Does Maya calendar predict end of world Friday? USF archaeologist says no

12/19/12 Janelle Irwin
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The calendar created by Maya people has kept track of time for more than 5,000 years, but it ends this Friday, December 21. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the world is ending. That’s according to an expert on the subject who dispelled some doomsday predictions at a lecture at USF Tampa last month.

Christian Wells is an associate professor of archaeology at USF who specializes in Maya culture. According to him, the world isn’t going to come crashing to a halt later this week.

“It may well end, but not because of apocalypse doomsday. It may well end for financial or climate reasons, but it certainly won’t end for the reasons of an ancient Maya prophecy coming to be foretold.”

That’s because there isn’t some sort of prophecy being fulfilled, it’s just that there aren’t any more pages on the Maya calendar to flip.

“Well the calindrical cycle that’s ending on December 21st is what’s called the end of the 13th baktun. They Maya had what’s called a vigesimal system based on counts of 20s. So, for example, their month would be twenty days long verses ours is variable, but around 30 days. So, they had progressively higher and higher order cycles based on 20s and the highest – one of the highest cycles they have is the baktun which is 144,000 days. So, the 13th baktun – so 13 times 144,000 since the beginning of the Maya calendar, that’s the end of the Maya cycle.”

But according to Wells, a lot of people suspect there might be something to the Maya Doomsday prophecy. In one survey done asking people whether or not they think the world will end on December 21, one in ten think it just might.

“They survey was a survey of adults in 21 countries, but there are other surveys that have been done that point to a higher incidence of belief of apocalypse by younger people – teenagers in particular. That could be because of the ways in which they’re connected more to the media and to the internet.”

Those believers come up with some pretty fascinating end of the world scenarios. Theories include nuclear and meteor threats, but Wells said his personal favorite involves the earth falling into a black hole.

“Something about the earth being catapulted into a black hole like a rubber band.”

Joking aside, Wells said the Maya calendar is actually more representative of a sustainable world, not the end of it.

“I think that the Maya sense of the universe is really about recording their place in the environment, their place in the world and their place in the universe. And because they were such sophisticated astronomers, they were able to really pin point and track where they were relative to much larger cycles and trends – cycles and trends that outlasted them individually, but even as a people. And so they were very in touch with cosmological cycles and that’s really the hallmark tradition of sustainability. Sustainability is really about recognizing where you stand relative to larger cycles and trends in the environment.”

The Mayan people are known for their keen sense of astronomy having used the sky to predict whether patterns and other natural phenomena. Larry Cantor, a Tampa resident who attended the lecture, is getting ready to travel to Maya territory in the Yucatan Peninsula.

“I’m still a little bit on that in between where it is very difficult for me to imagine that these people, out of the clear blue sky were this advanced because going back to what he said, if you come across the Bering Strait, what happened to all this knowledge? Why did they bypass the United States and the Navajo – excuse me – and they settled in the middle part of, let’s say, Mexico.”

The end of the Maya calendar is a big deal to its people with or without apocalyptic speculation. There are still an estimated 800,000 surviving Mayans. Ceremonies marking the end of this baktun have already started, but priests have been barred from performing rituals inside archeological sites for safety and preservation reasons.

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