The Truth About the Mayan End of Time

Tikal in Guatemala. This fine photo is not from the book discussed here. It is used with Creative Commons license and is linked to the photographer’s page on

Destinations: Guatamala, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico

Book: Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya , text by Michael D. Coe and Photographs by Barry Brukoff (NEW October 2012)

Is the end of the world near? According to some, we only have one month left.

Ancient Maya allegedly predicted the end of the world would happen on December 21, 2012.  If you believe that, you’ve been misled.  Archaeologists have indeed found ancient hieroglyphs that indicate that the 5000-year cycle of the  Mayan calendar ends on December 21, 2012, and the Guatemalan government has capitalized on the “end of time” sensationalism as a tourism draw. But an alliance of Maya in Guatemala would like you to know that the meaning of the hieroglyphics discovered by archaeologists is quite different than a doomsday date.  In an article from Discovery on line, you can get the scoop, including this quote:

In a statement released by Oxlaljuj Ajpop, the end of the cycle simply “means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature.”

So what is the kerfluffle all about?

1. We humans are magnetically drawn to any story that says “The End is Near.” We love doomsday predictions.

2. The Maya, a civilization that began developing from the Olmec people in what we know as Central America more than 2000 years ago, put a lot of  effort into counting time and predicting future events.

3. In fact, according to a footnote to  Allen J. Christenson, a translator  of the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the  Maya, “Calendars are a vital part of the highland Maya culture and ritual because passages of time are believed to be manifestations of deity.”

4. The date calculated as the end of the Maya 5000-year calendar falls on December 21 on our calendar, which also happens to be the Winter Solstice. Solstice dates attract a lot of esoteric believers in various forces of nature. In other words, you can find a lot of woo-woo explanations about the New Age that will be ushered in next month.

So all these elements have guaranteed lots of articles and headlines and special ceremonies and tours and preparations for December 21st.

We’re always looking for a good excuse to travel, aren’t we? And having our attention drawn to the ancient Maya may inspire some exploration of those Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya so beautifully portrayed in the book by that name.

It is such a gorgeous book that I wanted to tell you a bit more about it.

The photographer’s introduction explains that some of the photos show a view of a temple that no visitor will actually see. Because of scaffolding cover parts of a temple, or because a long mural may have been impossible to photograph as a whole because you can only get 8 feet away from it, Barry Brukoff had to perform some technological magic of stitching together hard-to get shots. The results are seamless and convincing. The two gatefolds that stretch out for the length of three 11″ x 9″  pages will make you say, “Wow!” (Brukoff previously published the book, Temples of Cambodia).

Yale professor-emeritus Michael D. Coe‘s introductory section sketches the history of the Maya and lets you know that this is not a “lost people”. In fact, he says at least eight million people speak one of the many Mayan dialects.  In his short section on each of the cities photographed, Coe fills in information about the ruler who built that particular city and also about the archaeologists who discovered the ruins.

You may be too late to join the rush that the Guatemalan and Mexican governments are encouraging to visit their temples–and that  is probably a good thing.  Whether you decide to stay home and contemplate a new age of harmony and balance, or you decide to book an expedition to explore the royal Mayan cities on the ground in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize or Honduras, you’ll find Royal Cities of the Ancient Maya to be a valuable addition to your traveler’s library.

Note: The publishers sent me a copy of this book in hopes that I would review it, but my views are always my own. Use the links from book titles to Amazon if you want to buy directly and at the same time benefit A Traveler’s Library. In fact, why not do all your holiday shopping through my Amazon links and ads? It costs no more, and helps support your favorite book site. 


About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

17 thoughts on “The Truth About the Mayan End of Time

  1. The same thing happened in 1999: 2000 was going to be the end of it all!

    Well, 2000 came and went with no fanfare or endings…well, the only ending was the 20th century!

    Fortunately, I don’t buy into hype like this and never really bought into the Mayan Calendar thing…well, at least not fully.

  2. I’ve always wanted to visit Guatamala. My brother spent quite a bit of time there in college and I can recall the stories and pictures he shared about the country. So beautiful.

  3. Fascinating. Good to know that it is merely a event influenced by a calendar. Does sound like a very interesting travel experience, though!

  4. There have been people predicting the end of days for as long as there has been recorded history. My husband got me a \”Doomsday Calendar\” last year for Christmas, so I have been humorously counting down our last year. 🙂 Sounds like a fascinating book.

  5. The Mayans are a fascinating culture. I’d love to learn more about them (that is, if the world doesn’t end). I’d use this book to plan my next boomer adventure to Guatemala or Mexico.

  6. I am amzed how many documentaries, tourism promotions and books the end of the Mayan calendar has generated. It highlights a remarkably advanced and sophisticated culture and makes for some great stories and theories.

    1. Despite the Mayan federation’s complaints, I’m pleased that it has drawn people’s attention (including mine) to a truly fascinating civilization and remarkable ruins to visit.

  7. You probably didn’t know this about me — I contain multitudes! — but I a bit obsessed with Mayan archeology. I have visited some of the most obscure Mayan sites in Mexico, including several in the state of Campeche, and I have even visited Chichen Itza during the summer solstice, when you can see a serpent at the edges of the main pyramid.

    AND I couldn’t get to Tikkal when I was in Guatemala because it was the rainy.

    And did I mention Michael Coe is my hero? (Ok, I’m making that part up, but I do recognize his name as one of the foremost scholars in the field).

    I’ll stop now before I start embellishing any more.

  8. What a fascinating read! Perfect timing too. I would love to read it, even though I have no doubt that the end of the world is not coming.

  9. I took a class in college about mythology and we read some about Mayans. They are fascinating people. I hope they’re wrong about the world ending because I would love to visit these ruins some day! This book will make me want to go even more, so maybe it will be the impetus to plan our summer trip there.!

  10. I have visited some of the pyramids in Mexico & my bucket list contains the pyramids in Egypt & Guatamala. I believe there may be a connection between these 3 civilizations. I also believe the long count may be linked to trying to predict climate change based on solar rotations. This book would certainly help me plan a trip but it would also provide hours of fascinating reading. Thank you.

    1. Definitely a connection between Mexico and Guatamala–all the Central American countries derived from the Olmec. I also was astounded at the similarity between the Olmec giant heads and those in Cambodia.

  11. I’m fascinated that the Mayans had a 5000 year cycle to their calendar. Except for those folks trying to create a sign warning people away from nuclear waste 10,000 years from now, Americans aren’t so forward looking.

    I wonder how different our society would be if we always kept some of our attention on 5000 years in the future?

    1. I know it sounds promising, however, if I’m reading the scientific findings correctly, it looks like the long cycle calendar was used by leaders for political purposes. (Like the leader who believed he would come back to lead in the future). Now THAT sounds a bit more familiar, doesn’t it? However, they had another cycle that ran to just over 50 years–a life span–and great celebrations at the end of each of those cycles.

  12. This does sound like an intriguing book indeed!! It was great to hear the explanation of the whole ‘end of the world’ thing- it makes total sense.

    Yes, this is what I missed the most about your blog- learning something new and interesting each time I came in here!! Great to be back!

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