In The Beginning…

Today, 11th August, is the anniversary of the Creation. Sort of. It’s definitely not, if you stick to the calculations of the 17th-century Bishop of Armagh, James Ussher. The Bishop worked from the Bible (Anglican version) and calculated that God created the world starting on the evening of 22nd Ocober 4004 BC (Julian calendar).

But other cultures have had different ideas. Today’s date, in the modern Gregorian calendar, matches the start day for the Maya “Long Count” calendar in 3114 BC. The five-digit version of the calendar used by the Mayas and other Mesoamerican cultures is a representation of the number of days since that start date. It’s actually really easy to read Mayan dates: apart from zero, each digit is a combination of up to four dots, for units; plus up to three bars, for fives. So, seventeen, say, is three bars and two dots, 3×5 + 2 = 17. Zero is represented by a shell symbol.

Mayan digitsThe oldest known dated inscription reads 7.16.3.2.13 which means 7×144000 + 16×7200 + 3×360 + 2×20 + 13 or 1,124,333 days after the Creation. That’s 10th December 36 BC. Notoriously, the date 13.0.0.0.0 will occur on 21st December 2012, leading to a number of New Age nuts forecasting the end of the universe. Like a date with a lot of zeros in it actually means something, rather than being a manmade artefact. Remember the year 2000?

In fact, the Mayas sometimes used more than five digits. There’s a stone column carved in 76 AD in Guatemala that mentions a date 6.8.13.0.9.16.15.0.0 days in the future. That’s over 400 million years from now.

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