National Geographic

VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers

Menu

2012: The Truth About The End of the World

Remember what life was like in 1999? Millennium fever was sweeping the world and scientists, regular folk, and the new-age-erati were focused on January 1, 2000. Y2K was coming and it was bringing with it a digital Armageddon. And when it finally arrived, we celebrated (and ducked) and nothing happened … except January 2.

Something very similar is happening with the approach of the much anticipated date of December 21, 2012—otherwise known as 13.0.0.0.0 on the Maya calendar. Will it bring mass destruction through floods, fire, and asteroids (as Hollywood would have us believe)? Or will it be the dawning of a new religious age that’s something more spiritual, peaceful, and fulfilling than the multitude of religions that already exist around the world?

The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth about 2012 (Harmony Books, ISBN: 978-0-385-52726-2, $24, 2011)

David Stuart is one of the world’s preeminent Maya epigraphers (an expert in the study of inscriptions) and historians. In his recently released book The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012 , Stuart expresses his frustration with the pop culture hullaballoo over the Maya’s supposedly prophetic view of December 21, 2012. The date was in fact important to the Maya, Stuart says, but he emphatically points out that “no Maya text, ancient, colonial, or modern ever predicted the end of time or the end of the world.”

With an eye on 12/21/12, Stuart takes an anthropological, archaeological and historical look into the far and near past of Mesoamerican cultures and, as Stuart himself writes, “examines history, ancient texts, modern Maya religion, and the early development of research to show how the Maya conceived of a remarkable structure to time and space that’s significant on its own as a compelling human achievement.”

December 21, 2012, was extremely important to the Maya, just as January 1, 2000, was important to the modern world. Those three zeros that follow the “2” make it an inherently significant, though arbitrary, calendar-based milestone. Key milestones in the never ceasing revolutions of time were much more important to the Maya than they are to modern Americans. We use those cycles of time to celebrate (for example, anniversaries mark the passage of time and annual events like New Years celebrate key events). For the Maya, time and dates, and their passages, were the driving force in their day-to-day, practical, and spiritual lives.

“No Maya text, ancient, colonial, or modern – ever predicted the end of time or the end of the world.”

The sole recorded reference to the infamous 12/21/12 date comes from a small ruin at Tortuguero, not far from the more well-known site of Palenque in Mexico. Stuart writes: “On a large slab … it reads (in glyphs) that ‘thirteen bak’tuns will end on a date that corresponds to 12/21/12.’ This is the only reference to that specific date, and from that alone has come a multitude of speculation over what this actually means.”

Time was so important…controlling it, or at least the perception of controlling it, became a key role within the ancient Maya communities. Stuart writes that “…Shaman priests who oversaw (religious) ceremonies were probably well versed in the messages and meanings of time as it was anciently structured—what Mesoamerican cultures called the ‘Order of Days’ – using it as a framework to divine the reasons why” the gods, and what they represented (rain, for example), did what they did.

He continues: “Time was not just a means of measuring the course of history but was also a … shaping force in human experience. … Time was an ‘actor’ invested with personality and character who shaped the very nature of history itself.”

El Castillo at Chichén Itzá is the iconic representation of the Maya. A total of 91 steps on each of its four sides, plus the one step platform at the top, equals 365 - the number of days in the h'ab. (photo by Jason Golomb)

The author compares the Aztec and Maya, who had similar roots in their cultures and comparably deep devotion to calendrical cycles. A Spanish friar who spent nearly his entire life living near Mexico City in the decades following the Conquest wrote: “The characters [glyphs representing the days] also taught the Indian nations the days on which they were to sow, reap, till the land, cultivate corn, weed, harvest, store, shell the ears of corn, sow beans and flaxseed.”

Religion was also deeply connected to the calendar and times of year. The complex calendrical interpretations became a merger of almanac and bible. “In the minds of Maya kings, time’s character evidently held more power and influence than they themselves did. The role of the ruler was to harness and manage time,” writes Stuart.

Stuart analyzes many of the glyphs the Maya used in tracking time, while diving deeply into the mechanics of Maya timekeeping. The book includes detailed images and drawings, many of which are Stuart’s own work. The transcription of their designs is equal parts art and science as Stuart often views the glyphs through the eyes of an art historian in determining their root meanings and genesis.

For example, the glyph that represents the idea of “year” (or ha’b) is supposed to be in the shape of a certain type of drum. Stuart theorizes that the symbol ties in with the use of drums during seasonal festivals and celebrations and so became a metaphor for the marking of time.

In order to understand the Maya basis for having inscribed dates throughout Mesoamerica, Stuart builds a foundation for understanding their calendar. Or rather, calendars. The Maya loved their daykeeping so much that they had different calendars for different things.

Stela 1 at Coba reflects the Grand Long Count of over 28 octillion years, according to author Stuart. (photo by Jason Golomb)

The 260-day divinatory tzolk’in “was the calendar most important in prognostication and divination, acts that themselves give a sense of order and meaning,” writes Stuart. One possible reason for the 260-day focus is that it corresponds with the span of human gestation—the life and physical cycle of the world in which we live.

A 365-day calendar called ha’b “provided a framework for communal agricultural festivals and ceremonies, and complemented the more esoteric nature of the 260-day tzolk’in,” he writes. The ha’b is just one part of the Maya Long Count system, which generated that 13.0.0.0.0 date that has so many people buzzing.

The Long Count calendar keeps a running tally of time from a certain “zero” starting point. Based on the data that Mayanists have gathered over the years, the Long Count started on August 11, 3114 B.C. Because the Maya recorded dates of historical significance on many of the artifacts that remain today, scholars are able to track time to that starting point, as well as look ahead to significant future dates like the one carved into the Tortuguero slab.

The Long Count calendar consists of five component parts. The smallest segment is a day, or k’in; 20 days make a winal; 18 winals make a tun (winals only go to 18 because the Maya were savvy enough to use a 365-day solar time frame). Twenty tuns make a ka’tun, and 20 ka’tuns make a bak’tun. As each time period reaches its end, it starts back at 1. It’s similar to how, when we get to December 31, our calendar starts back over on January 1.

“Few archaeologists hold much stock in the idea that the multiple rises and falls of the ancient Maya might be closely tied to these inner workings on the…calendar and concepts of prophecy.”

Did the Maya anticipate changes to their physical world based on their calendar and its interplay with their religious beliefs? Absolutely. Agricultural cycles were mapped by the calendar and had inextricable ties to religion. Were they able to track and follow the movement of heavenly bodies in space? Absolutely. We know this, because they wrote about it in the extant Maya documents that survived the Conquest. Did they have some uniquely spiritual insight that foretold some combination of the end of the world and/or spiritual renewal? No. No more than any other deeply spiritual society that looks to the skies and their physical world to find meanings in the ways they live.

That date is significant and it’s no surprise it was actualized and commemorated by the ancient Maya. On December 21, 2012, the bak’tun number turns from 12 to 13 (13.0.0.0.0), and 13 was an important number to the Maya.

Stuart describes Maya time as something that “folds” over itself … almost like a translucent piece of paper that, when folded, you can see through to what’s written behind but more clearly see what’s written on top. The shadow of the past interplays and contrasts with the present. And so it goes on into the future.

Comments

  1. saba
    berwick
    July 13, 2013, 2:57 am

    my cousins go to minaret collage and they said to us that when god made us he sent us a message that said the end of the world is going to be on a Friday is that tru? please tell me

  2. Lauren B
    North America
    December 20, 2012, 2:50 pm

    The Maya created a calendar that stopped one era and created a new one. We are at the end of our calendar and we are going to be starting a new one. NO where in there calendar does it state that it will be the end of the Earth as we know it. It states that its a new beginning. Doesnt state any of the horrific hollywood tales of catastropic ends to the Earth. There are many other cultures that were part of the mesoamerican times that predicited a change in the world on this specific date. Although they had nothing to do with each other they all somehow predicted the same date. This is because, then, they were all excellenct astronomers seeking advice from the Gods and the stars. They followed with great mathmatical skills creating their owns cycles of the Earths rotation and solar year. There have been predictions calculated from then from various religions stating that the “end as we know it” will apparently come causing winds, fire, and chaos… now now people really? the only ones we really have to worry about is ourselves. We could cause these chaotic istances. Scary to think we could cause the collapse of the government and economic stability. We are the ones to fear not the Earth. Honestly, Im not worried what may happen although there are a thousand ways that this Earth could end! This would take thousands of years before the planet would die. Unless we were hit by astroids or sucked up by some giant black hole or…well the sun gave out (which was predicted not to happen for another 5 billion years), I know theres more but at this point if something were to happen tomorrow, 12/21/12 then so be it. At this point there is nothing we can do so panicing and continuing not to sleep or eat is pointless. Enjoy your “last nights sleep” and “last meal” like that of the “LAST DINNER”. Our Lord grubbed, now go do the same.

  3. michelle
    fortworth
    December 19, 2012, 5:44 pm

    im tired of hearing that the world is going to end december 21st i know its not going to happen its all bull crap i think its not true at all and there is no prove

  4. mayaw
    ui
    December 19, 2012, 3:02 am

    happy ending earth

  5. shikha
    December 19, 2012, 2:12 am

    if Maya or Nostradamus and all were right in predicting all the events on earth and obviously about the end of the world and all ……..let me ask you if you all were knowing about tsunami and earthquake………why hadn’t you all forced government to save humanity? or why this wasn’t prevented?…..if those intelligent people predicted something which really happens then i think people should utilize their knowledge..instead of scaring normal humans…..

  6. Bradley
    December 17, 2012, 5:07 pm

    Personally I think all these believers don’t think outside the box I saw another blog about the Vaticans making telescopes and world leaders making bunkers even if it is real it would be because they are scared and want to ‘save their own lives’ just because they believe it will happen

  7. Desh
    Colombo,Sri Lanka
    December 17, 2012, 9:28 am

    Dont think too much of this 21st Dec. Just stay relax and do what you have to do.

  8. melanie
    canada
    December 16, 2012, 3:19 pm

    I dont believe its going to happen the Mayans predicted something and they are wrong why are you making everyone worry and scared with these programs on tv we just want real answers ?

  9. ainsley
    scotland
    December 15, 2012, 5:57 pm

    I’m so scared about all this and every time I try to find out if its going to happion all I get is I don’t know ….. I would like to know the truth a yes or no just so I can make my kids happy and have an early Christmas if needed.

  10. Harrison
    united states
    December 13, 2012, 5:37 pm

    Um but so ive been watching the Nat geo channel and it has been saying thry predicted a planetary allighnment and his will call for effect on the earth. why do u guys make these shows if it worries people? Um well they predicted all these other like solar eclips and they were right? So why arent they right about this? 2 more ? First what happens after December 21 2012? And secound if they didnt predict the end of the world then why does everything say that like natgeo on tv and all these shows u guys make?

  11. dontay
    cleveland oh
    December 13, 2012, 11:33 am

    i think the world will not end at all because the Mayans have no proof that the world will end. Just because their calender may have not have the rest of it doest mean that the world will end.. But i will tell you one thing if we have another world war i think GOD will make hes decision.

  12. Kat
    Colorado
    December 5, 2012, 12:18 pm

    I, personally, think the answer is simple. No, the world, itself, will not end. I’ve done extensive reading ( I mean months worth of it) and have not found a single thing that says the the world will cease to exist. No comets/meteors/rouge planet will annihilate the planet. The planet is not going to be dragged into the sun. I do, however, believe that the human species may be depopulated by the very fact that we haven’t learned to be more than the animal. We are cruel and sadistic beasts by nature. I also believe that, sooner or later, the very nature of this world will finally destroy human kind. It may be in 2 days or 2000 years, who really knows besides God. As long as the human species thinks that they can do whatever they please to our atmosphere, lands and waters, we will just make it happen all the sooner.

  13. rosejaan
    saudi arabia
    December 3, 2012, 8:36 am

    well,i believe in allah,and he is da only who knows everytthing,so i dun care wat people says,,…

  14. Fahad
    KSA
    December 2, 2012, 1:46 pm

    Hi everyone ,

    The truth that the world will not end and no one noes when it will end. Only one person will now when the world will end is God. And maybe the world will end right now or tmorrow. I know how you guys feel. Scared to die and want to live till you get really old but no one noes when the world will end Don’t forget That god Loves you and Only god noes when the world will end

  15. tumi
    south africa
    December 1, 2012, 1:53 pm

    I ve got the filling that 21-12-2012……is the d-day……….things. that are happening here South Africa really……mean that the end is nearer……..

  16. Nisaq
    pakistan
    November 28, 2012, 9:11 am

    it is not true that world is going to end….

  17. Harrison
    United States
    November 27, 2012, 7:38 pm

    I still think both that the world will end and won’t end. I’ve seen the show doomsdaypreppers and it makes me feel it will end. I need to know if it is or not? How can the Mayans even predict this date? And I also need to know what time they predicted it will end on December 21 ( like the time of the day or like a specific time)?

    • Jason Golomb
      November 28, 2012, 8:37 am

      Harrison – thanks for commenting. I appreciate your time. The Maya didn’t actually predict that the world would end. The ‘big day’ indicates the end of one calendar cycle. Just like December 31 isn’t the end of the world, but rather the end of the annual calendar cycle in modern times.

  18. vijay
    india
    September 17, 2012, 3:44 pm

    I dont want to think and waste my precious times by these talks. Since, if though, you know that world will end up with december 21, What you will do at that point. Simply you have to shout, get worried and must get die. That will be the only climax for anybody, if at all the world may be dying at that day. Instead, you people, just enjoy your times. Life is so so so precious. Dont waste your every colourfull micro, or milliseconds just because of this unbelievable, unproven things. Just, you people enjoy. If, the world did’nt ends on dec.21. The next day itself you will be hurrying for office or school. And, the just next day itself everybody thinks that, “oh god, how crazy did i believed these foolish talks and gets worried and my heart feels so bad” and even will forget in the next week too, and am sure, you will forget about this 2012end, by the next 10years completely… So, i kindly ask you everybody, dont waste your time my lovable brothers, sisters, moms, and dads… You everyone are gifted with your lovable family. So enjoy with them plss. If anything is going to happen, hv happens. Dont get worried, because, your sadness and fears will never change anything, but wasting your times… Take care everybody. Love you all…

  19. Gopi
    India
    August 6, 2012, 3:18 am

    Is the world going to end or not!?

  20. honey
    pakistan
    July 21, 2012, 2:59 am

    its not ture that 12/21/12 is the end of the world because in the
    bible the good says i am the way and the truth or life. its mean that the end of our earth is not to 2012 . There are no end our earth in 12/21/12 .

  21. joyce
    hamilton
    July 16, 2012, 7:41 am

    gosh is this all true, i just cant think straight, as each day i think about it, it just scares me. Just hoping for someone to tell me that its all wrong

  22. jon eacrown
    philipphines
    January 17, 2012, 6:06 am

    thats so . what will happen when the end of the world starts what do you of thats

  23. Frank Yasm
    Montreal, Canada
    November 12, 2011, 9:30 pm

    Hi Jason,

    can have your email ID in personal. I need to ask you something.

    would appreciate.

  24. Matthew Ceder
    United States
    September 21, 2011, 8:49 pm

    Today many people around the world are troubled. They fear the future even though it has become soo promising, the ways of our past still haunt us and society expects a looming evil to take all of this away! That is a reasonable fear because we have come so far and have soo much. We are truely comfortable with the way we live now. radical change is pretty new and scary to the human psyche. So any form of change must come with time. No one person can measure the amount of change a society undertakes while venturing forth into a new era! But you can take bits & pieces here and there and put them on the bulletin board for all to see. So what are these rings in the tree that suggest that we have a engine capable of taking humanity to a new infinite world of possibilities.

    For accuracy, to give you an idea of the human engine and what we can do. Humanity has gone from the wheel to space travel in just under two thousand years. Cultivation and farming expanded for one thousand years, the industrial revolution in hundreds and now the information age in just decades. We are still soaking in quite a big pool of ever growing technology, information and concrete enviroments. The world we have shaped out of clay today has only just begun to have its deep impact in the human psyche tomorrow.

    Today humanity has been faced with the challenge of keeping up with new technology and information all over the world and with the coming of the internet we can now share important knowledge and note a shift in the mass conciousness in human society. However, the internet has yet to fully impose its effects on our society. In time, most all of humanity will be almost 100% on everything known in the world. This could be years away but luckily with freedom of information, the mass conscious of human kind will be awakened and for once we will all think very similar and alike. This is a new age and point in history where we start to cultivate our minds more so than ever imagined while continuing to cultivate, food, energy, fuel, among many other resources that we will learn to conserve and reproduce at exceptional rates and values. One day with luck we will survive the human condition and venture forth to the stars. The time we live in now is the true testimony to nature for our future. We must prove to ourselves and to our home that we are worthy of life and humble enough to carry its torch in the darkness!

    There is no future that is not like the past. There is no day like today and today is the dawning of a new age for mankind. Each and everyone of us are playing a significant role in the shape of things to come with every thought we think and words we say, every person we share with, help and hug. There will be no more hate to conquer love when we all sacrifice a part of our selves for the good of our community and commit to prosperity and wellness of our civilization as a whole. As a Human Civilization made of awakened people that live on one island surrounded by one ocean maintained and groomed by intelligence and peace; promoting a world for all of life to enjoy.

  25. L
    September 21, 2011, 1:27 pm

    If the mayans could predict the future, they would still exist.

    • Jason Golomb
      September 21, 2011, 1:50 pm

      Ha! Well…maybe. It’s one thing to “see” and another thing to do something about it.

  26. Matt
    LDN
    September 20, 2011, 8:18 am

    A lot of the teachings of ancient cultures point to a fundamental change in the position of our solar system within the galaxy that repeats in cycles of 25000 years. Scientific evidence points to a speeding up of evolution around every cycle which might imply a recognition of this fact from the Mayans.

    With this cycle comes adjustment hence why many of the planets in our solar system are unexplainedly heating up. Sounds familiar right – earth and climate change? Perhaps we havent been around long enough yet to realise that not only do we have to account for the 4 seasons and mini ice ages and ice ages but also solar system rhythyms we havent experienced in our living memory. If thats the case then who knows what an increase in energy might have on both our solar systems planets but also life on earth. Perhaps we undertake a sudden speedy jump? Perhaps we see a massive rise in energy disturbance alla earthquake, hurricanes and tornadoes (which we have these last 10 years) In any sense the death and destruction myth is actualy more like a renewing of the seasons idea per the seaosn but on a galactic level. Lets embrace it.

    Live long and prosper.

  27. Ali Fakhruddin
    India
    September 17, 2011, 2:38 am

    Jason is right at one point that nothings goin to happen but I think, just a thought, that there might be some changes in the atmosphere. Many great civilizations and religious beliefs have come been claiming about the changes for this date of the last month. The Maya civilization, Nastradamus, The chinese, The Arabs and many more.. But God knows best

  28. Alex
    September 16, 2011, 3:15 pm

    Never forget that time is all but relative. As to when it starts is relative to when you start counting that time “existed.” Truthfully, we have started counting our time as if it were a solidified basis.

    • Jason Golomb
      September 16, 2011, 3:22 pm

      Alex – great point. The ‘start’ of the Maya Long Count calendar is acknowledged as being a relative date “backed into” by scientists as they started to peel away the layers of Maya heiroglyphics. The caption beneath the picture of the stela from Coba mentions The GRAND Long Count which references a (relative) time frame of a ridiculously long time ago.

      Perhaps the Maya timekeepers had a better sense of the relatively you mention than we tend to have ourselves now.

  29. Mayuri hedau
    india
    September 16, 2011, 1:00 pm

    finally got acceptable answer for my question….. bt still its an mystery wht exactly gonna happen…..

    • Jason Golomb
      September 16, 2011, 2:56 pm

      I’m glad you were able to get some answers. But I think the answer to your remaining mystery is simply that nothing is going to happen. At least nothing disastrous as anticipated by the Maya (based on the archaeological record). Being such devoted star-gazers, the Maya possibly anticipated certain meteorological events, just nothing worthy of a big budget movie. Anthony Aveni is a well regarded archeoastronomer who’s actually been a National Geographic grantee and was referenced in David Stuart’s book as well as in other 2012 discussions. He wrote a book about about the 2012 phenomenon, which I haven’t read, but may provide you with the remaining answers you seek.

  30. [...] Tags: 2012, about, Truth, World 2012: The Truth About The End of the World Something very similar is happening with the approach of the much anticipated date of December 21, 2012—otherwise known as 13.0.0.0.0 on the Maya calendar. Will it bring mass destruction through floods, fire, and asteroids (as Hollywood would have us … Read more on National Geographic [...]

  31. [...] the original: 2012: The Truth About The End of the World – National Geographic Tags: closely-tied, geographic, hold-much, maya, Multiple, national-geographic, physical, [...]