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Maya calendars are beautiful and scary - but not predictive.
Saturday, December 8, 2012

I've been writing about the Mayan calendar "end of world" goofiness since 2009 - sheesh!

I'm trying to figure out something to say about the Mayan endof-world foolishness for my Dec. 17 Telegraph column. The problem is that I first wrote about how stupid the whole idea is clear back in 2009, when I interviewed retired Dartmouth geology professor Vincent Malstrom, known in the field for work on the calendars used by pre-Columbian civilizations from the Yucatan, and I can't figure out how to not just repeat myself. But that's probably what I'll do!

I wrote about the whole phenomenon in January of this year, titled "End-of-the-world predictions are a dime a dozen," (you can read it here) which includes this excerpt:

Malstrom is one of the people driven crazy by the 2012 phenomenon, although he told me he suspected he knew the reason: “These guys are only out to make a buck on these scare tactics.”

The calendars are interesting because, uniquely in the world, many used a sacred annual calendar of 260 days as well as a 365-day version for secular activities. Malstrom believes the odd calendar reflects the growing season around the 15th parallel in southern Mexico, where most of these societies sprang up.

Be that as it may, combining the two calendars required a numerical balancing act using the base-20 counting system favored in Mesoamerica. The result is a grand cycle made up of 13 baktuns, each of which is made up of 20 katuns, each of which is made up of 20 tuns, each of which is made of 18 uinals that are 20 days long.

The 13th baktun ends in late December (the exact date is unknown, despite what you’ll hear). This is merely the equivalent of the millennium we went through in 2000 – a meaningless result of an arbitrary calendar – but you wouldn’t know that from the hoopla, which claims that it marks the end of time.

You can absolutely rest assured that nothing disastrous or world-changing is going to happen in 2012 because of any Mayan, astrological, mystical or other-worldly event. What will happen because of the stuff we ordinary humans do to each other, financially or environmentally or otherwise? That, unfortunately, is something to worry about.