Happy New B’ak’tun!

Happy Mayan New B’ak’tun’s Eve! How many years is it that you can have two New Years celebrations? (Or four, if you also count Chinese New Year and Rosh Hashanah.) Fine, fine, but it’s only every 394.26 years that a new b’ak’tun begins on the Mayan calendar. Tomorrow (or on the 23rd, depending on your sources) begins the 14th B’ak’tun.

Mayan Monument
I’ve got my party hat on.

To represent dates, the Mayan long-count calendar uses five base-twenty digits, the most significant of which represents the b’ak’tun, all the way down to the least signigicant digit, which represents day of month. (Mayan months were twenty days long.) So, even though the 14th b’ak’tun begins tomorrow, there are still six b’ak’tun to go before the Long Count reaches twenty and overflows (on October 13, 4772.)

Fortunately, the Maya solved this problem centuries ago. There are four higher-order cycles above the b’ak’tun: a piktun (20 b’ak’tun), the kalabtun (20 piktun), the k’inchiltun (20 kalabtun), and the alautun, which is 20 k’inchiltun, or about 63 million years.

Why invent a system that can handle 1,260 million years worth of dates (20 alantun) if your culture expects the world to end after precisely 13 b’ak’tun?

Perhaps more importantly, what does this fascination with doomsdays, apocalypses, and raptures say about our culture?

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