The long count calendar cycle of the ancient Maya comes to an end in December 2012. Many see this as a sign of the apocalypse, but others view it as simply the end of a cycle, and a time for renewal. The Mexican government has taken opportunity of the occasion to launch a tourism campaign called Mundo Maya 2012 ("Mayan World 2012") to promote tourism to the Maya area and enhance its tourist offerings. The closing of the Maya calendar cycle is a perfect moment to celebrate Mayan culture and learn more about it.
The ancient Maya used a calendar that was common to all the civilizations of Mesoamerica, though the Maya developed and refined the calendar to a greater extent than other groups and the "long count" calendar which points to December 21, 2012 as the end of the cycle was used exclusively by the Maya. The calendar which was used by all the civilizations of Mesoamerica was made up mainly of two separate cycles, a 260-day ritual calendar, the tzolk'in, and a solar calendar, the haab'.Tzolk'in
This ritual calendar cycle is made up of 13 numbers and 20 named days, to make a total of 260 days. The 260-day period may have been chosen because it is roughly the same length of time as a human pregnancy (from first missed period to birth), and may have been used by midwives to determine when a baby would be born. Another possibility is that it refers to the interval between the planet Venus' emergence in the evening and in the morning. It was certainly used for divination and religious purposes, and had astrological significance. The term Tzolk'in which means "order of days" was coined by Mayanists; it is not known what the ancient Maya called this calendar. The Aztecs called it tonalpohualli.
The Haab' is composed of 18 months of 20 days, for a total of 360 days, plus five unnamed days called Uayeb. These unnamed days were considered unlucky and no important activities would be undertaken on those days. The solar calendar was called Xiuhpohualli by the Aztecs, and is also sometimes referred to as the "vague year."
The Calendar Round
These two cycles, the tzolk'in and the haab', run concurrently, and it takes 52 solar years or 18 980 days, for the cycles to coincide, with each coming back to the same date at which they began. This 52 year cycle is referred to as the Calendar Round. The 52 year cycle was celebrated by the Aztecs with a New Fire ceremony, which represented the regeneration of the cosmos through the lighting of a fire.
The Long Count
The Long Count was developed by the Maya in order to situate a date within a longer time period than the 52 year Calendar Round. The Long Count calendar is based on a system of units: one day is a kin, 20 days is a uinal, 360 days is a katun and so on. A unit of 144 000 days is a baktun. The system begins on a fixed date in the distant past (generally believed to be August 11, 3114 B.C.) and the end point falls 13 baktuns or 1 872 000 days (some 5126 years) later. Thus the current great cycle will come to an end on the winter solstice, December 21, 2012. Read more about the Mayan Long Count from About.com's Guide to Archaeology.
The Maya ProphecyThere is some dispute about what the end of this calendar cycle will bring about. A monument from the archaeological site El Tortuguero in the state of Tabasco mentions the end date and something about the god Bolon Yokte' K'uh, one interpretation is that it states that the god will descend on that day.
Some believe that the end of the Maya calendar will mark the end of the world. Others speculate that natural disasters will be unleashed, or some cosmic shift will change the world as we know it, possibly bringing about a higher human consciousness.
Whatever December 2012 holds in store for us, it is certainly an ideal time to visit Mexico and the Mundo Maya. Mexico's “Mayan World” is made up of these five states: Campeche, Chiapas, Tabasco, Quintana Roo, and Yucatan. These states were home to the ancient Maya, and their descendents live there still today. You may visit archaeological sites and get to know present-day Mayan culture.
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