2012: The end of the world?

Here’s a short-but-sweet factual description of what the date December 21, 2012 truly represents, composed by noted archaeologist Dr. Ken Feder. In a nutshell, that date simply represents the end of a cycle or series of cycles called baktuns, as related by Feder in an article for the Chicago Tribune entitled, “‘2012’: Maya Calandar Misconception Results In Only A Hollywood Ending“:

The Maya people of Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras produced a remarkable native American civilization that peaked around 700 A.D., replete with great cities, imposing pyramids and a sophisticated series of calendars.

Like ours, the Maya calendar had days, months (of 20 days each) and years (made up of 18 Maya months of 20 days and one of five, adding up to 365 days). And, just as we recognize longer time periods (10 years for a decade, 100 years for a century, and 1000 years for a millennium) the Maya did, too.

With their base-20 number system, the Maya had periods of 20 years (they called them katuns) and periods of about 400 years (a Maya baktun). Now, here’s where the confusion comes into play. While our calendar is linear, with the year numbers getting ever bigger as time proceeds, the Maya measured time as cyclical. For them, after 13 baktuns, (the Maya believed the current cycle began about 5,125 years ago) the calendar simply goes back to zero and — this is the important part — it starts all over again. Just as a year ends on Dec. 31 and a new year starts again at the beginning, Jan. 1, the Maya believed the same was true for periods of time longer than a year.

No muss, no fuss, and no apocalyptic conflagrations.

The professor goes on to say:

The Maya never said that all of time or the Earth or life on the planet will end after the 13th baktun.

That day will arrive Dec. 21, 2012, on our calendar. The only thing that is supposed to happen that day is that time’s odometer rolls over, back to zero. So much for Hollywood endings.

Now, I wish I could tell you that the Maya never predicted the end of everything, but that would be giving you a false sense of security. In fact, on a monument located at the Maya site of Coba, in Mexico, there is a Mayan date which marks the day they believed the end of the Earth would come.

That predicted date is quite a bit further out than Dec. 21, 2012. It’s actually 41,341,050,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years in the future, which is about 32 billion times longer than the universe has existed. That would be cumbersome on a movie marque, but, it’s pretty good news.

Yes, it would be wonderful news if we could count on surviving as a species until that far into the future – but the odds are not in our favor. In the meantime, it is evident that the Maya did not predict the “end of the world,” but is it not true that the Maya scattered to the winds when one of the baktuns ended, apparently the real reason behind them abandoning their cities periodically?