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New discovery shows Mayan calendar extends past 2012

By Malcolm Ritter

AP Science Writer

LAST UPDATED: 07:39 a.m. HST, May 11, 2012

NEW YORK >> Archaeologists have found a small room in Mayan ruins where royal scribes apparently used walls like a blackboard to keep track of astronomical records and the society’s intricate calendar some 1,200 years ago. 

The walls reveal the oldest known astronomical tables from the Maya. Scientists already knew they must have been keeping such records at that time, but until now the oldest known examples dated from about 600 years later.

Astronomical records were key to the Mayan calendar, which has gotten some attention recently because of doomsday warnings that it predicts the end of the world this December. Experts say it makes no such prediction. The new finding provides a bit of backup: The calculations include a time span longer than 6,000 years it could extend well beyond 2012.

“Why would they go into those numbers if the world is going to come to an end this year?” observed Anthony Aveni of Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., an expert on Mayan astronomy.  “You could say a number that big at least suggests that time marches on.”

Aveni, along with William Saturno of Boston University and others, report the discovery in Friday’s issue of the journal Science.

The room, a bit bigger than 6-feet square, is part of a large complex of Mayan ruins in the rain forest at Xultun in northeastern Guatemala. The walls also contain portraits of a seated king and some other figures, but it’s clear those have no connection to the astronomical writings, the scientists said.

One wall contains a calendar based on phases of the moon, covering about 13 years. The researchers said they think it might have been used to keep track of which deity was overseeing the moon at particular times.

Aveni said it would allow scribes to predict the appearance of a full moon years in advance, for example.  Such record-keeping was key to Mayan astrology and rituals, and maybe would be used to advise the king on when to go to war or how good this year’s crops would be, he said.

“‘What you have here is astronomy driven by religion,” he said.

On an adjacent wall are numbers indicating four time spans from roughly 935 to 6,700 years. It’s not clear what they represent, but maybe the scribes were doing calculations that combined observations from important astronomical events like the movements of Mars, Venus and the moon, the researchers said.

Why bother to do that? Maybe the scribes were “geeks ... who just got carried away with doing these kinds of computations and calculations, and probably did them far beyond the needs of ordinary society,” Aveni suggested.

Experts unconnected with the discovery said it was a significant advance.

“It’s really a wonderful surprise,” said Simon Martin, co-curator of an exhibit about the Mayan calendar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

While the results of the scribes’ work were known from carvings on monuments, “we’ve never really been able to identify a working space, or how they actually went about things,” Martin said.

The new work gives insight into that, he said, and the fact the room had a stone roof rather than thatching supports previous indications that the scribes enjoyed a high social standing.

“It’s a very important discovery. We’re only getting a glimpse of it” in the published paper, said John B. Carlson, director of the Center for Archaeoastronomy in College Park, Md.

“This is an intriguing start for this discovery.”


Journal Science: http://www.sciencemag.org

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Manapua_Man wrote:
What!? So the World won't end this year 2012?
on May 11,2012 | 05:58AM
sukebesan wrote:
The real truth is that 2012 signifies the coming end of the Obama administration in January 2013.
on May 11,2012 | 07:22AM
Fred01 wrote:
You wish wingnut!
on May 11,2012 | 10:29AM
kainalu wrote:
Hilarious. Humans are so gullible. More so with today's "miss" communication technologies.
on May 11,2012 | 07:25AM
hanoz808 wrote:
so will there another movie about 12/12/12?
on May 11,2012 | 07:57AM
Waterman2 wrote:
Darn, here I went and sold everything. Now I gotta start over again !?
on May 11,2012 | 08:26AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Gotta laugh at all those living in bunkers now. Their next purchase will probably be cryogenic chambers since they now have a couple of thousand years to wait...
on May 11,2012 | 08:31AM
TLehel wrote:
The Mayans' message was never about the world ending, it was about a change in the state of our consciousness as a planet. The Mayans were very good astrologers and were able to map and track the constellations. This December marks the change to the astrological sign of Aquarius. Every 26,000 I believe us humans "fall asleep" and "wake up". This is us falling in and out of sync of spiritual awareness. We are nearing the "waking up" stage, with our consciousness as a race becoming closer to the phi ratio, which anyone who knows math knows is the ratio that is seen in all things in the world. It just so happens that along with all these changes comes a shift in the poles. This is not a coincidence. The world will not end, but the result of the poles changing places will cause many catastrophes, which we have been seeing an increase in. Humanity will be better off once December comes around.
on May 11,2012 | 11:04AM
KekoaBradshaw wrote:
So how does Nostramus fit into this? Oops, sorry, I've been watching too much cable TV.
on May 11,2012 | 12:50PM
TomM wrote:
on May 11,2012 | 12:01PM
CriticalReader wrote:
on May 11,2012 | 03:02PM
Bothrops wrote:
I hate this when it happens.
on May 11,2012 | 06:50PM
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