Sunday, March 26, 2006

Mayan Musings and Marking Time ...

This is a discussion I had last Thanksgiving (American, lol, in November) that, being about time, is as relevant today as it was then, lol.

From: Elron Steele
Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005 12:12 pm
Subject: marking time ...
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... Just some musings for a Thursday (and slack will be cut for our turkey-drunk American members *G*). I've been thinking about calendars lately, and what if any significance they have to our lives. Terms like "21st Century" are ubiquitous in our society and culture, but I wonder if there's any real meaning in them. Does the marking of time matter to the way we live our lives?

One of the reasons I ask the question is that for a large part of the world, it is not, in fact, the 21st century in anyway. If you are Islamic, its the early 15th century (1427 if I am not mistaken). Jews are way ahead of us, marking the year in the 58th century. Chinese would mark the year as 4703, and were there any Mayans left that used their old calendar, its likely they'd ark the year somewhere between 5100 and 5400. If Indus valley cultures in India are found to have a calendar system, their system could makr the year as high as 7000 or 8000.

So I wonder if it matters that "its the 21st century now." I realize its used as a way of showing hope for change and the future in many cases, and thats al well and good. But I suppose I just began wondering in it all why we decide to mark the year at 2006. Ofc, I know the obvious reason ... we use a Christian based calander that marks time from the birth of Christ. But I'm wondering how that decision affects us in other ways ... does a Muslim think differently about their world because they mark the year as 1427, or someone from China who thinks its 4703? If it does matter, I wonder how it matters, and if it doesn't, I wonder why we bother to keep track at all ...

From: Elron Steele
Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:58 pm
Subject: Re: marking time ...
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One of the things I stumbled across when I was poking around earlier was the Mayan system. It's incredibly complex, but a couple of things were of interest, I thought. The first was that the basic Mayan calendar, the Long Count, is based on a 5122 year cycle. That number wasn't terribly interesting except to note that based on 2 of the 3 estimates for the beginning of the Long Count we are currently in the end of our current Mayan cycle would be in late 2012, just before "Christmas." Not sure its siugnificant, but it did make me go "Hmmmmmmmm."

The second thing was more of a "Wow" that i didn't know before. There's a chart of what I am talking about here ... ... but as I read through it I noticed a Mayan unit "1 alautan" roughly equivelent to 63 million years. Now, as far as I know, in western thought, the notion that time might be measured in millions of years is quite recent, a product of the scientific age. Yet here we have an example of an ancient culture with a UNIT if time that spans 63 million years. Thats more than just conceiving of that amount ... having a UNIT that large shows that calculations and measurements in that size range were common, and that the idea of 10 alautan, or 100 alautan was just as easy as 1 alautan.

That was remarkable to me ... as far as I know, at the time the Mayans were around, everyone else on the planet was thinking in terms of, at BEST, thousands and tens of thousands of years ... certainly not 100's of millions or billions as the Mayans apparently were. Not sure what the significance is, but it reinforces something I have felt for a long time ... we know FAR too little about several of the thriving, vibrant, and culturally complex civilisations that existed in the Americas before the rest of the world showed up. 2500 years ago, people in the Americas were thinking in terms of alautan about ... well, thats just it, we have no idea really. I can't imagine how much of a shame that is?

From: Elron Steele
Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005 8:59 pm
Subject: Re: marking time ...
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And then after I wrote this, I started thinking ... something familliar about 63 million years. Probably just a coincidence I suppose, but I pulled up a listing of ELE events and found the last one estimated at 65 million years ago-ish. Seems rather eery that an ancient culture would have a unit of time that nearly exacty dated from the last major extinction of life. Kinda makes me go "Hmmmmm" again, lol.

From: Elron Steele
Date: Thu Nov 24, 2005 11:34 pm
Subject: Re: [Debate_Everything] Re: marking time ...
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I seem to be in the mood to see patterns today, perhaps ...


Thats a chart of the alautan's and the number of actual years it translates to. I found it fascinating how close that list of our years matches things like ELE's and epoch transitions. Fascinating ...


On 11/24/05, Christina <> wrote: went to look this up...apparently we are in an ele event now....

1. 488 million years ago — a series of mass extinctions at the
Cambrian-Ordovician transition (the Cambrian-Ordovician extinction
events) eliminated many brachiopods and conodonts and severely reduced
the number of trilobite species.
2. 444 million years ago — at the Ordovician-Silurian transition
two Ordovician-Silurian extinction events occurred, probably as the
result of a period of glaciation. Marine habitats changed drastically
as sea levels decreased, causing the first die-off, then another
occurred between 500 thousand to a million years later when sea levels
rose rapidly. It has been suggested that a gamma ray burst may have
triggered this extinction. [1]
3. 360 million years ago — near the Devonian-Carboniferous
transition (the Late Devonian extinction) a prolonged series of
extinctions led to the elimination of about 70% of all species. This
was not a sudden event, with the period of decline lasting perhaps as
long as 20 million years. However, there is evidence for a series of
extinction pulses within this period.
4. 251 million years ago — at the Permian-Triassic transition (the
Permian-Triassic extinction event) about 95% of all marine species
went extinct. This catastrophe was Earth's worst mass extinction,
killing 53% of marine families, 84% of marine genera, and an estimated
70% of land species (including plants, insects, and vertebrate animals.)
5. 200 million years ago — at the Triassic-Jurassic transition (the
Triassic-Jurassic extinction event) about 20% of all marine families
as well as most non-dinosaurian archosaurs, most therapsids, and the
last of the large amphibians were eliminated.
6. 65 million years ago — at the Cretaceous-Paleogene transition
(the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event) about 50% of all species
became extinct (including the dinosaurs). This extinction is widely
believed to have resulted from an asteroid or comet impact event.
7. Present day — the Holocene extinction event. A 1998 survey by
the American Museum of Natural History found that 70% of biologists
view the present era as part of a mass extinction event. Some, such as
E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, predict that man's destruction of
the biosphere could cause the extinction of one-half of all species in
the next 100 years. Research and conservation efforts, such as the
IUCN's annual "Red List" of threatened species, all point to an
ongoing period of enhanced extinction, though some offer much lower
rates and hence longer time scales before the onset of catastrophic
damage. The extinction of many megafauna near the end of the most
recent ice age is also sometimes considered a part of the Holocene
extinction event.


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