The Second Millennium

The book Breaking the Mayan Code, by Michael D. Coe relates some facts about the ancient Maya which prompted the following observation about a coincidence of dates related to the creation and end of the world.

The Irish scholar and Anglican archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656) calculated that the date of creation was in the year 4004 BC. He based this upon his long-accepted system of biblical chronology. Similarly, many religious sects thought the end of the world would come with the coming of the second millennium - i.e. the year 2000. (Of course many thought the same about the year 1000.)

The Aztecs and Maya had a very accurate calendar over 1,500 years ago. It was more accurate than the one used in Europe. Of interest to us here is the fact that the Mayan calendar begins on August 13, 3114 BC, and ends on December 23, 2012 AD. In fact the Maya wise men of the Yucatan still predict that the world will end in the year "2000 and a little".

I find the similarity of the Mayan dates to Ussher's calculations and popular beliefs about the second millennium to be interesting.

The Aztecs lived in Mexico City. The Mayans lived in the Yucatan peninsula (that's where Cozumel and Cancun are, for you winter vacationers). When, in 1519, the soldiers of the Spaniard Cortés entered the Aztec capitol of the City of Mexico they found it more impressive than Rome or Constantinople.

According to Coe, the Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin, an ancient Mayan book, prophesizes the following about the date December 23, 2012.

Then the sky is divided
    Then the land is raided,
And then there begins
    The Book of the 13 Gods.
Then occurs
    The great flooding of the Earth.
Then arises
    The great Itzam Cab Ain.
The ending of the word,
    The fold of the Katun.
That is a flood
    Which will be the ending of
    the word of the Katun.

No, I don't believe in any of this, but it does help to show that questions about the beginning and end of the universe are eventually asked by any culture, and that there were fascinating cultures in the New World long before Columbus.

Philip Mahler
Professor of Mathematics

(An old article for the Middlesex student newspaper.)