21 December 2012, end of the World

One of the many images doing the rounds on social media this week.


Of all the images circulating on social media these days, the weather forecast for this week (above) is one of my favourite. I really did LOL. The idea that world is coming to an end is not a new one, and in looking for proof for such a doomsday the Mayan calendar is frequently used. After all, it ends on 21 December 2012. No, it does not – there is no physical calendar out there that just abruptly stoops on this Friday’s date. So, you will need something to do in the months that follow. How about an exhibition on the Mayans and their time keeping? There are quite a few about.

For those that are interested, a number of misrepresentations of the Mayans and their calendar are used to provide proof that the World is about to come to an end. While many are light-hearted and intended as humour, it does not harm to point a few of these out if only you can score a point or two at your next quiz game.

Some Myths about the Mayans

The Aztec calendar stone

The Aztec calendar stone is often used to represent a non-existent Mayan calendar

In many of the cartoons we see a circular stone intended as a calendar. Some are generic round stones, others quite specific – such as the one to the right. The artefact next to the Oreo is real. But it is not Mayan, and strictly speaking neither is it a calendar. In fact, it is Aztec in origin, and is called the ‘Stone of the Sun’.

The stone was excavated during restoration work on Mexico City’s Cathedral in the main square – 17 December 1790. Almost perfectly symmetrical, the stone is 3.7 m in diameter and 24 tons in weight. Today the stone is housed in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City. Unfortunately, as with many intriguing artefacts from the past, archaeologists do not really know the function and purpose of the stone, or its intricate imagery. There are a few ideas knocking about, but the more credible ones do not involve calendars. It is certainly not Mayan, and does not have 21 December 2012 on it, or end on that date.

Mayan calendar ends in 2012

One of many cartoons that depict the real reason why the Mayan calendar ends in 2012

Do a Google image search for ‘Mayan Calendar 2012 Cartoon’ and see for yourself the variations of the cartoon to the right. All have this generic Aztec stone. And in many, the joke is that the Mayan carver simply ran out of space. OK, so the stone is not Mayan – we know that. the reason the Aztec stone is used is because it does not exist. Archaeologists have not found an equivalent Mayan calendar, let alone one that ends on 21 December 2012. For the Mayans 21 December 2012 is simply the end of one period of time, a bak’tun – roughly equivalent to about 400 solar years, in fact the 13th one, and the starting of another.

One of the counters to the jokes and cartoons about the Mayans predicting the end of the World goes something like this: if they could not foresee their own demise at the hands of the Spanish Conquistadores why should we trust the with the end of our World. This comments results from one of the more unsavoury misrepresentations of the Mayans. They did not die out as a result of European colonisation. Somme seven million Mayans still live in much the same area (southern Mexico, and northern Central America) as their predecessors did. They have their own distinct beliefs and rituals, even if they have been influenced by other cultures. And, they will be marking the passing of the 13th bak’tun without any thought of apocalypse.

Some Exhibits about the Mayans

Not surprisingly, a number of museums in the Americas have scheduled temporary exhibits about the Mayans and the idea that they predicted the end of the World. Given that the World is not coming to an end, the following list of just some of them will probably come in handy now that you will have to find something to do in the coming months.

Maya 2012: Prophecy Becomes History
The Houston Museum of Natural Science: ends 31 March 2013
More details …

All Sides Considered: New Research on the Maya Collection
Dumbarton Oaks Museum: ends 2 June 2013

Maya.2012 Lords of Time
Penn Museum: ends 13 January 2013
More details …

Secrets of the Maya
South Caroline State Museum: ends 9 June 2013

Mundo Maya 12:12:12
Galería de la Raza, San Francisco: ends 29 December 2012
More Details …

Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth
San Diego Museum of Man: ends 31 July 2015
More details …

Maya: Space and Time
Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City

Dancing into Dreams: Maya Vase Painting of the Ik’ Kingdom
Princeton University Art Museum: ends 17 February 2013
More Details …

If you have already been to one of these exhibitions, why not leave a comment below. And, of course, if you know of other Exhibitions about the Mayans, do let us know.

Postscript, January 2013

I saw this cartoon, by the same cartoonist as the above in black and white, and could not resist adding it here!
Mayan, end of the world cartoon