If you are reading this column, then we have survived the Maya Apocalypse of 2012. Or have we? It all depends on whether we have correctly correlated the Maya calendar with our own. What if we are off by a day or three? Or what if the apocalypse happened 260 years ago? What cruel irony to be certain that there was time to walk the dog, do laundry, or make New Year's resolutions, and then BAM! That's all, folks. The 2012 apocalypse phenomenon was created by the modern interpretation of the meaning of certain ancient Maya calendar cycles. But since there are no ancient Maya walking around still using the ancient calendar, the 2012 apocalypse predictions also depend upon how our calendar might be correlated to those last used in Mexico and Central America almost a thousand years ago.
As discussed in this column in July, the 2012 apocalypse predictions are linked to the ancient Maya calendar that modern scholars call the Long Count. We do not know what the Maya called it, very likely something like "the day count, " since it is at its most fundamental level a continuous tally of days stretching infinitely into both the past and the future. Here's a brief recap. The Long Count consists of time periods large and small, all based upon groups of single days. The lowest and most commonly used periods counted single days, months of 20 days, and years of 360 days. This calendar was unrelated to the solar year, hence the figure of 360 days, rather than 365 or 365.242 days, the true length of the so-called tropical year on Earth. Most ancient Maya dates, and there are hundreds, even thousands, use two additional larger time periods, which are units of 20 and 400 years (20 x 360 = 7,200 days, and 400 x 360 = 144,000 days). The ancient Maya used the Long Count to fix immovably in time events in the lives of the elite in cities such as Tikal, Copan, and Palenque: births, marriages, rituals, battles, and deaths. They never used the Long Count or their hieroglyphic writing to record commercial transactions or any details of life outside the palaces of the kings and nobles. The dates are unmovable and unrepeatable because the cycles are so long, just as the date Dec. 21, 2012 will never come again, unless someone in the remote future decides to reset our calendar.
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