The How and Why of
the Mayan End Date in 2012 A.D.
by John Major Jenkins

Why did the ancient Mayan or pre-Maya choose December 21st, 2012 A.D., as the end of their Long Count calendar? This article will cover some recent research. Scholars have known for decades that the 13-baktun cycle of the Mayan "Long Count" system of timekeeping was set to end precisely on a winter solstice, and that this system was put in place some 2300 years ago. This amazing fact - that ancient Mesoameri- can skywatchers were able to pinpoint a winter solstice far off into the future - has not been dealt with by Mayanists. And why did they choose the year 2012? One immediately gets the impression that there is a very strange mystery to be confronted here. I will be building upon a clue to this mystery reported by epigrapher Linda Schele in Maya Cosmos (1994). This article is the natural culmination of the research relating to the Mayan Long Count and the precession of the equinoxes that I explored in my book Tzolkin: Visionary Perspectives and Calendar Studies.

The Mayan Long Count

Just some basics to get us started. The Maya were adept skywatchers. Their Classic Period is thought to have lasted from 200 A.D. to 900 A.D., but recent archeological findings are pushing back the dawn of Mayan civilization in Mesoamerica. Large ruin sites indicating high culture with distinctly Mayan antecedents are being found in the jungles of Guatemala dating back to before the common era. And even before this, the Olmec civilization flourished and developed the sacred count of 260 days known as the tzolkin. The early Maya adopted two different time keeping systems, the "Short Count" and the Long Count. The Short Count derives from combining the tzolkin cycle with the solar year and the Venus cycle of 584 days. In this way, "short" periods of 13, 52 and 104 years are generated. Unfortunately, we won't have occasion to dwell on the properties of the so-called Short Count system here. The Long Count system is somewhat more abstract, yet is also related to certain astronomical cycles. It is based upon nested cycles of days multiplied at each level by that key Mayan number, twenty:

Number of Days / Term

1 / Kin (day)

20 / Uinal

360 / Tun

7200 / Katun

144000 / Baktun


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