The ancient Maya Civilization is believed to have established, prospered and declined between 2000 BC and 950 AD around present day Central America and Mexico. Among other things the Mayans invented calendars of remarkable accuracy and complexity. But it is their long count calendar, that led to the famous 2012 doomsday theory. Let us understand why?

A typical date in the long count calendar would be written as – 12.19.19.17.19

The basic unit of a long count calendar was kin (equivalent to a day in the Christian calendar.)

The date in our example says 19 kins.

For every 20 kins there was a uinal, you may think of them as 20 day months.

For every 18 uinals there was a tun, you may have noticed that a tun = 18*20 = 360 kins or days (quite close to the 365 day Christian calender year)

Similarly 20 tuns made up 1 katun (360*20 = 7,200 days)

and 20 katuns made up 1 baktun (7,200*20 = 144,000 kins or days)

Baktun was the largest count in the long count calender and there were a total of 13 baktuns from 1 to 13 (not from 0 to 12).

Aztec Stone Calendar
Aztec Stone Calendar

 

The Christian calender is more like a number line going to infinite in both directions with the year of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth as the central point. But the Mayan calendar had to begin somewhere. The first date ought to have been 0.0.0.0.0 but the first date of the Mayan calendar is 13.0.0.0.0 which corresponds to 11th August 3114 BC in the Christian calendar. This according to the Mayans is probably the date the world was created.

13 baktuns would mean – 144,000*13 = 1,872,000 days = 5,125.36 years

The date in our example 12.19.19.17.19 is the last date in the calendar, the date is 1,872,000 th day since the calender began. The date was 20th December, 2012.

The long count had no date for 21st December 2012, unless you make the calendar cyclical and call it 13.0.0.0.0

The Mayans were great astronomers and it is no wonder why the end of their calender had led to such speculations.

So why did the Mayans pick 21st December 2012 to reset their calender. That is another fascinating story for another day.

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