Did the Mayans know something we don't? Does their calendar predict our eminent doom?
In 1957 professor Maud Worcester Makemson wrote that "the completion of a Great Period of 13 b'ak'tuns would have been of the utmost significance to the Maya." A b'ak'tun is a measure of time equaling 144,000 days, (almost 395 years) on the Long Count calendar developed by the Mayans.
But what to make of that statement? Are "the completion of a Great Period" and "utmost significance" necessarily bad things?
Michael D. Coe seemed to think so nine years later when he wrote in his book, The Maya, "There is a suggestion... that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the 13th b'ak'tun. Thus... our present universe would be annihilated when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion." He calculated that completion to occur in late December 2012.
Since Coe was held in high regard as an expert on all things Mayan, this theory got some people's attention. The idea bubbled under the surface for the next few decades, but as the date grew closer lots of folks began jumping on the end-of-the-world bandwagon.
The movie 2012, predicting catastrophic earthquakes, giant tsunamis, and massive volcanic eruptions brought huge publicity to the notion of impending doom.
Not wanting to miss out on the public's desire for disaster, The History Channel's Decoding the Past series featured episodes entitled "Mayan Doomsday Prophecy", and "Doomsday 2012: The End of Days," spewing forth incredible fear mongering misinformation about the Mayan calendar and a galactic alignment. The apocalypse will occur if the Sun and the black hole at the center of our galaxy line up just right it will create all sorts of gravitational chaos on Earth.
But the real good stuff can always be found on the Internet. Horrifying prophecies are flying through cyberspace. Feel free to choose from Planet X colliding with Earth, a geomagnetic reversal where the north and south poles switch places, or massive solar flares sizzling the world. Anyone with a computer can see we're all doomed.
Think Y2K was scary? This is Y2K plus a dozen!
We needed a dose of reality to calm our nerves, so we went straight to the source, the Mayan ruins at Tulum. Our guide Carlos fielded the big question and, since he's a direct descendent of Mayans, we felt sure we'd get a straight answer... or not.
But seriously, a little humor is called for because the entire proposition is laughable. Mayan scholars say there are no predictions of impending doom in any written accounts, and the notion that the calendar ends in 2012 is a misrepresentation. There have even been Mayan writings discovered that refer to dates well past this feared end of time.
All we are facing is the end of the thirteenth cycle and the beginning of the fourteenth. That should be cause for celebration, so I think we can all start making New Year's plans.
Oh, and this year we can say Happy New B'ak'tun too.
YOUR TURN: Isn't Carlos great? Did he calm your fears?