To start, the calendars should more correctly referred to as the Mesoamerican Long-Count Calendar. The long-count calendar starts on August 11, 3114 BC and ends on December 21, 2012 AD. The Early Classic Mayan culture started around 250 AD and ran until around 1540 AD when the Spanish conquest of the region put an end to the Mayan resistance. The calendar spans a period of roughly 5,126 years while the Maya only influenced the region for 1,300 years in the middle of the calendar cycle. That is the reason for referring to the calendar as the Mesoamerican Long-Count Calendar.
The common name of the ‘Mayan Calendar’ and the span of the Mayan culture raises the obvious question, who developed the calendar and why?
When looking at who developed the calendar, the first place to look is the predecessors of the Maya, the Olmec. Their timeline only goes back to about 1200 BC. That is still almost 2,000 years after the calendar starts. Without a good indication as to the society that developed the calendar, the reasons behind the calendar fall on speculation.
As an agricultural society, the speculation (with some resulting proof) is that the calendar was seasonally based. The points on the calendar follow lunar and astronomical cycles. Both cycles support an agricultural base. Both are important for crop planting and harvest planning.
To look at the specific starting point, there is some limited documentation that remains to define the start and end dates of the long-count calendar. Of the written history of the Maya, only a few documents remain. During the Spanish conquest of the New World, most of the written documents were destroyed. From the remaining documents, the language of the Mayan culture was translated. The translation included the counting system. From there, some insights to the calendar were gained. A single inscription hidden within one of the Mayan pyramids tied a specific date to a known event. From that date, the beginning and end of the Long-Count Calendar could be calculated. Knowing the start date of the calendar should have answered questions to the origin of the calendar. Rather than answers, only more questions arose from the information.
As previously noted, the beginning date of the Long-Count Calendar greatly pre-dates both the Mayan and the Olmec cultures. If the beginning and end dates were in some way arbitrary dates, the endless questions might end. A few key facts about the start and end dates drive even more questions to the origin of the Long-Count Calendar.
As expected, the Mesoamerican calendar ends at the winter solstice. This is something that is noticed throughout various cultures and is rightfully explained as an agricultural feature (and the solar end of the year). The unique feature to 12/21/2012 (the end of the calendar) is that it also falls on the day when our solar system is aligned at the galactic equator and in alignment with a region of the sky historically called the ‘Dark Rift’.
The ‘Dark Rift’ is a visible feature of the night’s sky that appears devoid of stars. Our current science recently discovered that this is the center of our galaxy, a center that contains a super massive black hole. As a point of interest, the beginning of the calendar also marks a point in history of the same alignment.
From this bit of information springs various questions. Unless this is one of the luckiest coincidences in history, whoever developed this calendar knew of the alignment and was able to calculate (or predict) the future alignment with the center of the galaxy. Since this calendar starts nearly 2,000 years before the Olmec, what culture could have observed the initial alignment to start this calendar? If it was not the Maya or the Olmec, what culture pre-dated these cultures and where is the proof of their existence (something I will address in later posts)? What level of science and technology was in existence to both calculate and predict these stellar alignments?