Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 and Mayan Calendars


Anyone who has seen the movie 2012 will know that:
·         2012 will see the end of civilisation as we know it;
·         the Mayan calendar predicts the end of time will occur on 21 December 2012;
·         the cause will be neutrinos (electrically neutral subatomic particles) from a massive solar flare causing the temperature of the Earth's core to increase.  

So what is the deal with the Mayan calendar and 2012?  Numerous groups have predicted that 2012 will mark the end of the world, a spiritual shift,  a cataclysmic event, a societal upheaval, and so on and so on, the list continues.  The internet is abuzz with it and numerous books and articles have been written about it.  Separate from the Mayan calendar, there have been predictions of a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, severe solar storms associated with the 11-year solar cycle (which may peak in 2012), a reversal of Earth’s rotation axis, a 90- degree flip of the rotation axis and bombardment by large comets or asteroids.    In many of these predictions the Mayan calendar prophecy, as it is called, is relied upon or cited as corroboration. 

Some interesting bits: 

The Mayans were pretty cool dudes.  They lived in the skinny strip of land between North America and South America, stretching from southern Mexico to western Honduras.  The height of their civilisation was between 250 AD and 900AD, before the Spanish invasion. 

At a time when astronomy had to be carried out with the naked eye, they managed to measure the lunar month, the period of Venus and the period of the year, even more accurately than the calculations of the Ancient Greeks.

They were marvellous astronomers, showing what could be done with the naked eye. Their measurements of the lunar month, the period of Venus and the year were more accurate than those of the Ancient Greeks. 

The Mayans were experts at compiling calendars but they didn’t have just one calendar.  They saw time as a meshing of scared or spiritual cycles so that their many calendars added religious elements. 

One of the several Mayan calendars was called the Long Count Calendar, so named because it is based  upon a recurring time period of precisely 1872000 days, approximately equal to 5125.36 years.  The Long Count has been found to be composed of an intricate set of interlocking time cycles, far more complex than those of the basic 52 year Venus calendar also developed by the Mayans, usually referred to as the Short Count Calendar.

The Long Count Calendar was set up at approximately 355BCE, its starting point being deemed by the Mayans to be  Their period calculations work like the price on a petrol bowser or the numbers on a car odometer.  As the first dial, the one on the extreme right, reaches a certain number, the adjacent dial increases by 1.  When that dial reaches a certain number, the next dial increases by 1, and so on. 

Funnily enough, although the calendar has a starting point of, and although it was created in about 355BCE, the start date was backdated by the Mayans to about 3114 BCE on the Julian calendar.  Not bad, eh, for a culture without telescopes, computers or observatories. 

Whereas our dials and numeric system works on 10’s, so that as each dial goes from 0 to 9 and then kicks over the next dial on the 10th number, the Mayans worked on 20’s.  Using that numbering, the calendar covered 5125 years, finishing on

How the Mayan Calendar works, but don't ask me to explain it, I don't even do Sudoku

Some Mayan archaeologists believe that the calendar should reset back to zero at  and start again.  Others disagree and say it should continue to 20, and then reset again.

The fact that the calendar finishes at .0 on 21 December 2012 does not mean that the world also ends.  It means that the calendar may have finished its first cycle. 

21 December happens to be the date of the winter solistice in the Northern hemisphere. Nonetheless, despite what the movie 2012 said, the Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world in 2012.

These extracts are from an article at the website of the Skeptics Society, at:

What is the origin of the prediction that the world will end in December 2012?

The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. Zecharia Sitchin, who writes fiction about the ancient Mesopotamian civilization of Sumer, claimed in several books (e.g., The Twelfth Planet, published in 1976) that he has found and translated Sumerian documents that identify the planet Nibiru, orbiting the Sun every 3600 years. These Sumerian fables include stories of “ancient astronauts” visiting Earth from a civilization of aliens called the Anunnaki. Then Nancy Lieder, a self-declared psychic who claims she is channelling aliens, wrote on her website Zetatalk that the inhabitants of a fictional planet around the star Zeta Reticuli warned her that the Earth was in danger from Planet X or Nibiru. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was recalculated (a standard procedure for doomsdayers) and moved forward to December 2012. Only recently have these two fables been linked to the end of the Mayan long-count at the winter solstice in 2012—hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

Why does the Mayan calendar say the world will end in 2012? I have heard that they have been pretty accurate in the past with other planetary predictions. How can you be sure you know more than they did?

Calendars exist for keeping track of the passage of time, not for predicting the future. The Mayan astronomers were clever, and they developed a very complex calendar. Ancient calendars are interesting to historians, but of course they cannot match the ability we have today to keep track of time, or the precision of the calendars currently in use. The main point, however, is that calendars, whether contemporary or ancient, cannot predict the future of our planet or warn of things to happen on a specific date such as 2012.

I note that my desk calendar ends much sooner, on December 31, 2009, but I do not interpret this as a prediction of Armageddon. It is just the beginning of a new year.

-          Dr David Morrison, 2012 and Counting

So there you have it:  a 5,000 year calendar by a past advanced civilisation will finish on 21 December 2012, just as our one year calendars finish on 31 and agenda of their own.

and my favourite:

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