also part of the supplementary series is a 29 and 30-day Lunar Calendar.

Little was known about these measurements made by the Maya. Until John E.

Teeple an American researcher, discovered a correlation between glyph's at the Mayan site of Palenque.

The Long Count

Calendar

Long Count

The Long Count Calendar is a 5,125-year cycle, that encompasses all of the calendars in a  written form. 

There is no known Mayan word for this calendar system, so the nickname “Long Count” was given based on the size of the cycle and detail used to record the date.

Usually carved into stone monuments known as “stella's” these dates are found throughout Mayan Archaeological sites.

In fact, the earliest recorded Long Count date was discovered in an Olmec site, which predates the Mayans.

The Mayans used the Long Count to record dates within this cycle of 5,125 years, using 5 numeral systems.

20 day's or K'in= 1 Uinal (20 days)

18 Uinal's= 1 Tun (360 days)

20 Tun's= 1 Katun (7,200 days)

20 Katun's= 1 Baktun (144,000 days)

13 Baktun's= The entire Long Count Cycle

The Long Count Cycle in total is 13 “Baktun's” long 1,872,000 days or 5,125 years.

Written in descending order from largest to smallest; these dates were recorded vertically, starting with the corresponding Baktun.

Following these 5 Long Count numerals, you would have the Haab, Tzol'kin, and Night Lord dates.

Creation Date and 2012

Aztec

Aztec Calendar

The Maya would record dates using this system in relevance to a “creation date”, which has been theorized to be August 11th 3114 B.C.  Or 4 Ahau 8 Kumku.

In Mayan Mythology this  date is the 4th creation of the Universe. 5,125 years later is where we get the date December 21st, 2012.

Because of the 2012 phenomena, most people think that the Mayan Calendar ended on December 21st 2012. In reality, the Mayan Calendar does not have an ending, it is a cyclical calendar, after the end of one cycle begins a new one.

The Dream-spell Calendar and Jose Arguelles

Created by Jose Arguelles in the late 1980s the Dream-spell or 13 moon calendar is based on the Mayan Tzol'kin calendar. Arguelles transformed the calendar to fit a New Age style and adopted new concepts such as the I Ching.

The Dream-spell also takes into account a “time-shift” and differs from the Tzol'kin by 52 days.

Although there is much controversy over its legitimacy, it has gathered many followers and even garnered more attention than the traditional calendar.

Use of The Mayan Calendar today

mayan

Temple of Kukulkan

Traveling to Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, one can see that the calendar is still tightly interwoven into the culture.

Thousands of Archaeological sites still remain including some of the largest pyramids in the world.

Many people are involved in the study of the Mayan culture and its calendars.

The 2012 phenomena, even though discrediting the calendar for a fictitious apocalyptic event, has ironically injected interest from all over the world.

Now post December 21st, 2012 people are practicing and using the Mayan Calendar in new and interesting ways.

Even though the Mayan Civilization is ancient history, the Mayan people are not, and still carry on their traditions today.

Poking out of the lush green canopies of the Mayan jungles, are ancient ominous limestone structures. Rivaling the Pyramids of Egypt in size and in number, these overwhelming temples are still shrouded in mystery. These are the Mayan Pyramids. 

The Mayan pyramids are some of the largest and oldest structures in the world. Unlike the pyramids in Egypt, Mayan pyramids are ziggurat like step pyramids. With over 4,400 known mayan sites throughout Mexico and Central America, the Maya left a permanent mark in history. 

How Old Are the Mayan Pyramids?

Mayan Pyramids How Old

Tzol'kin Mayan Calendar

The Mayans civilization stretched over the span of thousands of years. Many kings and queens would go off on construction campaigns.

When the Mayan pyramids were first discovered, the pyramids had weathered severely. Some completely covered by the jungle, you would not even know you were standing on a pyramid. 

Many of the Mayan pyramids were built at different times. All over the Maya peninsula, there are cities that have still not been discovered.

Even well known Mayan archaeological sites continue to reveal more and more about the mysterious Mayans. Archaeologists are still uncovering new structures deep in the jungle, and the established knowledge and timeline is changing.

So how old are the Mayan pyramids? To answer this question, one needs to understand that the Mayan civilization was comprised of city states that were constantly at war with one another. City’s would rise and fall, change rulership, and literally be built on top of each other. 

Chichen Itza

How Old Mayan Pyramids Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

For example at Chichen Itza the famous pyramid “El Castillo” was built or enhanced onto an existing pyramid the Maya had built centuries previous. 

Archaeologists dub this former pyramid the substructure, and it is said to be built somewhere around 600 A.D. Hundreds of years later around 900 A.D the Maya complete the pyramid in honor of the god “Kukulkan”, which is the Mayan version of the Aztec god “Quetzalcoatl”. 

The Pyramid itself is a calendar. With a total number of 365 steps, representing their solar calendar “The Haab”. The temple also tracks the spring and autumn equinoxes, and is positioned so perfectly that on these two days triangles of light illuminate the staircase to form what looks like a serpent crawling down the pyramid from the sky.

Pyramids of Palenque

Ancient Palenque City

Palenque

In the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico lies one of the most beautiful mayan sites. Famous for its history of rulers, monuments and detailed inscriptions. Some of the city’s earlier structures date back to around 226 B.C. 

Temple of Inscriptions 

Palenque Pyramid

Temple of Inscriptions

Built by the infamous Lord Pakal around 675 A.D in the late Classic period, this massive 9 level pyramid gets its name from the many detailed inscriptions. At the top of the temple like platform, carved into the stone is 180 years of Palenque’s history. The pyramid houses a tomb where Pakal’s body is encased in an elaborate sarcophagus. 

Temple of the Cross, Sun, and Foliated Cross

Palenque Pyramids Cross Sun and Foliated Cross

Temple of the Sun

After Pakal’s death his son Kan Bahlam erected the three temples, to commemorate his lineage. Constructed in 692 A.D, these three pyramids all facing a central court yard are very unique.

Pyramids at Tikal

jaguar, stains, look

Jaguar

In the Guatemalan lowland jungles, the Mayans built an enormous city. Tikal was a massive city state that reigned for centuries. Flourishing in the classic period from around 200 A.D to 900A.D. 

Recent discoveries of raised highways and aqueducts, are rewriting the history books about this ancient city. Archaeologists are now saying that the area was home to close to ten million people. 

Tens of thousands of structures hidden by the jungle overgrowth still remain uncovered. 

Temple of the Jaguar

Guatemala Pyramid Jaguar Temple

Temple of the Jaguar

Tikal’s Temple of the Jaguar was constructed around 732 A.D. The temple is 180 ft tall and has 9 levels, representing the nine levels of the Mayan underworld Xibalba. 

Jasaw Chan K’awiil ruled Tikal in the Classic period, and was buried the Temple of the Jaguar’s tomb. 

The temple gets its name from a carving of a king sitting on a jaguar throne. Ironically enough this area is one of the few remaining bio reserves that is home to many wild jaguars.

El Mirador’s La Danta

 

North of Tikal, deeper into the dense jungle stands one of the largest pyramids in the world, La Danta. 

At the site of El Mirador, archaeologists have uncovered amazing carvings and reliefs that portray scenes from the Popol Vuh. Many of the structures at El Mirador are Pre Classic Maya. El Mirador lasted between 1000 B.C.- 250 A.D

La Danta is the largest Mayan pyramid at 236 feet tall, by volume La Danta is the largest in the world at 99 million cubic feet. 

Uxmal and the Magician’s Pyramid

At the Mayan site of Uxmal in the Yucatan Peninsula, is the Magicians Pyramid. A fairly large pyramid that was decorated with lattice type design. Uxmal thrived around 600 to 1000 A.D. It is said that the god Itzamna built the pyramid overnight, giving it the name “Magicians Pyramid”.

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