In the minutes leading up to the “end of the world” tomorrow, Giorgio Tsoukalos, the “star” of Ancient Aliens, is throwing a carnival-like circus party in New Orleans where he plans to descend onto a stage in a mock spaceship to ring in the Maya Apocalypse. (As I write this, it’s already 12/21 in Australia, and, so far as I know, the continent still exists.) Tsoukalos told Janet McConnaughey of the Associated Press that he chose New Orleans as the site of his acrobat, laser, and fire-thrower circus show—to benefit the Peter Mayhew Foundation—in order to honor the city for surviving Hurricane Katrina. Yes, the Associated Press covers Ancient Aliens as though it were news.
Tsoukalos correctly told his followers on Twitter that the alleged Maya apocalypse is not the end of the world. However, he then turned a true statement into a lie that demonstrates his inability to understand absolutely anything about the alternative theories he works to promote.
“We do understand it’s four days before Christmas. But this party’s been in the making for 25,600 years. So what's your excuse not to attend?”
This refers to Tsoukalos’ mistaken belief, expressed on Twitter, that the rollover of the Maya calendar tomorrow represents the beginning of a new 25,600 year cycle of the Precession of Equinoxes, the apparent backward drifting of the stars relative to a fixed point on the horizon over time.
But precession has nothing to do with the Maya calendar, and it isn’t measured from the winter solstice.
Tsoukalos is mangling the ideas of Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, who in Hamlet’s Mill proposed that ancient mythology was founded on knowledge of precession as measured from the sun’s position on the horizon at dawn on the spring equinox, not the winter solstice. Astrologers who subscribe to the “world age” theory say we are entering the Age of Aquarius because precession is causing the sun to move into Aquarius on the spring equinox, not the winter solstice. Even alternative writers like Graham Hancock argue that for the ancients time was marked from the spring equinox, the traditional date of the new year and thus new ages, not the winter solstice.
Precession takes 25,772 years to complete a full cycle, and it should be obvious that any “start” or “end” date is completely arbitrary since the cycle is circular and has no natural beginning or end point, only imaginary ones based on the post-500 BCE Babylonian-Greek zodiac. Every day could be considered a start or end point for the great circle of the stars, and 2012 is neither the beginning nor the end of the sun’s time in any given constellation, supposedly a marker of the passage of the “ages.” (Because the zodiac constellations are not the same width, there is disagreement among astrologers whether an “age” begins at the natural start point of a constellation, or at arbitrary markers spaced evenly at 20 degree intervals; therefore, exact dates are hard to come by.)
(Note: Technically, these 25,772 years are astronomical Julian years of 365.25 days; expressed in tropical or solar years of 365.242 days, there is a negligible difference of about half a year.)
The Maya long count calendar is based on cyclical ages of 144,000 days (394.26 years). These cycles are called baktuns, counted from August 11, 3114 BCE, the date of creation. This number has no mathematical relationship to the 25,772 years of precession. The only reason that the two numbers occasionally come close to looking like they have a mathematical relationship, as they almost do at the end of the thirteenth baktun this year (in which the Maya year equal to about 5,125 solar years from creation seems close to a fifth of the precessional cycle, or about 5,154 years), is because both cycles are expressed in terms of numbers roughly correlated to the 365-day solar year and numbers divisible by such common divisors as 12 or 20.
The long and short of it is that Giorgio Tsoukalos doesn’t even understand the fake facts from alternative writers that he belts out for cash like a broken juke box.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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