The Long Count is just one of several calendars used by the Maya. It is a continuous record of days from the day the Maya gods created the Worshipful Man. The Maya creation myth explains the creation of the Universe - with the usual cast of gods and goddesses, along with a Plumed Serpent and a Flood. According to the legend, creation happened after Tepeu, the Sky God, and Gukumatz, the Plumed Serpent decided that they needed to be worshipped. (Why is it that gods are always so immature and insecure?)
It took the Maya Creation Gods several attempts to create beings who would worship them. First, they created animals who didn't worship them, so they banished them to the forest. Next, they created Man out of mud, but soon they just washed away. (They were surprised by this?) Next, they created Man out of wood, but these wooden men weren't too good at worshipping so the Gods got angry and flooded the place to get rid of them.
Finally, Worshipful Man was made out of Maize and the Long Count began at 0.0.0.0.1 which was around August 12, 3114 BCE. The current Long Count will finish on 126.96.36.199.0 or about the 21st of December 2012 CE.
It's Not the End of the World:
What the Ancient Maya
Tell Us About 2012
For a scholarly view of the 2012 myth, read Dr. Mark Van Stone's thesis.
The date December 21st, 2012 also represents an extremely close conjunction of the Winter Solstice Sun with the crossing point of the Galactic Equator (Equator of the Milky Way) and the Ecliptic (path of the Sun.) This is an event that has been coming to alignment very slowly over thousands and thousands of years and will come to resolution at exactly 11:11 am GMT on 21 December 2012. By coincidence, the Maya Long count ends on or very near this same Winter Solstice, feeding the imagination of people who seem to think there's some kind of 'supernatural magic' in the revolution of the Earth around the Sun. Some people have even taken this to mean that the world will end.
The Long Count calendar was one of several created by the ancient Maya.
It consists of the following units of time:
kin = one day
uinal = 20 days
tun = 360 days (18 uinal)
katun = 7,200 days (20 tun)
baktun = 144,000 days (20 katun)
The calendar shows the number of days elapsed since the beginning date: August 13, 3114 B.C. (some scholars think the date is actually August 11, 3114 B.C.)
The dates are written as numbers separated by periods in the following order:
July 20, 1969 -- the date of the first moon landing -- would be written as: 188.8.131.52.0
December 21, 2012, would be written as 184.108.40.206.0 and the day after that as 0.0.0.0.1
The Maya Doomsday Prophecy is based on nothing more than a calendar which simply wasn't designed to calculate dates beyond 220.127.116.11. Why do people think the Maya had more of an ability to see into the future than any one else? Some guy named Harold Camping has written a book which clearly states that the Bible predicts the end of the world to be in 2011. Why not believe him? Why not believe that the world will end when the world's population reaches 6.66 billion (sometime in 2009)?
Mayan scholars are not sure if the Long Count should be reset to 0.0.0.0.1 after 18.104.22.168.0, or if it continues to 22.214.171.124.0 (approximately 8000 AD) and then is reset. They almost all agree, however, that it does reset. As Karl Kruszelnicki brilliantly writes: "when a calendar comes to the end of a cycle, it just rolls over into the next cycle. In our Western society, every year 31 December is followed, not by the End of the World, but by 1 January. So 126.96.36.199.0 in the Mayan calendar will be followed by 0.0.0.0.1 - or good-ol' 22 December 2012, with only a few shopping days left to Christmas." - Excerpt from Dr K's " Great Moments in Science".
Xultún in Guatemala is the last known largely unexcavated Maya megacity. Archaeologists there have uncovered the only known mural adorning an ancient Maya house — and it's not just any mural.
In addition to a still vibrant scene of a king and his retinue, the walls are rife with calculations that helped ancient scribes track vast amounts of time. Contrary to the idea the Maya predicted the end of the world in 2012, the markings suggest dates thousands of years in the future.
In 2010 a Boston University archaeological team was inspecting a looters' tunnel at the Guatemalan site, where an undergraduate student had noticed the faintest traces of paint on a thin stucco wall. What the team found, after a full excavation in 2011, is likely the ancient workroom of a Maya scribe, a record-keeper of Xultún.
The researchers noticed several barely visible hieroglyphic texts, painted and etched along the east and north walls of the room. One is a lunar table, and the other is a "ring number" — something previously known only from much later Maya books, where it was used as part of a backward calculation in establishing a base date for planetary cycles. Nearby is a sequence of numbered intervals corresponding to key calendrical and planetary cycles.
The calculations include dates some 7,000 years in the future, adding to evidence against the idea that the Maya thought the world would end in 2012.
Other Notable Doomsday Predictions That Didn't Happen
Feb 1, 1524: Panicked by predictions made by a group of London astrologers, some 20,000 people abandoned their homes and fled to high ground in anticipation of a second Great Flood that was predicted to start from the Thames. Proving that this was not just the error of a London-centric media, the German astrologer Johannes Stoeffler then made a similar prediction for later in the same month.
Dec 25, 1814: In Devon, a self-styled prophet named Joanna Southcott averred that she was the expectant mother of a new Christ-child to which she would give birth on Christmas Day 1814. That she was a virgin and well over 60 did not appear to weaken her faith that this would come to pass. She was at least correct that something momentous would occur on the fateful date: she died. Despite this disappointment, a large cult continued to believe in Southcott and, as late as 1927, a sealed box said to contain an important message left by Joanna was opened in the presence of the Bishop of Grantham. It contained a lottery ticket.
1874: Charles Taze Russell, founder of what would become the Jehovah's Witnesses, first announced that the Last Days had definitely begun in 1874, then that the end would come in 1914. Succeeding Witnesses placed the date in 1925, 1936, 1953, 1973.
Dec 17, 1919: Albert Porta, a meteorologist, averred that a rare conjunction of planets would create a powerful gravitational or magnetic flux drawing draw a giant solar flare out toward the Earth, incinerating the atmosphere. Some credulous souls, on hearing this, apparently chose suicide rather than be killed. Which is rather odd once you think about it. Another failure for the scientific method.
AD 1973 The "Children of God" cult claimed that its leader, David Berg, was "God's end-time prophet to the world." They fled America in 1973 due to Berg's prediction that Comet Kohoutek would destroy the country.
Apr 29, 1980: Leland Jensen, leader of a splinter group from the minority Bah' faith, announced that this day would see a nuclear exchange between the superpowers resulting in the deaths of millions. In fact 1979 and 1983 would have been the two most likely years for this to have happened, with nuclear strikes averted by sheer fluke on both occasions. Finding himself alive on April 30, the prophet fell back on the traditional "This is [only the] start of the Tribulation" excuse.
May 25, 1981: About fifty members of a group called the Assembly of Yahweh gathered at Coney Island, NY, in white robes, awaiting their "Rapture" from a world about to be destroyed between 3PM and sundown. A small crowd of onlookers watched and waited for something to happen. The members chanted prayers to the beat of bongo drums until sunset. The end did not come.
12:01am, Mar 31, 1998: One of the more precise predictions of the Second Coming. Hon-Ming Chen, leader of the Taiwanese cult "The True Way" - claimed that God would announce his imminent return on every television in the USA at this moment, prior to an actual landing in his spacecraft. Chen had the good grace to admit his mistake and offer to be crucified when the deity failed to materialize, but no-one seemed enthusiastic.
Friday 13th April 2007: An un-named punter placed a $10 bet at 10,000/1 with Ladbrokes, the bookmakers, that the world would end on that day. It is unclear how he expected to collect.
Mar 21, 2008: A minor Christian sect The Lords' Witnesses announced this date for the end of days on their website, which is still online.
The fact is that there is ALWAYS some con-artist in a robe, waving around portents, signs, and holy writ, claiming that the world is coming to an end and offering to tell you what to do about it for only $19.95.