How Mayan calendar really works: Some think Friday is doomsday, but Mayans don’t

Posted at 8:04 AM, Dec 20, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-20 08:21:32-05

By Ben Brumfield and Nick Parker, CNN

MERIDA, Mexico (CNN) — There may be no one left on earth to say TGIF this week.

Some believe the world is coming to an end Friday — on 12/21/12 — which is when an important phase on the ancient calendar of the Mayan people terminates.

Mayans don’t buy it.

At least the ones living in the city of Merida, Mexico don’t. Neither does the Mayan village of Yaxuna. They know the calendar their ancestors left them is about to absolve a key phase, which means the end of an era and the heralding of a new one, but they don’t think we’re all gonna die.

“It’s an era. We are lucky to see how it ends,” says wood carver Santos Esteban in Yaxuna, a sleepy village of fewer than 700 Mayans, located in a territory that once belonged to the ancient kingdom founded around 2000 B.C.

He feels it is a momentous occasion and is looking forward to the start of the new era. He is not afraid.

“Lots of people say it’s the end of the world, but we don’t believe that,” he said.

People in his village will keep living much as they have, preferring hand-built, palm thatch huts to concrete buildings and baking tortillas on an open flame.

For those less optimistic, an “official” website in the United States has collected links to all the doom articles and videos Internet users can consume. also offers tips on survival and advertisements for the needed gear — from gas masks to first aid kits and hand-cranked radios. Comments are welcome on its Facebook page, which has over 14,000 likes, and website owner “John” from near Louisville, Kentucky, sends out tweets under the handle @December212012.

On the Facebook page, in between gloomy superstitious links, John confesses that he does not believe the world will end on Friday but that a new era could dawn that may include some improvements for the world — which might require a good bit of destruction as well.

On his Facebook page John asks posters not to take the date too seriously.

Gunmaker Ryan Croft in Asheville, North Carolina takes it very seriously. He is building a special assault rifle to deal with any signs of doom lurking around the corner.

“I’m not planning for the world to go away,” Croft told CNN affiliate WHNS.

He doesn’t think the world will come to a complete end Friday, but it could mark the beginning of cataclysmic times introduced by a disaster. It may call for drastic measures, he says.

His new rifle, a hybrid of an AR-15 and an AK-47 is designed to handle it and be easy to use at the same time, the Gulf War veteran says. Trouble in the United States could ensue in the wake of an economic catastrophe, he thinks.

“I taught about economic collapse and how it actually looks on the ground,” he said. “People want to act like it can’t happen or doesn’t happen, and it happens around the world. There are places on fire right now.”

In true survivor manner, Croft also teaches his family how to subsist from alternative sources of nourishment, such as algae, roasted mice and live earthworms.

Though 12/21/12 marks a somewhat congruent date on the western calendar, the Mayan calendar enumerates the event in a different way.

The ancient people measured time in cycles called “baktuns” of 394 years each, and the winter solstice due Friday marks the end of the 13th baktun. Some who study the calendar say the date for the end of the period is not Friday but actually Sunday.

The calendar is based on the position of the heavenly bodies – the sun, the moon and the stars – and was meant to tell the Mayan people about agricultural and economic trends, says archeologist Alfredo Barrera.

NASA says on its website that the world will not end on Friday.

“It will be another winter solstice,” NASA says. “The claims behind the end of the world quickly unravel when pinned down to the 2012 timeline.”

The hubbub about a calamity occurring comes from a Mayan wood carving, called monument 6, made in 700 A.D., which predicts a major event at the end of this baktun, Barrera said. But half of the broken tablet is missing, so one may only speculate on what the complete message may be.

Whatever the message, it’s not about the end of the world, Barrera said.

“We don’t have a prophecy or inscription related to the finish of the world. It just mentioned a deity.”

Barrera says the to-do about the end of the world has been whipped up by online speculation — and he finds it a bit ignorant.

In Merida, Mayan priest Valerio Canche carries out an ancient ritual to honor the dead in light of the upcoming end of the 13th baktun.

“It is considered the closure of the great cycle of Mayan time,” he says. “But, of course, the cycle (14th baktun) begins the following day. For the Mayans, it’s not the end of the world.”.

If you are reading this on Friday, you’d better read this fast. If it’s Saturday, and no major calamity has occurred, then relax and go celebrate the beginning of the 14th baktun with the Mayans.

CNN’s Ben Brumfield contributed from Atlanta, and Nick Parker from Mexico