At the beach in Koh Nang Yuan, Thailand

By Norbert Figueroa, an experienced architect, travel writer, long-term budget traveler, and photographer with over 13 years of travel experience in over 139 countries and counting. @globotreks

GloboTreks is reader-supported through affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support! – Norbert

Update: This post was written before December 21, 2012, and as you know, the world didn’t end. Having said that, this post is full of information to understand the Mayan calendar and what the Mayas really said.

The theories about the end of the world on December 21, 2012, have grown exponentially in the past couple of decades, turning the concepts of the year 2012 into a clouded and confusing negative phenomenon.

With the doom-prophetic non-stop bombardment we’ve received through the media and certain religious movements, it’s no surprise that a fairly large portion of our collective psyche is oriented toward accepting the concept of total apocalypse in the near future.

Among the many theories leading the apocalyptic doom and gloom is the theory based on the Maya Calendar predicting the end of the world when its “zero date” is reached on 12-21-2012. But does the “zero date” really means the “end of the world”?

Maya 2012

Maya Calendar 101

First, let’s have an overview of what the Maya Calendar is and its purpose.

There are three Maya Calendars: the Tzolk’in Calendar, a 260-day long calendar referenced for the divination of the supernatural; the Haab’ Calendar, a 360-day long calendar with five “lucky” or “dark” days at the end (depending on interpretation) to make 365 days; and the Long Count Calendar, which measures longer periods of times and contains the mystical “zero date.”

Maya 2012

The Tzolk’in and Haab’ interlock with each other to make the Calendar Round, which is still in use in some Maya communities. On the other hand, the Long Count Calendar fell out of use over 1000 years ago.

Since it has highly deteriorated, this calendar has only been partially deciphered by scholars and archeologists in the past 80 years.

According to interpretations, the Long Count Calendar starts with the “creation” on August 11, 3114 BCE (before the current era in our Gregorian calendar). It will run a total of 13 b’aktuns (a cycle of 144,000 days) that last a total of 5,125 years.

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In theory, the 13th and last b’aktun will end on December 21, 2012, displaying the equivalent of the end of a countdown ( Some scholars say this marks the end of the world; however, in Maya calendrics, time is supposed to be infinite. Thus it surpasses the physical carvings on any calendar.

Where did this Maya doom theory come from in the first place?

The reality is that no one paid much attention to the end of b’aktun 13 until recently. In 1975, speculative author Frank Waters devoted a brief section to the subject in his book Mexico Mystique.

He identified the 13-b’aktun period as a “Mayan Great Cycle” with a duration of 5,200 years (instead of 5,125 years).

In addition, he equated five such cycles with five legendary eras, each ending in the world’s destruction and rebirth. According to Waters, this b’aktun ends the 5th and final era.

From that moment on, the theory grew exponentially and wrongfully influenced people’s perception of the Maya traditions and intentions behind the calendar.

Maya 2012

It’s also worth noting that Waters also miscalculated the date when the earth would supposedly “be destroyed by catastrophic earthquakes” –being it Dec. 24, 2011 CE– and like all other predicted doomsdays, it stood up all those waiting for it to happen.

So, did the Maya really write about 2012?

According to archeologists, when the Mayas placed importance on an event of great significance, they expressed it numerous times in written language and art carvings (like the creation events of August 11th, 3114 BCE).

Of the limited Maya glyphs and written codexes we have today, NONE speaks about a significant event on December 21, 2012.

In fact, there is only one piece of evidence in the ancient Maya texts that slightly mentions the end of the b’aktun in 2012 – found in an inscription in Monument 6 in the Maya city of Tortuguero in Mexico.

Maya 2012

According to Stephen Houston and David Stuart, two prominent Mayanist epigraphers, the text begins with, the long count date associated with the building’s initial construction (around 700 CE); followed by glyphs that read “tzuhtzjoom u 13 b’aktun 4 Ajaw 3 Kank’in utoon”, which indicate a future event at the end of the 13th b’aktun.

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This glyph is followed by an eroded glyph of a syllable i- that infers that “a god or collective totality of gods (Bolon Yookte’) will ‘descend’ (ye-ma) to the…?” 

The rest of the sentence is obscure due to the fragmented nature of the text and missing pieces.

Now, before heads start rolling on this ominous prediction, let’s understand the true meaning behind this text and behind the Maya’s concept of time.

The Mayas had a very different concept of time from what we know today. For them, it was non-linear and repetitive due to the cyclical nature of the earth and their calendars.

In Maya belief, past, present, and future are frequently conflated together, and the events represented in their calendars were either remotely in the past or way into the future.

So, what does this really mean? It is understood that the mention of 2012 is a remote representation of their present time at the moment of the dedication of Monument 6.

Monument dedications were big for the Mayas, and they believed they were built under their gods’ direction and that their gods were present during the time of construction (thus, descending towards the earth, as the text says)

In theory, this is just the commemoration of the dedication of this monument, and there is little precedent or reason to believe this refers to the actual year 2012.

What do modern-day Mayas say?

Not surprisingly, modern-day Mayas follow the same school of thought as their ancient ancestors.

Of the various native Mayas in Belize I had the opportunity to interview, all but one thought 2012 had little or no significance. Such is this that they didn’t even know about the doomsday theories until a few years ago.

Maya 2012

“They’ve got it all wrong,” was the general consensus among the Maya elders of the Village of San Jose in Belize.

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One of the elders added, “Our ancestors didn’t believe in death or the end. They celebrated events like these by building new monuments, venerating ancestors, and doing festivals.” The Maya believed in regeneration, and they still believe in it today.

What about that one Maya who said 2012 would have some impact? Rosario Panti, the “last Maya Shaman in Belize,” said in her interview that on December 23rd (not 21st), 2012, “5 eclipses will happen in one day”, “earthquakes will destroy cities,” and “all technology will stop working.”

It’s important to note that her prophecy is based on New Age and shamanist beliefs and some “supernatural communication” through a Sastun rock, which goes beyond the scope of what the ancient Mayas left as written evidence.

True or not, I can’t say. But, with quick research through NASA’s documents, you will find that there is no evidence that points to a single eclipse either on December 21 or 23 of 2012. (Update: It didn’t happen.)

End of the World?

The Maya view of 2012 is a far cry from the doom and gloom scenarios presented by many speculative authors and filmmakers. The Mayas didn’t believe the world would end in 2012.

In fact, cities like Palenque have carvings with celebratory dates like, which is over 4000 years after 2012.

December 21, 2012, marks the completion of the 13th b’aktun. For the Maya, this is a time of reflection and great celebrations as a new age unfolds, and it should be honored instead of feared.

But if we still have our doubts, the best thing we can do, as Rosario Panti said, is to “put your foot on the ground and have faith.”

Update: As expected, nothing happened on December 21, 2012. The new Maya age began.

Images 1, 2, 3, and 4 from Flickr’s Creative Commons.
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  1. Thanks for this Norbert! Very thorough review of the Mayan calendar. I’ve always though the theories about the end of the world were complete crap. It’s nice to have a thorough and rational explanation from the Mayan perspective without the panic.

    1. You’re welcome, Jeremy! I always though those theories were crap too but I never had a rational point of view of why they were crap until I learned a lot about the Maya Calendar while in Belize. The real Maya theories are far from what people are saying today!

  2. Excellent, thorough post! It doesn’t surprise me that the media take something like this and blow it out of proportion…

    1. Thanks, Andrea! Media blowing things out of proportion… not surprising! They’ll do anything to earn money with blockbuster movies or by causing fear… shame the poor Mayas are being portrayed as doom prophets.

  3. This is AWESOME. What a cool experience you had in interviewing the Mayas! I don’t think the world will end at all, but I don’t doubt that the day will have some sort of significance. Great post Norbert!

    1. Thanks, Kelly! Interviewing modern day Mayas was very interesting as it felt like I was talking to someone who was from a few centuries ago. Yes, I don’t believe any chaotic thing will happen on 12-21-2012, but there could be some meaningful spiritual significance. What I know is that the Mayas will celebrate like never before to commemorate the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

  4. This is terrific Norbert. Thanks for the in-depth look at what Mayans really said about 2012. But strangely, I don’t think the doomsayers will want to believe you.
    I do- I never believed all that crap either. I think many people are unsettled by technological advances, don’t understand it, and look for the worst in everything, for reasons I can’t fathom.
    There’s a number of Doom forums on the net where Mayan 2012 prophecies are discussed and yeah- it’s all gonna end then.
    So I get in there and offer to buy their house for a song, because hey, they’re not going to need it after next year, are they? May as well enjoy the money now..
    Strangely, no one wants to sell…just in case ..
    I love stirring this argument up.

    1. hahaha!! That’s so funny, Jim! I wonder if you’ll be able to find someone who would actually do it! I think there are enough crazy people in this world, so you might as well do.
      I’ve never actually believed the world will end in 2012, or any random date in the near future, but after doing this research and seeing the facts and how they’ve been misinterpreted, I’m 100% sure the end of the world is nothing but a money making myth.

  5. I’m not going to lie, the movie 2012 scared the beejeezus out of me, but that’s not a rare occasion when I’m watching doomsday movies. However, I do believe that there will be plenty of folks stockpiling cherry coke and beef jerky in their basements and hovering in their private panic rooms under the false perception that that will save them from the old guy with the sychte. I recall a similar panic in 1998-9 when people were sure a bunch of 0’s and 1’s would become animated and start eating babies. A little bit over the top if you ask me and I’m glad the Mayans agree…..

    1. Renee, I remember about the 0’s and 1’s scare, then the Y2K, then the other one, and the other one, and the other one… with the last one being in May 23rd… for no specific reason! I think it’s funny the lengths many people go to protect themselves from doom. People love chaos and drama in one way or another. Apparently saying the world will end works well! πŸ˜‰

  6. Great post! Bob loves all these theories and it has me wondering about what people will latch onto after 2012 comes and goes?!

  7. Well I’m glad that is cleared up! I didn’t know much about the Mayan calendar until I read this. Very informative. I feel much smarter now πŸ™‚

  8. Awww man, I was kind of looking forward to see what would happen in 2012 (joking XD). Very detailed post and good interview. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    1. hahaha! It’ll be interesting to see if something will actually happen… even if it’s just the sky turning green for a second… hahaha

  9. Thanks for the very detailed explanation of everything! (And to think, I was hoping for a spot on one of those giant arks for no reason. LOL)

    1. haha! I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few arks hidden somewhere in the world, saved for the “super special people” in this planet!

  10. Very informative post and interesting that none of the present day Mayans think much is going to happen on this day – makes me feel much better πŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Laurel! You know, I found it funny that many of the modern day Maya didn’t know about these end of the world theories until a few years ago, when “outsiders” told them about it. It’s a shame they are making up these things and pointing it to the Mayas.

  11. Very interesting write-up, I had seen an interview to a Maya priest on TV a while ago and he said that 2012 was not the end of the world or apocalypse as many like to say, it’s just a year of change, which can be in economy, or any other aspect of society. Since we are on big crisis, let’s hope to see a change, for the better of course!

    1. Angela, that’s what some of the Maya elders say too. If something would change, it would be in a spiritual realm and on a personal level. Maybe a subconscious slight change of consciousness? But still, nothing crazy like a big bang or something is supposed to happen. Well, if something would change, like you mentioned, the economy needs that change ticket… NOW!

  12. My dad is a “2012 Mayan” believer. At first he thought it would be the end of the world, but now I think he believes it’s the end of the world as we know it … so I guess more along the lines of a “big change is coming.” We shall see. Maybe I’ll email this link to him. πŸ™‚

    1. I wonder how your dad sees this day coming and going… It would be interesting to see how he thinks this “big change” will happen. Change or not, I have to agree that this “mystery” is really interesting.

  13. I have always thought that 2012 hype was artificially created by Sony Pictures:) Thank you for clarifying the genesis of this theory, Norbert! So, Sony didnt create it they just built up on Mr Water’s psychotic fantasies. Meanwhile, the aforementioned cinematic fantasy grossed over $750 mln worldwide (fifth best international opening of all time) delivering Sony Pics a nice profit of half a billion USD…while whether Sony Pic are, in fact, masterminders behind the 12.20.2012 hysteria is admittedly debatable, you can’t debate that they have handsomely benefited from it…I am thinking about ordering the movie on netflix tonight…

    1. Charu, I love your comments! haha. You’re spot on with your comment, the big winner here is Sony Pictures. They feed from fear! Thanks for the grossing facts, I didn’t know that the movie 2012 as so successful. wow!

    2. At first I refused to see the 2012 movie due to it being about stirring up fear, but I watched it on cable, without supporting it with the price of a ticket. I marveled at the special effects. Good job there, I must say. The doom message was so wrong. I did like that they featured something that made me think of the Doomsday Vault, ( which makes you wonder what’s really behind that and how it may be planned on be used. This was an excellent post.

      1. Hi Terry –
        You’re right, 2012 is just 100% hollywood with 0% accuracy. It was made just to sell tickets, not to educate on the real meaning of 2012. But, I’m glad you mentioned the seed vault as that one, in fact, is real. I was looking a documentary about it on the Discovery Channel and the reason for it is not only for a “catastrophic doomsday” but also to preserve the current status and biological composition of the plants we are so used to see today. As you might know, companies create mutations of crops (to grow faster, cost less, produce more, etc) and eventually those crops could become unsustainable for further production, so, the vault serves as a “backup” in case there is the need to supply “real unmodified” seeds to the world.

  14. Well im glad im not scared anymore.. Thanks for posting this up because i was getting real scared about the whole 2012 thing and about how March 10, 2011 and September 11, 2001 had something in common adding up to December 21, 2012… But im kind of relaxed now by reading this… So if nothing suppose to happen on the 21st then why the 23rd?? I just hope theres no earthquakes of any sort or that humanity will soon come to an end because i do believe people can become crazy trying to survive day by day… Anyways i did like this info about the whole DOOMSDAY in 2012 and also since i was reading about NASA’s beliefs i feel much more relaxed that atleast the Mayans say there wont be anything happening anytime soon .. Thanks again ((:

    1. Hey Marlen – The doomsday scenarios are mostly built by Hollywood and consumerism. The reason why there is a confusion between the 21st and 23rd is because many things have been made up out of “guessing” and many of these theories are not based on an exact science. I personally believe nothing catastrophic will happen, and neither do the Mayas, who are being attributed the whole 2012 theory to begin with.

  15. Well Thanks,, By The Way iAm Happy For You ((: Take Care And Thanks Again For Useful iNfo …

    P.s You Are Cute ((:


  16. When I heard about the end of the world that people are talking about, I thought that it was true. But then I realized that how can people know or predict such things like that. God is the only one who knows when the world will end. So I think that sayings or gossips are not really a 100% true. Nice post by the way!. Thanks for the information also about the Maya!. XD

    1. Hi Angel –
      It is said that Mayas were extremely good astronomers, and that’s something I believe could be true. They, as well as modern astronomers were able to track events based on empirical information that allowed them to “predict” cyclical events in nature. While that is true, they in no way mentioned “the end” of the world. Like you said, there is no way to predict something like that (in the way hollywood and fiction books portray it). The Mayas simply finished their calendar in an important date that ends the 13th Baktun. From what I’ve studied about the Mayas, I believe they in no way meant “end of the world”, but just a spiritual and metaphysical regeneration based on their beliefs. For them the end of the 13th Baktun is the end of an era, just like the year 2000 was for us – and we’re still alive!

      1. Thank you Norbert,
        Very thorough and informative. I didn’t buy any of the hype anyway, however, I did want to understand where they were getting the info from that they misconstrued into worldwide hype/panic. A new age is what this world needs big time and the human race should listen to the Maya and their real message.

        Too bad .. Part of me wanted to find out it was true … I would have robbed a bank so I could spend my last few days on earth in Bora Bora at the Four Seasons resort.instead of dealing with my daily crap till the end of the world ….. Ha ha πŸ˜‰

        1. Thanks, Jackie!
          Well, while I’m almost confident nothing will happen… you never know… so, you can be spontaneous and go to Bora Bora. At least you can say you had a nice vacation if the world doesn’t end. πŸ˜‰

  17. Even if the Mayans believed that the world will end in 2012, which they don’t, that does not mean that the world will end. Great Post!

    1. Kat, you’re right on that, especially now that we obviously know the world didn’t end. The Mayans didn’t believe in it. It was all misinterpreted by our western culture.

  18. I really don’t think the Maya were predicting an end of the world, just their understanding of astronomy at the time. I’ll be ALIVE and Christmas shopping on the 22nd, and so will everybody else!

    1. Kelly, now that December 21st has passed without any event, I can say your prediction was right! I hope you did a lot of Christmas shopping! πŸ˜‰

  19. i loved reading this article, I found it funny that the mayans weren’t even aware of their own doomsday prediction lol lol. Goes to show you how wrong we are. Of course they are celebrating this is their new year. Our calendar doesn’t end everydecember 31st.

    1. Exactly! If the fact that our calendar ends on December 31st means the world will end that day, our history would have finished thousands of years ago! Anyways, by now we all know it was all another doomsday fiasco.

  20. I read some scientific facts about 2012 doomsday hoax from Nasa’s David Morrison and began to feel at ease after being fearful for so long, but I still questioned what Mayans of today say about it and now that I see that they too do not believe the world will end, I can finally sleep without worry. Thanks. Your awesome!

    1. Well, by now we know the world did not end, so I believe that the true belief of the Mayas, not the one misinterpreted, was right. Nothing happened.

  21. I’m a little confused,
    at one point you say they didnt even think of dec 2012..
    “Of the various native Mayas of Belize I had the opportunity to interview; all but one thought 2012 had little or no significance. ”

    and then they are sure to celebrate it..

    “December 21, 2012 marks the completion of the 13th b’aktun. For the Maya this is a time of reflection and great celebrations as a new age unfolds, and it should be honoured instead of feared. ”

    So which is a time they say is insignificant or a time of reverance and celebration?

    1. John, when I say there is little or no significance it means that they do not believe anything major will happen, but, it is true the the B’aktun ended, so as in celebration of the marking of a new cycle, they do celebrate in their own way – just like we celebrate every new years and nothing major happens there. (except partying!)

  22. I received intuition that is was about a shift or change of consciousness. And that humans can receive maya interpretations from a higher consciousness if they follow a cyborg (modern day maya) protocol. I have the blue prints if you are interested?

  23. I heard we switched calendars at some point, to the Gregorian Calendar. With the switch we have an 8 year gap. Translates it from December 21, 2012 to December 31, 2019.