Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense

Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense

Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
May 11 2012 12:24 PM

Re-cycled Mayan calendar nonsense

... or, B'ak'tun The Future.

There's some buzz going around the web right now because some Mayan archaeologists found wall writings in the Xultun ruins in Guatemala dealing with the Mayan calendar. The writing clearly shows the Mayan calendar extending well past 2012.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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As you can imagine, this is being played up as (yet more) evidence the world won't end come December.

Well, duh.


But the thing is, we already knew that. I mean, of course we know there's nothing to any of the Mayan Apocalypse nonsense doomcriers are advocating. That's all crap. But in this case, as far as I can tell, what they found doesn't change much in this regard. It's a fascinating archaeological find and gives insight on how the Mayans worked out their math and astronomy when it came to calendars -- there are notes painted on the wall clearly describing the patterns of Venus and Mars in the sky, which is very cool -- but I don't think it changes the 12/21/12 nonsense at all.

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Mostly because we already knew their calendars went past December 21 of this year! For one thing, the cycle that ends this year, the b'ak'tun, is a repeating cycle. The ancient Mayans had lots of cycles to their calendar, just as we do. We have cycles of days, weeks, months, years, decades... The Mayans used different units, but it boils down to the same idea. They had cycles roughly equivalent to a month, a year, and so on.

The b'ak'tun is a unit roughly 394 years long. When one b'ak'tun ended, another one started, just like any other cycle. So when the b'ak'tun we're in now ends, on or about December of this year, why then, the next one starts up.

Think of it this way: what happens on December 31 of every year? You throw away the old calendar and hang up a new one. Tadaaa!

Worse, there's no evidence that the Mayans even thought the end of this b'ak'tun was the time of any kind of renewal, doomsday, or anything. All of that nonsense can be traced back to a series of New Agey books and speculations that built on one another like a pyramid built upside down. At some point, it'll fall over. Stuart Robbins at Exposing Pseudoastronomy has a great series of articles all about this.

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By the way, there are longer Mayan calendar cycles, too, like the pictun, which is 20 b'ak'tuns. The pictun we're in now ends in the 4772! So clearly the Mayans didn't think the world was ending in 2012.

There's also one cycle that lasts for 63 million years! If you believe in the Mayan Apocalypse, I guess they knew about the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, too.

If I sound a little exasperated, well, I am. I have never been a fan of nonsense, but nonsense doomsday conspiracy theories really make me angry. Whether the doomsday mongers believe in what they say or not, they are scaring people over stuff that's provably wrong! If evil exists, that kind of thing falls under the definition in my book.

If there's any good to come of any of this, it's a renewed interest in the real Mayan culture, calendars, and how the ancient peoples of our planet used astronomy to reckon time. And, as usual, reality is far more interesting, engaging, and plain old cool than any nonsense we can make up about it.

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