A team of archaeologists has discovered a series of murals deep in the Guatemalan jungle, one of them a calendar that looks far into the future, the scientists announced on May 10. And rather than predicting endings, said expedition leader William Saturno, the Mayans were looking for things to stay the same—at a time when drought may well have been collapsing their civilization.
"The ancient Maya predicted the world would continue, that 7,000 years from now, things would be exactly like this," Saturno said in a statement from the National Geographic Society, which helped fund the research. "We keep looking for endings. The Maya were looking for a guarantee that nothing would change. It's an entirely different mindset." In other words, you can cancel those Apocalypse plans. December 21, 2012, will dawn as any other day. Saturno, a Boston University archaeologist, has chronicled the discovery in the current issue of the journal Science as well as in National Geographic’s June issue, with an overview in this video.
What his team found while excavating Xultún, in the Petén region of Guatemala, was what seems to be the town scribe’s workspace. The walls are painted with what look like numbers and calculations related to the Maya calendar, Saturno’s statement said, as if they're jotted on a blackboard. On one wall are four long numbers that represent “one-third of a million to 2.5 million days [that] likely bring together all of the astronomical cycles—such as those of Mars, Venus and the lunar eclipses—the Maya thought important, dates that stretch some 7,000 years into the future,” Saturno’s National Geographic statement said. “This is the first place Maya archaeologists have found that seems to tabulate all of these cycles in this way. Another number scratched into the plaster surface likely records the date—813 A.D., a time when the Maya world had begun to collapse.”
Another wall contains columns upon columns of numbers of calendar and other calculations, some tracking the moon’s phases, others trying to reconcile lunar periods with solar calendars, and another with red notes that seem to be corrections on other calculations. "Skywatching like this was a tool for predicting eclipses," Saturno’s statement said.
Many have been refuting the Doomsday idea, at least as far as the Maya calendar goes. Maya wisdom keepers gathered last month to try and dispel the notion of the end of the world via a teleconference. And a group of Mayan women gave a talk in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to talk people out of believing in impending doom. But now what modern science would consider hard evidence from the ancient Mayans themselves has come to bear. Rather than predicting the end times, they were, as NASA has said in a Q&A dispelling Doomsday myths, simply doing the equivalent of flipping the calendar from December to January. And they did so with precise astronomical calculations.
The 7,000-year table is filled with numbers calculating the length of time that Venus and Mars take to criss-cross the sky twice. “What they’re trying to do is understand the large cycles of cosmic time," Saturno told the Washington Post. “Like a lot of ancient cultures, they were able with naked-eye astronomy to calculate the paths of the planets,” Mayan hieroglyphics expert David Stuart, who was also on the expedition, told the Washington Post. “We tend to forget that before telescopes, people were able to analyze the movement of planets in a lot of detail—and figure out exactly, to the day, the length of a Venus year and a Mars year.”