Carbon Dating Confirms 'Mayan Apocalypse' Was a Dud

A new study confirms our previous understanding of the Mayan calendar is correct.

Chichen Itza

Scientists have confirmed the Mayans' predictions for 2012 were wrong.


Breathe a sigh of relief. The Mayan apocalypse didn't happen last year and it won't ever happen at all.

A new study has confirmed the most common correlation between the Mayan long-form calendar and the present day calendar universally used.

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The world took an increased interest in the Mayan calendar last year, with some doomsdayers saying Dec. 21 — the end of the 13th 144,000 day cycle on the Mayan calendar, known as a Bak'tun — would signal the end of time, or at least sweeping change across the world.

That day came and went without incident, but researchers at Penn State University say we don't have to worry about a rounding error. Environmental archaeologist Douglas Kennet and his team used carbon-14 dating of a wooden lintel engraved with a Mayan long-form date uncovered at the Mayan city of Tikal (in Northeastern Guatemala) to confirm that the most common correlation, known as Goodman-Martinez-Thompson (GMT) is correct.

"The exact date when the Bak'tun changed is open to question, but we know that it was somewhere in December," says Kennet. He says there are "minor quibbles" about the GMT correlation, but they are generally within a few days of each other. There had previously been more than 40 different correlations proposed, spanning some 1,000 years, though GMT has always been the most commonly used.

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"We can demonstrate without scientific question that [GMT] is correct," he says.

That means the end of the 13th Mayan Bak'tun really did happen in December 2012, and the world did not end.

"That whole thing was over-hyped of course, but at some level it brought popular interest to the calendar," he says.

Besides knowing the world's not going to end, Kennet says the confirmation of GMT allows archaeologists to date certain events with confidence. The team originally sought to confirm the GMT correlation because he was researching the effects of climate change on the rise and fall of the Maya civilization.

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"In doing that study, I was worried about whether GMT was correct, because it makes a big difference if you move historical records 200 years to one side or the other," he says. His latest study confirms that climate change did have an important effect on the decline of the civilization about 1,000 years ago.

"From our perspective, the value of this data is for historical analysis. Now we can be more confident in our ability to compare environmental records with archaeological records," he says. "Anything that has a Mayan date on it, we can be more certain about what the European date is."

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