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Research Topic: The Mayan Chronology

By Ian Mander, 20 November 1999.

Question: When did the Mayan dating system start?

Answer: Having a more acurate calendar than the Gregorian calendar we use now*, the Mayans, you would think, would know better than most when the world started. Their own calendar (a daycount system) has a start date in 3113BC. But what did this start date represent?

*The Maya had calculated the length of the year to 365.2420 days. The length calculated in the Gregorian calendar in 365.2425 days. The actual value is 365.2422 days, which means the Maya were closer than the calendar we use today.

Dr Donald Chittick, PhD (physical chemistry) makes the following claim in his book The Puzzle of Ancient Man (page 122):

Yet the year zero on the Mayan calendar, the creation of the world, agrees with the Biblical time scale. It agrees, in fact, to within fifty-six years of Ussher's famous chronology. It was 56 years shorter than the 4004BC of Ussher. Reliable historical records from other cultures, although pagan and supposedly having no knowledge of Genesis also concur with the Genesis date of creation of about 4000BC.

Dr Chittick gives as a reference for this part-paragraph Bill Cooper, After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe, New Wine Press, West Sussex, pp. 127-128.

I happen to have a copy of After the Flood, so since this claim sounded so interesting, I looked it the reference to do some more in-depth reading. The reading I did was quite contradictory to Dr Chittick's claim.

On page 127 Bill Cooper states that "the Maya instituted a daycount" and on page 128 the "Mayan Day 1 began on... 10th August 3113BC (I make that a Thursday)." While on the same order of magnitude as Ussher's 4004BC, there is serious doubt as to whether this can be interpreted as "agree[ing] with the Biblical time scale." There is a difference of 891 years, after all.

Bill Cooper goes on to explain that the Mayan concept of time was cyclic (which incidently would mean no creation at all) and that they knew the old age had come to an end with a watery cataclysm and their own age started after that cataclysm. He continues "In other words, they looked back to the Flood as the close of the old age and the beginning of the new." So the Mayan Day 1 (not a fictitious "year zero") was at or around the end of the Great Flood, not the beginning of the world.

So how does Dr Chittick come up with the date of the Mayan creation of the world?

One of the points Bill Cooper is trying to convey in his pages on the Maya is that they were no less capable than Joseph Scaliger (AD1540-1609), who came up with the idea of the Julian Date (named after his father Julius) - a daycount system based on three astronomical variables, each cyclic in nature, and each having a different period (the time for completion of one cycle). The time that these three variables would all have been starting together, he calculated, was 4713BC, so he took Julian Date 1 as being 1 January 4713BC.

All very interesting, but here is where we link back to the Mayans and Dr Chittick's idea of the Mayan creation date. The difference between Julian Date 1 and the Mayan Day 1 (as Bill Cooper explains) is 1600 years, which differs from the biblical value from creation to the Flood (Latin Vulgate and Masoretic text) of 1656 years. The difference between these values in 56 years, and Bill Cooper used this to highlight a consistency between the Bible and the pairing of these other sources. The 56 years is in no way, however, a difference from Ussher's creation date of 4004BC - a date Bill Cooper never refers to in these pages.

So in summary, this reference lays no claim to the Maya knowning the date of creation - indeed, their religion had turned away from the very idea of creation - and the calendar start date that the Mayan calendar gives (actually the end of the Flood) is hundreds of years removed from the biblical timeframe. How is it that Dr Donald Chittick has so badly misrepresented his source here?

At least Dr Chittick gets the page numbers for the reference correct.

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