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Maya Calendar Explained, Modern Prophecy Revealed

Archaeologist Bill Saturno backed by a Mayan mural. Photo by Jaime Saturno.

If you’re worried about the”‘Maya prophecy” that the world will end on December 21, you should have been at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre last week, where archaeologist William Saturno had good news for those concerned with the world’s survival (watch video above). Saturno gave insights into the Maya art world and explained how far from representing the end of time, their calendar is merely indicating the end of a cycle; much like how December 31 indicates the end of one solar year. Spectacular murals he found earlier this year give a colorful illustration of this point (See photos and learn more about the murals at Xultún).

As both a professor in Archeology at Boston University and an explorer in the field, Saturno has been studying the Maya world for well over a decade. In 2001, his discovery of San Bartolo in Guatemala made headline news as one of the oldest-known intact murals ever in the Maya world.

Excavations by archeologist Bill Saturno uncovered Maya murals in mounds that are thought to be residences dating from around 800 AD. The site is called "Xultun" and is located near Tikal in the province of Peten in northeastern Guatemala. Photograph by Tyrone Turner.


At his National Geographic Live event, Saturno shared his story about how he came to find this remote archeological site. What was originally planned as a 3-hour drive turned into a 3-day trek through the dense underbrush of the Guatemalan jungle. After running out of food and water, Saturno crawled into a looters’ tunnel to get out of the sun and cool down. There he saw a remarkably well-preserved Mayan mural, partially uncovered by the looters. “I just laughed,” Saturno says. “My first thought was, ‘Oh my god, this is an amazing discovery!’ And my second thought was, ‘And I’m going to die right here. I’m going to be the skeleton that Indiana Jones finds later in the movie.'”

While not as romanticized as the Indiana Jones movies, Saturno’s expedition to explore Maya ruins certainly had its share of mystery and near-death experiences. According to traditional beliefs, he did die when he went into that cave. As he entered the underworld, he was given sacred knowledge and allowed to return to bring that knowledge back to the Maya. “[Local Maya] told me they had dreamed of me often and that I would find other great things,” Saturno explains.

One audience member asked Saturno how he planned to celebrate the doomsday countdown on December 21. Saturno simply replied, “very quietly.”

National Geographic Live will also be presenting Bill Saturno at Benaroya Hall in Seattle, WA on May 19-21. Visit nglive.org for details.


  1. Tiaan
    South afrika
    December 18, 2012, 7:42 am

    I would like to inform everyone that the world wil not end on the 21 Desember 2012. In the bible New Testament the firat book Matthew 24 verse 13-14 says the world wil only end once every person in the world has heard about god. So it will still be a long time before the world will end.

  2. Lady
    December 13, 2012, 5:26 pm

    ^Where did the first two crazies come from?

  3. John.F.W
    December 12, 2012, 11:33 am

    On 22.12.2222 the life on earth will disappear.If you do not reduce the population of the world men will eat everything as food on earth.In the end men will hunt for men.So my fellow world inhabitants only one child , only one child.That is enough for a family.The population which this world can endure 1 billion , only one billion.we have 7 billion extra.No need such a great number of people in the world.

  4. Ima Ryma
    December 12, 2012, 4:35 am

    The twenty first of December,
    Two thousand and twelve be the year,
    A date – will the world remember,
    Or will the world even be here?
    The Maya calendar does end,
    The end of what the question be.
    Some say the sun by solar wind
    Will blow Earth from the galaxy.
    In that case most of life would stop,
    Cuz there’d be atmoshere no more.
    No more need to holiday shop.
    Peace on Earth cuz there’d be no war.

    December twenty second day,
    Will Earth be on its Milky Way?

  5. Daily Fiber Films
    New York, NY
    December 12, 2012, 3:25 am

    Loved this article! We make comedy videos and just did a “send up” of the Calendar’s misinterpretations. We’d rather people laugh than get agitated. Hope you like the comedy- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxLAhTbm_8E