Someone I am ‘friends’ with on Facebook – someone I don’t actually know or have any real contact with outside the realm of the stupid ‘game’ we both have the misfortune of playing – re-posted this meme on their wall the other day.
I passed it by, like I do a great many things similar to it on Facebook, without much of a thought apart from ‘Whatever.’ Another ‘gaming friend’ posts what seems hundreds of Bible passages and empty ‘feel-good’ shit on her wall and I’ve just got in the habit of flicking past these things without really looking at them. But for some reason the utter ignorance of this meme drew me back to it.
Though I’m certainly not any sort of an expert on calendrical systems, I do know one thing: the genius behind this original meme is even less of one.
Of course I realise that it may come as a shock to you that I did not know something. Many of you, I’m sure, come here (occasionally from Australia, Canada, the UK, and even Israel, Germany, or the Czech Republic) because the knowledge you often come away with after just a few minutes is inestimable: headcheese not dairy, toast made from a thing called bread – these bits of wisdom can be had and shared with others for a lifetime until they tell you to stop. But I had to start somewhere. Being a student of anthropology, archaeology, history, the social theories of Bourdieu, Foucault and others, as well as being endlessly fascinated with philosophy, linguistics, science (and the pseudo-sciences), the paranormal and a variety of other things, I like to think I’m fairly well read. Your mileage may vary, of course.
As my interest in history is primarily concentrated on Europe down to roughly the Renaissance and in various ancient cultures of the Fertile Crescent, I’d never spent much time studying Mesoamerica. Just from a common sense standpoint, though, the first thing anyone with even the vaguest grasp of basic history should realise is that the Mayan civilisation (and their calendar, whose foundations had likely developed amongst the even older Olmec) pre-dated the existence of Julius Caesar by more than 1000 years. And also, they’d no idea who Caesar was or any inkling of an awareness of his calendar reforms because they hadn’t any contact with Rome. Very probably the only form of Latin the post-classical Maya ever heard were those words eventually transformed into Spanish or maybe Occitan and shouted at them quite loudly by the Conquistadores in what we would call the 16th century.
About ten years ago, I’d spent a great deal of time doing research into the calendar – that is, what we consider to be The Western Calendar ™ – because it pertained to a matter I was trying to hammer out in the novel I’ve never finished writing. Like many people, I’d walked into the subject with no real clue just how thoroughly convoluted the history of our time-keeping was, but I was intelligent enough to know that not everyone used the same calendar.
Ask a Jewish friend what year it is. You’ll be surprised. Even a cursory glance at what ‘year’ it is in other areas and cultures round the globe is quite revealing.
Our current calendar, the Gregorian, named after Pope Gregory XIII, was instituted in 1582 to correct the minor miscalculations which had accumulated over time from the Julian Calendar, which had been in use from what is often referred to now as 45BC (for ‘Before Christ’) or, if, like me, you prefer, BCE (for ‘Before Common Era’). I say ‘what is often referred to now as’ because in Rome at that time, the dating system they used was a confused mess which Roman historians sorted out for their own purposes by basing dates on years following the founding of Rome, so it was 709 to them. The whole BC/AD thing was something devised later by certain members of the Catholic clergy, naturally.
The Julian reforms brought the Roman calendar more in line with the solar year and Caesar Augustus, a short time later, did a bit of fine tuning as well. In 1582, to get the year back in line with all those important church days appropriated from the various ‘pagan’ tribes over the centuries, Pope Gregory had 10 days swept from the calendar so, as the tale goes, one day it was Thursday, 4 October, and the next it was Friday, 15 October.
Of course there was more fiddling about with things, and many countries didn’t quite jump into action and implement these calendar changes. England and the US colonies finally switched in 1752, and had to put back an additional 11 days to do so, making one day Wednesday, 2 September followed by Thursday 14 September, and still other areas didn’t adopt the changes until 1923 or 1929.
And, of course there’s the whole business of figuring out Leap Years and the fact that there was no Year 0…
The bottom line is this: the Mayan calendar (which, by the way, does not predict the End of the World, only the end of the current Long Count of some 5125 years) points to 21 December 2012 by our current correlations. What that means, Mr Ass-hat With Your Stupid Meme, is that after figuring out how to correlate our current calendrical system with the system of time marking as used by the Mayan civilisation of ancient Mesoamerica, scientists and archaeologists have determined that the end of the Long Count corresponds to what we presently consider, by our reckoning – not the Maya – to be 21 December 2012.
Try reading a fucking book…