Fact Check: Eight Years Were NOT Lost When the Gregorian Calendar Was Unveiled in the 1500s, Mayan Calendar Apocalypse NOT Foretold

Fact Check

  • by: Arthur Brice
Fact Check: Eight Years Were NOT Lost When the Gregorian Calendar Was Unveiled in the 1500s, Mayan Calendar Apocalypse NOT Foretold Days Skipped

Were eight years lost when the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582, meaning that the global apocalypse supposedly foretold in the Mayan calendar for 2012 actually was supposed to happen in 2020? No, that's not true: Only 10 days were lost when the Gregorian calendar replaced the Julian calendar because it is more accurate. Besides, the Mayan calendar did not indicate worldwide destruction would occur in 2012. The Mayan calendar just ran out of space on that year, and another cycle was set to begin right after that, much like 2020 turned into 2021.

The claim appeared in a post (archived here) published on Instagram on December 29, 2020. It said:

People are growing concerned after discovering that when we switched calendars in the 1500's, we lost about 8 years in translation, which would technically place Earth in the year 2012, the same year that the Mayan Calendar predicted the world would end.

If we start with the given that the world did not end in 2020, facts -- sometimes a bit complicated -- can debunk the Mayan Doomsday scenario. Let's start with humanity's attempts to define and quantify such an ethereal concept as time. We won't deal with seconds, minutes and hours, but rather with years and calendars. We'll get to Doomsdays later.

The NRICH Project at the University of Oxford goes back a few millennia:

Ever since humans first noticed the regular movement of the Sun and the stars, we have wondered about the passage of time. Prehistoric people first recorded the phases of the Moon some 30,000 years ago, and recording time has been a way by which humanity has observed the heavens and represented the progress of civilization.

This led to ways to measure time. Again NRICH:

Babylonian records of observations of heavenly events date back to 1,600 BCE. The reason for adopting their arithmetic system is probably because 60 has many divisors, and their decision to adopt 360 days as the length of the year and 3600 in a circle was based on their existing mathematics and the convenience that the sun moves through the sky relative to fixed stars at about 1 degree each day.

Skipping ahead, we come to the Roman Calendar. The site timeanddate.com says this about it:

The Roman calendar is the time reckoning system used in ancient Rome. However, because the calendar was reformed and adjusted countless times over the centuries, the term essentially denotes a series of evolving calendar systems, whose structures are partly unknown and vary quite a bit.

Here, we focus mainly on the calendar used in the Roman Republic (509-27 BCE). Also known as the Republican calendar, it is the earliest calendar system from Rome for which we have historical evidence. It was used until 45 BCE, when it was replaced by the Julian calendar.

Ah, the Julian calendar. Again, timeanddate.com:

The Julian calendar's predecessor, the Roman calendar, was a very complicated lunar calendar, based on the moon phases. It required a group of people to decide when days should be added or removed in order to keep the calendar in sync with the astronomical seasons, marked by equinoxes and solstices.

Enter Julius Caesar. He switched from the moon to the sun to measure time. The Connecticut State Library web site explains:

In 45 B.C., Julius Caesar ordered a calendar consisting of twelve months based on a solar year. This calendar employed a cycle of three years of 365 days, followed by a year of 366 days (leap year). When first implemented, the "Julian Calendar" also moved the beginning of the year from March 1 to January 1. However, following the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the new year was gradually realigned to coincide with Christian festivals until by the seventh century, Christmas Day marked the beginning of the new year in many countries.

By the ninth century, parts of southern Europe began observing first day of the new year on March 25 to coincide with Annunciation Day (the church holiday nine months prior to Christmas celebrating the Angel Gabriel's revelation to the Virgin Mary that she was to be the mother of the Messiah). The last day of the year was March 24. However, England did not adopt this change in the beginning of the new year until late in the twelfth century.

Because the year began in March, records referring to the "first month" pertain to March; to the second month pertain to April, etc., so that "the 19th of the 12th month" would be February 19. In fact, in Latin, September means seventh month, October means eighth month, November means ninth month, and December means tenth month. Use of numbers, rather than names, of months was especially prevalent in Quaker records.

Pope Gregory XIII stepped in to try to impose some order. Says the Connecticut State Library site:

During the Middle Ages, it began to became apparent that the Julian leap year formula had overcompensated for the actual length of a solar year, having added an extra day every 128 years. However, no adjustments were made to compensate. By 1582, seasonal equinoxes were falling 10 days "too early," and some church holidays, such as Easter, did not always fall in the proper seasons. In that year, Pope Gregory XIII authorized, and most Roman Catholic countries adopted, the "Gregorian" or "New Style" Calendar." As part of the change, ten days were dropped from the month of October, and the formula for determining leap years was revised so that only years divisible by 400 (e.g., 1600, 2000) at the end of a century would be leap years. January 1 was established as the first day of the new year. Protestant countries, including England and its colonies, not recognizing the authority of the Pope, continued to use the Julian Calendar.

Timeanddate.com sums it up:

It is a solar calendar based on a 365-day common year divided into 12 months of irregular lengths. 11 of the months have either 30 or 31 days, while the second month, February, has only 28 days during the common year. However, nearly every four years is a leap year, when one extra - or intercalary - day, is added on 29 February, making the leap year in the Gregorian calendar 366 days long.

Gregory did not invent the calendar system that bears his name. He merely approved it and introduced it. The Britannica encyclopedia says the job of creating it fell to Neapolitan astronomer and physician Luigi Lilio Ghiraldi, who died about 6 years before the calendar's introduction, and the German Jesuit and mathematician Christopher Clavius. Gregory unveiled it introduced on February 24, 1582, in the bull Inter gravissimas ("In the gravest concern"). Britannica points out it did not receive universal acceptance:

Although the reform was welcomed by such astronomers as Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe and by the Catholic princes of Europe, many Protestants saw it as the work of the Antichrist and refused to adopt it. The Gregorian calendar was gradually accepted by the countries of Europe, though Russia did not accept it until 1918.

For a list of when different countries adopted the Gregorian calendar, go here.

As stated earlier, the main difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars was how leap years were derived. Whereas the Julian leap year occurred every four years and included century years (the years marking the beginning of a century), the Gregorian calendar used this formula, says timeanddate.com:

  1. The year is evenly divisible by 4;
  2. If the year can be evenly divided by 100, it is NOT a leap year, unless;
  3. The year is also evenly divisible by 400: Then it is a leap year.

The Gregorian calendar also included new rules for calculating Easter dates.

The change yielded results so tiny they can only be significant in the infinite scope of time. Infoplease details how miniscule:

The Julian calendar featured a 12-month, 365-day year, with an intercalary day inserted every fourth year at the end of February to make an average year of 365.25 days. But because the length of the solar year is actually 365.242216 days, the Julian year was too long by .0078 days (11 minutes 14 seconds).

Following the Gregorian reform, the average length of the year was 365.2425 days, an even closer approximation to the solar year. At this rate, it will take more than 3,000 years for the Gregorian calendar to gain one extra day in error.

As an interesting aside, timeanddate.com says the Revised Julian calendar (who knew that even existed?) is even more accurate than the Gregorian calendar. The Revised Julian reflects the time it takes the Earth to complete a full orbit around the sun with an error rate of only 2 seconds per year. The Gregorian has an error rate of 27 seconds a year. Twenty-five seconds here, 25 seconds there, and a few centuries later you have a problem:

The two systems will be in sync until the year 2800, which is a leap year in the Gregorian calendar but not in the Revised Julian calendar. In other words, February 29, 2800, in the Gregorian calendar will be March 1, 2800 in the Revised Julian calendar.

Not to worry, though, hardly anyone uses the upstart Julian calendar. Says timeanddate:

However, the main reason why we do not use the Revised Julian calendar is that it was never meant to be a civil calendar. Rather, it was devised by Serbian scientist Milutin Milanković to reform time reckoning in the Orthodox Church. In 1923, the Greek Patriarch Meletius proposed its adoption. However, only a few national churches followed the directive, so most Orthodox denominations still observe the original Julian calendar.

At this point, it should be noted that different societies measure time differently. The Connecticut State Library web site points out that:

Even now the Chinese and Islamic calendars are based on the motion of the moon around the earth, rather than the motion of the earth in relation to the sun, and the Jewish calendar links years to the cycle of the sun and months to the cycle of the moon.

Which brings us to the Mayan calendar and, eventually, to the Doomsday that never was.

For starters it was not one calendar. The Mayans used three different calendars simultaneously. The livescience.com website explains:

The first was the sacred calendar, or Tzolk'in, which lasted 260 days and then started over again, just as our 365-day calendar refreshes once it hits Dec. 31. This calendar was important for scheduling religious ceremonies.

The second calendar was the Haab', or secular calendar, which lasted 365 days but did not account for the extra quarter-day it takes the Earth to revolve around the sun. ... That means the calendar wandered a bit in relation to the seasons.
The final calendar was the Long Count Calendar -- the recording method that has caused all of the doomsday brouhaha of 2012. On Dec. 21 (approximately), the calendar completes a major cycle, which has triggered doomsday fears and mystical rumors about the end of an age.

The Tzolk'in and the Haab identify the days, but not the years. The Long Count did that.

And it is the Long Count Calendar that supposedly predicted the end of the world. The short and simpler version of how it works is explained by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian:

Any given date repeats at cyclic intervals, just as, for example, January 1st in the Gregorian calendar repeats every time the Earth completes a revolution around the Sun. A complete Maya Long Count cycle is 5,125 years long. The Maya Long Count system establishes an absolute chronology in which any given date is unique, such as December 21, 2012, in the Gregorian system. The Long Count calendar keeps track of the days that have passed since the mythical starting date of the Maya creation, August 11, 3114 BCE.

More-detailed explanations can be found here and here.

So where does the Apocalypse come in? Here, according to timeanddate.com:

The Mayans believed that the universe is destroyed and then recreated at the start of each universal cycle.

The latest Long Count cycle ended December 21, 2012, and that led to the end-of-the-world speculation. It became so prevalent that even NASA got involved in debunking it. Said the space agency in a December 22, 2012 post-apocalyptic posting titled "Beyond 2012: Why the World Didn't End:"

The Mayan connection "was a misconception from the very beginning," says Dr. John Carlson, director of the Center for Archaeoastronomy. "The Maya calendar did not end on Dec. 21, 2012, and there were no Maya prophecies foretelling the end of the world on that date."

Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 31, the Mayan calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Mayan long-count period but then - just as your calendar begins again on January 1 - another long-count period begins for the Mayan calendar.

December 21, 2012, came and went, the world did not end, and most people figured we were safe. All was quiet for several years, until some British and U.S. tabloids started posting supposed tweets from someone named Paolo Tagaloquin that said the predicted end of the world was actually supposed to happen on June 21, 2020. Their stories, which ran on June 13, 2020, can be found here and here. The claim even made it to India, as seen here.

An unverified (no blue check mark) Twitter account for someone named Paolo Tagaloguin (@PaoloTagaloguin) has a series of Tweets from June 14, 2020, and June 15, 2020, that said some of the same things mentioned in the tabloid stories:

Mayan calendar was wrong and world will 'end' next week on June 21, warns conspiracy theorist......

we are technically in 2012. The number of days lost in a year due to the shift into Gregorian Calendar is 11 days. For 268 years using the Gregorian Calendar (1752-2020) times 11 days = 2,948 days. 2,948 days / 365 days (per year) = 8 years"....

according to the Julian calendar, we are currently in the year 2012 and not in 2020...

June 21, 2020 would actually be December 21, 2012.. According to #mayancalendar

On June 17, 2020, tweets said:

Science is elegant and beautiful, but it requires an effort to understand.. #mayancalendar

The Mayan calendar dates back to at least the 5th century BCE and it is still in use in some Mayan communities today. However, even though the Mayans contributed to the further development of the calendar, they did not actually invent it...

Tweets on June 19, 2020, say:

Doomsday on #21stjune2020 ...!

Except rest of the world #China Is going to face a massive disaster by nature on #21stJune2020 .. Im dam sure non of the country but china us going to face a #DOOMSDAY ..

The @PaoloTagaloguin account identifies him as: Fulbright scholar/ biologist/ athlete /researcher. It said he joined Twitter in June 2020. As of December 31, 2020, the account had 755 followers and the Twitter account followed one other account: NASA (@NASA). Most of the postings on the @PaoloTagaloguin account have to do with space and NASA.

It is doubtful that this is the same account that was quoted in the tabloid stories. The first two of those stories were published June 13, 2020, and quoted from a Paolo Tagaloquin Twitter account. The stories also said the Tweets had been erased.

The first tweet on the current @PaoloTagaloguin account was published June 14, 2020, one day after the tabloid stories that quoted the tweets and said they had been deleted.

At least one commenter on one of the posts on the @PaoloTagaloguin account said that wasn't really him.

Lead Stories could not determine whether Paolo Tagaloquin exists and, if he does, whether that is his legitimate Twitter account. A Twitter email for comment from Lead Stories sent to the @PaoloTagaloguin account December 31, 2020, had not been answered at the time of writing.

What has been answered is the so-far specious claim that the Mayan calendar predicted a worldwide Apocalypse in 2012 or 2020 or whenever.

Said Forbes in a June 15, 2020, article:

... there's plenty of reason to believe the Mayans were never actually predicting the end of the world, but rather that the cut-off point on their calendar was just that - the ending of a cycle. Just as our parents threw out the old calendar each December. This was not a signal of anything more than the start of a new year and a re-cycling of our timekeeping system.

It appears there's also one other recycling -- of specious Mayan calendar Apocalypse claims.

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  Arthur Brice

Arthur Brice is a fact checker at Lead Stories. He has been a journalist for more than 40 years, nearly 30 of them in newspapers. Brice was a national desk editor and reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for nearly 20 years. Previously, he was political editor at The Tampa Tribune and also worked for three other Florida newspapers. He spent 11 Years as an executive editor and executive producer at CNN. 

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