Now, previously I had been rather sceptical of all of this. It seemed apparent to me that the reason the calendar was running out was that they had worked it out so far, but had felt they could do the rest if and when we got to that point.
But, actually, that's not the case at all. Yesterday, Lady Chocolat and I attended a lecture on the Mayan culture, which put paid to all such theories.
It turns out that we are not coming to the end of the Mayan calendar, and aren't even close. See, it turns out that the Mayan calendar operates on a (not-quite) base-twenty count. A single day is called a Kin. Twenty days make up a Uinal. The eighteen Uinals make up a Tun (which, at 360 days, is close to a year). Twenty Tuns make up a Ka'tun (7,200 days), and twenty Ka'tuns make up a Bak'tun (144,000 days).
Time is counted from a mythic date for the creation of the world, which works out as August 11th 3114 BC.
So, on the 21st of December 2012, we will complete the current Bak'tun and move on to the next one. Exciting stuff.
Of course, this actually only means we'll be moving from 188.8.131.52.19 to 184.108.40.206.0. So we're not even moving to a new digit - there isn't even an equivalent of the Millennium Bug that we need to worry about!
In fact, we'll only move to a new digit after 220.127.116.11.19, or October 13th 4662. And even that isn't the end, because then we just move on to the next digit up, which is a pik'tun. And after that there are the kalabtun, the k'inchiltun, and the alautun.
Still, I suppose there's the risk of problems then. I propose to start worrying some time around 18.104.22.168.22.214.171.124.00, which would be about 2 years before the real end of what they've worked out.
(And even then, not so much. Apparently, the Maya believed reaching the end of a cycle to be cause for an enormous celebration. Imagine the New Alauntun party we'll get to have when we make it that far!)
Personally, I found this revelation to be really quite funny - not only is there no basis to the fears, but there's not even any basis to the basis to the fears! But it also makes me feel quite sad, too - the mystique of reaching the end of the calendar has just been stripped away.
Still, even if we can't celebrate the world not ending, we still get to celebrate the end of a cycle. Anyone up for a New Bak'tun party?