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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Calendars and the end of the world

A date inscription in the Mayan Long Count on the east side of Stela C fromQuirigua showing the date for the last Creation. It is read as 4 AjawCumku and is usually correlated as August 11 or 13, 3114 BCE on theGregorian calendar. The date of13. 4 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in is usually correlated as December 21 or 23, 2012.
Let me start out and make myself perfectly clear; I do not buy into the commonly accepted end-of-the-world (EOTW) phenomena. I do have some pretty complex beliefs concerning the EOTW but none of them correspond to the movie versions of the EOTW. So why, as a genealogist, am I even addressing the subject? First of all because we deal in dates and dates come from calendaring systems. The current preoccupation with what is called the Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar, from my perspective, is entirely baffling. I have read the early Spanish language literature translating the Popol Vuh and other Mayan literature among many other things and I am aware of literally dozens of different calendaring systems. Why would the Mayan calendar be any more important and have greater predictive power than say the Hopi calendar or the Aztec calendar or any of the dozens of other systems? See Wikipedia:Calendar for a list of a few of the systems.

One of the first things you learn as a genealogist is that calendars change. We learn that there was a calendar change back at the time of the beginning of the implementation of the Gregorian Calendar on 24 February 1582. The change from the older Julian Calendar took place over a period of hundreds of years with the last European country's adoption of the newer calendar in 1923. Ignorance of the calendar changes can affect the dates given in records. If you are not aware of these issues I suggest a comprehensive study of the subject. You might want to start with the USGenWeb Project, Old Calendar and Dating Information, When the Calendar was changed and Who was Responsible.

If you are going to try and convince me to worry about the EOTW based on the Mayan Calendar, then you are first going to have to convince me that I should care about the Mayan Calendar at all. Meanwhile, for dates after 1582 in Europe, you just might want to consider that an apparent discrepancy in dates is really a reflection of the changes in the calendar system. If your ancestors came from the Middle East, were Jewish or had some other national or ethnic origins, you just might want to check to see what calendar system they were using to report dates of birth, marriage and deaths.

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