10 Facts About the Mayan Calendar “Apocalypse” You Might Not Know

The world will not end on December 21, 2012 But that doesn’t stop people from thinking it will.

These “end of the world” predictions have been a part of human culture for much of recorded history. The 12/21/2012 prognostication is only the latest and certainly won’t be the last.

By now you probably already know that this particular doom prediction is tied to the fact that the Mayan calendar runs out in 2012. This is true, but my calendar has run out every December since as long as I can remember and it has never meant the end of the world.

Is there some special reason to believe that the Mayan calendar is especially important or that their predictions somehow trump everything we know about geology and astronomy? I think not.

Ten things about the Mayan Calendar Apocalypse that you might not know:

1. The Mayan Calendar is NOT an Aztec Calendar

Oh, sure that seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many websites that claim to have the facts on the Mayan doom don’t even know enough to show you a Mayan calender.

If you do a Google image search on “Mayan Calendar” by a large majority most of what you see will be pictures of the Aztec calendar. The Mayan calendar is setup like multiple gears with different parts representing different time periods. Here’s a picture to help you tell them apart.

2. The Maya are not gone

This one surprises a lot of people. The Mayans are not some ancient lost race.  They are still around and presumably have moved on to use paper calendars. Large groups of modern Maya still live in Mexico and speak “Yucatec Maya.” If you saw the movie Apocalypto, you heard this language being spoken.

3. The destruction of Earth is highly implausible

My friend, astronomer Phil Plait, has an excellent book called Death from the Skies! in which he discusses in great detail some of the many ways the Universe might eradicate life here on Earth. Fortunately, it turns out that the Universe is really big and most of the likely causes of our demise are statistically VERY unlikely to befall us at this point. Large rocks from space are still a real threat, but that’s the one we ignore the most. We do have some people looking out into space for rocks now, but that field is in its infancy.  We can tell you that in a few billion years the sun (that big yellow thing that shows up in the sky from time to time) will become a red giant and burn us to a cinder.  Stories about “rogue planets” cruising into our solar system are implausible.  Anything that big that is supposed to be here by December 21 would already be visible in the night sky. In general, people don’t realize how big our solar system is. The fastest thing we know is light and it takes light 8 minutes to get to Earth. And we’re only 93 million miles from it.  It takes light 5.3 HOURS to get to Pluto. That’s really far away. If you want to see some idea of the scale of the universe, check out this incredible flash demo.

4. The Maya did not invent Mayonnaise

Mayonnaise (a tasty emulsion made from eggs, oil and vinegar or citrus juice) actually originated in the Mahon region of Spain.

5. Aliens did not build the Maya pyramids

Okay this is a pet peeve of mine. If you ever want to learn how people learned to build pyramid structures, get some brick and try to build tall structures.  It only takes a few experiments to discover that if you want a brick or stone structure to be tall, you have to start with a large base and make each level smaller. That’s the only way to do it without modern inventions like steel girders. And if you build in platforms that become smaller with each level, the end result is a pyramid. No aliens necessary.

6. The Mayan calendar didn’t predict other important world events

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if the Mayan calendar was such a great predictor then why weren’t they waiting with armies when the Spanish Conquistadors showed up? (Hint: It was because their calendar tells the date, not the future.)

7. Some people think that the modern Western calendar is a hoax

Yes, from the same class of conspiracy that brings us “flat-Earthers” comes the “Phantom Time Hypothesis.”  It’s a silly idea, but if you’d like to read a really good summary of the premise and why it is bogus, check out my friend Brian Dunning’s explanation.

8. Calendars are inherently inaccurate

Calendars give us a common point of reference for talking about when events are going to happen or when they happened in the past. But in the big picture, they don’t work so well.  The speed of the earth as it travels around the sun is changing every day. The Gregorian calendar has been modified to try and account for this, but it will have to be modified again and again in the future.  And don’t even get me started on what Einstein did to our understanding of time and speed. The bottom line is that a pretty calendar is good for a year but what constitutes “a year” will continue to change.

9. Improvements in printing have made stone calendars obsolete

There may be many reasons why you don’t see Mayan calendars continuing past December 21, 2012, but one of the biggest is that modern printing technology has replaced stone calendars with inexpensive paper calendars. And even those might be at risk to the newer technology of digital calendars! I thought maybe if the Maya made a pin-up calendar they could squeeze more life out of their existing calendar model, but this approach simply does not scale.

10. You can get great calendars at discount prices at OfficeZilla.com

Well come on!  You know this is an office-supply blog, right?  If the Maya had access to OfficeZilla back in their time they might have just bought some “At-A-Glance” planners instead of carving giant stone blocks.  I mean with our quick delivery and low prices… Wait a minute!?

Could it be that they knew that by December 21, 2012 they would be able to buy a new calendar from OfficeZilla!?  Forget everything I said before – these guys were AMAZING in their predictive power! Follow their lead, folks.  Come get your calendars from us before it is too late!

I want to close with a relevant quote from the most famous Maya, the poet Angelou: “All great achievements require time.”  Grab a calendar and start managing your time today!

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