For some time there has been talk about the termination of an era at the end of 2012. But, what exactly did the Mayas say? How do we know what a certain date means precisely? What is its significance and importance? And above all, what does their message mean for us, our culture, and our knowledge?
All these are questions that interest us.
The first one deals with the Mayas themselves, whose civilization is plagued with surprising elements: they built impressive cities, many of which we can still admire today; they were the most advanced in astronomy during their period: they were able to measure time; they developed a coherent mathematical system and a complex hieroglyphic writing system; and highly advanced agricultural technology.
All these factors have led thousands of people to the profound study of the Maya culture: the accuracy of their calendars, the precise calculation of past and future celestial events, together with a cosmogony in which time is conceived circularly, as cycles that rise and fall. However, the ending of a cycle in the Maya calendar, that coincides with the 21st of December, 2012, has caused great expectation in the past years.
The end of a cycle is inscribed in two stones carved over 1300 years ago, in the VII century AD. Both stones were found in the state of Tabasco, a short distance away from each other. One is a small brick found in Comalcalco; the other is called Monument 6 in Tortuguero. Their message is brief. At the end of the thirteenth B’ak’tun, which coincides with the date of December 21, 2012, a god will descend from heaven, known as Bolon Yokte’ K’u, or “Lord of Light”-, and a cycle of 5,125 years will be completed.
The concept of time for the Mayas was very different than ours. To them time was not something abstract; it was conceived as a cosmic change produced by the movement of a sacred being, the Sun, which became the center of their cosmovision. Due to the circular movement of the Sun, which determines the changes on Earth (days, nights, seasons), time was conceived as a cyclic movement.
Thus the importance of their calendars, which also allowed their rulers to legitimize their power by linking their life and actions to complex symbolic accounts of future and past events, and of the gods and rulers born before them.
The Maya calendar system is based on two counts: a long one, starting at day zero 18.104.22.168.0. (4 Ajaw 8 Kumk’u), equivalent to August 13, 3114 BC (in the Gregorian Calendar), with measurement units like the Bak’tun, which represents a period of about 400 years. Each cycle would conclude at the end of every Bak’tun, for a total of 5200 Maya years (or 5125 years in the Gregorian Calendar); besides, they had a calendar based on a short count, that integrated the sun and the ritual; both began on the same day, but due to the duration (the first lasts 365 days, and the second one 260 days), they would get out of sync and would coincide once every 52 years. Like rotating gearwheels, these cycles were integrated mechanically and symmetrically into the linear computation of the long count.
For this reason, according to the Maya calendar, it can be stated that the Mayas never mentioned that the world nor time would end, as stated, for example, by their texts regarding dates after 2012. In the Temple of Inscriptions in Palenque dates are mentioned that will occur in over 2,000 years; that is, in the year 4772, according to epigraphists.
In fact, the only Maya prophecy that we know of, which by the way occurred without much credit, was written in the Chilam Balam and it announced the end of the world in 1887 AC. However, the arithmetic of the Maya calendar does state that the termination of the thirteenth Bak’tun signals the end of a period and the beginning of another, and so on until completing 20 Bak’tuns, which will form a single Pik´tun.
This is the answer. The beginning of a new era. The rest can be attributed to rumors and legends about the “end of the world” in 2012.