Posted by on Nov 3, 2009 in Interesting Facts | 1 comment

0099-end-of-world

There is a lot of noise these days about the imminent end of earth coming up in 2012. This latest doomsday prediction is based on an ancient Mayan calendar, showing the end of all creation on December 21, 2012. Before you think you’ve lucked out not having to buy christmas presents, let’s examine the facts.

The Maya was an ancient culture living in the neighbourhood of modern day Mexico. During their golden age of 250 AD to 900 AD, they were pretty much the most advanced civilization on earth. They excelled in mathematics and astronomy and they loved calculating big numbers. This whole end-of-life-as-we-know-it story is based on the Mayan Long Count Calendar.

Think of it like an odometer in your car where the first number reaches 9, then nudges the next number up one, and starts counting from zero again… except this Long Count Calendar wasn’t so neat and tidy as that. Like our modern calendar, the basic unit was a day, which they called a kin.

1 uinal (month) was 20 kin long. A tun (year) was 18 uinals, or 360 kin. Beyond that they also had katun, which was 20 tun, and baktun being 20 katun.

So their very first day, with the odometer just starting, would look like 0.0.0.0.0. Eighteen more sleeps and it would look like 0.0.0.0.19. Since a uinal was 20 kin, the next day would show 0.0.0.1.0, so it would bump the month column up one, and start counting the days over again… just like in your car.

To throw a more confusing wrench in the works, they would count kin from 0 to 19, and uinal were counted from 0 to 17 before resetting. The baktun, the longest unit on the calendar, are counted from 1 to only 13. So really, technically, 0.0.0.0.0 should be displayed as 13.0.0.0.0. (kind of like how we go from December 31st to January 1st with no zero in between)

Now, this whole count goes along for 1,872,000 days until it once again reaches it’s capacity and ticks over from 12.19.19.17.19 to the clean slate of 13.0.0.0.0 and starts over again. Converting this long count calendar into our modern Gregorian calendar places that roll-over date on the now famous December 21, 2012, causing numerologists to let out a squeal of joy. (12/21/12 is just the sort of coincidence that starts religions)

So that’s what the Mayan “doomsday prediction” is. The end of a calendar. My wall calendar goes to the end of next January, but I’m not panicking. I’ll buy another calendar. My grandfather’s favourite truck had it’s odometer start over multiple times (they didn’t have as many digits back then) and it kept on running fine. It’s just numbers arbitrarily assigned to days. Heck, they aren’t even certain when the 13.0.0.0.0 count really started according to our modern date system, so the 12/21/12 date is just the best guess.

We’ve survived plenty of doomsday predictions without a scratch, and this is just yet another one that will bring many manipulative people momentary fame and a few extra dollars. You can relax knowing that the end of the world will most likely come about in a completely random cosmic event that, while kind of a big deal to us, will be insignificant in the scope of the universe.