Maya Calendar Does Not Predict World Will End This Week

A recalculation of the Maya calendar does not suggest the world is going to end this week.

Reports of our impending doom surfaced after a Twitter user posed a series of tweets claiming to have recalculated the date that the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar ended. The ancient Maya believed that at this point, a transformative event would take place. Some interpreted this to suggest the event meant the apocalypse, but most experts believe it represented a positive transformation and signaled a new era.

The series of tweets posted by a user called Paolo Tagaloguin have now been deleted, as has their profile. According to the New York Post, Tagaloguin notes differences in the ways calendars are calculated. As a result, several media reports said the actual date the Maya calendar ends is June 21, 2020.

The original date the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar was supposed to come to an end was December 21, 2012. At the time, experts in the ancient Maya said there was no reason to think the civilization thought the world would end at this point. Instead, it was the end of a cycle, with another beginning straight after.

"For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle," Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies, told USA Today in 2007. She said the idea the calendar was considered a doomsday was "a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in."

Elizabeth Graham, Professor of Mesoamerican Archaeology at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, U.K., told Newsweek the Maya never predicted a world's end or a doomsday. She said the glyph the date appeared on was erected by a king. "Referring to future dates by rulers was not uncommon," she said in an email, noting we currently use future dates when discussing climate change.

The "calculations," Graham said, do not add up because the Maya counted in days rather than years. The Maya calendar refers to the end of a major calendrical round or cycle, called the baktun. "A baktun is 144,000 days," she said. "The Maya did not count by what we call 'years'. They used only days. So they did not have to worry about a 'year' being an inexact number of days.

"Once we know how many past days are referred to in an inscription, and we want to find the equivalent in our calendar, we do have to figure out how many days are actually covered by the 'years' (that we refer to) in our calendar, because our 'years' vary in number of days to account for the shift represented by 365.25xxx (not actually 365).

We do this now by adding a day every four years. But there are standard tables that cover all this which Mayanists use. Nowadays though, we can just go online and use a computer programme."

Some of the Maya cycles were similar to ours, with one lasting 360 days, so similar to our calendar year. Because of this, Graham said some people make the mistake of talking about years in the Maya calendar: "But they did not have a named cycle for 'year' that is equivalent to our 365.25xxx days. So figuring out equivalents by assuming the Maya calculated 'years' isn't going to work."

She said it is unclear why doomsday stories get associated with the Maya calendar. "Some like to think of the Maya as 'mysterious.' The Maya themselves I think find this all quite amusing. But Biblical tales get associated with doomsday events, too. [There are ] lots of Christian-generated 'doomsdays.'"

Susan Gillespie, a Professor at the University of Florida's Department of Anthropology, also told Newsweek there was "no correction needed" to the Maya calendar. She said doomsday predictions tend to be linked with the Long Count calender because it "is precise to this day." It also coincidentally fell close to the end of one of our own calendrical cycles—the second millennium.

"People tend to flock to 'religious' or at least non-scientific-establishment predictions at times of crisis such as this, as if the Maya knew something none of the secular or Western establishment knows," Gillespie said.

After the world did not end in December 2012, NASA put out a statement explaining why. "The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012—hence the predicted doomsday date of December 21, 2012."

This statement also had to be updated in 2017 following reports the world was going to end on September 23. This was supposedly going to be the date that the planet Niburu—which does not exist—was going to collide with Earth.

This article has been updated to include comments from Susan Gillespie.

Stock image showing El Castillo, Chichen Itza, which was built by the Maya civilization. iStock