Will the world really end on December 21, 2012? Some doomsday followers believe it will. Others chuckle at the thought. But one thing is for sure, the end of days occurs with unbelievable death and destruction in the film 2012, released to theaters now.
So, what’s the big deal about this date?
On a vacation in the Yucatan Peninsula this past summer, we took a trip to Tulum, to see the ancient Mayan ruins. Our guide, an archaeologist of Mayan decent, discussed all things Mayan, and gave us an in-depth lesson about the unusual structure of the Mayan calendar, with its concentric circles and glyphs.
The calendar is really a combination of two others: the Tzolk’in and the Haab.
In a nutshell, the Tzolk’in calendar, which consists of 260 days per year, is dubbed “The Great Circle,” and marks the distance in time between two significant astronomical events. Remember, to the Mayan, astronomical events dictated the best time to plant and the best time to harvest. (They did not have their days planned to the precise minute, as we seem to do today.)
Numbers were significant in Mayan culture--in particular, the numbers 20 and 13. (There are 10 fingers and 10 toes, equaling 20; there are 13 major joints in the body where it is believed that illness can attack, and 13 levels of heaven.) Seemingly not coincidental, there are 20 day names and 13 numbers in the Mayan calendar.
The calendar starts with the first day name and the number 1. The days continue in sequence until all 13 numbers are used. At this point, the numbers begin again at 1, but the day name continues sequentially to the 14th day name. After the 20th day name, the numbers continue on in their increments of 13 (at this point, it would be number 8) and the day names rest to the beginning.
At the end, you will have 260 unique days. One 260-day cycle is needed to prepare the land for planting crops, such as corn, and another 260-day cycle is needed to grow and harvest it—in effect, the distance between the two significant astronomical events.
The Maya liked to keep things simple. But some complexity came into play when the 360-day Haab calendar was integrated with the Tzolk’in. The end result was the Calendar Round, whereby the 260 days of the Tzolk’in were matched up with the 360 days of the Haab. Now, the calendar had 18,890 unique days, or 52 years. But, the calendar itself only measured a single year. And the Mayans wanted to record history that spanned hundred, even thousands, of years.
This was done with the so-called Long Count Calendar. Enter more complexity. The span of the Long Count Calendar is called the Great Cycle, and lasts approximately 5,125.36 years. Historians believe, based on documents and interpretations, that the current Great Cycle began August 13, 3114 BC. Dates in present-day time are depicted as a set of five numbered sets, separated by periods. Reading from left to right, the first place signifies the number of baktuns since the beginning of the Great Cycle, followed by the number of katuns, tuns, uinals, and kins. (Each has a value, such as one day is a kin, and 20 days, or kins, is a uinal.)
On December 21, 2012, the Mayan representation of the Great Circle number will be represented as 188.8.131.52.0.
Some say that is the day the earth will end, as predicted by the Mayans. So, what did our guide think? He explained that when that day happens, the calendar will simply reset and begin anew. After all, it is just a numbering system, a way for the ancient Mayans to track time, particularly for plantings and harvestings.
Nevertheless, the concept is intriguing and sparked the doomsday film, 2012, which opens this weekend in theaters. (Read about how all the effects for the film were created in the November issue of Computer Graphics World.)
What will happen, if anything special, on December 21, 2012? We will all know on December 22, 2012. But for now, go see the film for what it is, entertainment.