2012 is not the end of the world, insist Mayans
Monday, October 12, 2009
MEXICO CITY - Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly "running out" on December 21, 2012. After all, it's not the end of the world.
Or is it?
Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder Insist. "I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff."
It can only get worse for him. Next month's Hollywood "2012" opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumped an aircraft carrier on the White House.
At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" Web site, says people are scared.
"It's too bad that we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she would not live to see them grow up."
Pixtun chile, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.
A significant time period for the Mayas does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical Alignments say they coincide in 2012, including one that only happens roughly once every 25.800 years.
But most Archaeologists, and Maya astronomers say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower or New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet and TV specials doomsday rumors such as one on the History Channel which mixes "predictions" from Nostradamus and the Mayan and asks: "Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?"
It may sound too much like all other doomsday scenarios of recent decades - the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect or "Planet X". But this one has some grains of archaeological basis.
One of them is Six Monument.
Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost did not survive; Largely the site was paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.
It's unique in that the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 Involving Yokte Bolon, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.
However - shades of Indiana Jones - erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.
Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal of Mexico's National Autonomous University interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, "He will descend from the sky."
Spooky, perhaps, but Bernal notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 - including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.
And anyway, Mayas in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries than in 2012.
"If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what was going to happen in 2012, they would not have any idea," said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. "That the world is going to end? They would not believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."
The Mayan civilization, which reached its height from 300 AD to 900 AD, had a talent for astronomy
Its Long Count begins in 3.114 BC calendar, marking time in roughly 394-year period known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around December 21, 2012.
"It's a special anniversary of creation," said David Stuart, a specialist in Mayan epigraphy at the University of Texas at Austin. "The Maya never said the world is going to end, they never said anything bad would happen necessarily, they're just recording this future anniversary on Six Monument."
Bernal suggests that apocalypse was "a very Western, Christian" concept projected onto the Maya, perhaps because Western myths are "exhausted."
If it were all mythology, perhaps it could be written off.
But some say the Maya knew another secret: the Earth's axis wobbles, slightly changing the alignment of the stars every year. Once every 25.800 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun's lowest point in the horizon.
That will happen on December 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright center of galaxy sets.
Another spooky coincidence?
"The question I would ask these guys is, so what?" says Phil Plait, an Astronomer who runs the "Bad Astronomy" blog. He says the alignment does not fall Precisely in 2012, and distant stars exert no force that could harm Earth.
"They're really super-duper trying to find anything they can to fit that astronomical date of 2012," Plait said.
But author John Major Jenkins says his two-decade study of Mayan ruins indicate the Maya were aware of the alignment and attached great importance to it.
"If we want to honor and respect how the Maya think about this, then we would say that the Maya viewed in 2012, as all endings cycle, as a time of transformation and renewal," said Jenkins.
As the Internet gained popularity in the 1990s, so did word of the "fateful" date, and some began Worrying about disasters in 2012 the Mayas never dreamed of.
Author Lawrence Joseph says a peak in explosive storms on the surface of the sun could knock out North America's power grid for years, triggering food shortages, water scarcity - a collapse of civilization. Solar peaks occur about every 11 years, but Joseph says there's evidence the 2012 peak could be "a lulu."
While pressing governments to install protection for power grids, Joseph counsels readers not to "use 2012 as an excuse to not live in a healthy, responsible fashion. I mean, do not let the credit cards go up."
Another History Channel program titled "Decoding the Past: Doomsday 2012: End of Days" says a galactic alignment or magnetic disturbances could somehow trigger a "pole shift."
"The entire mantle of the earth would shift in a matter of days, perhaps hours, changing the position of the north and south poles, causing worldwide disaster," a narrator proclaiming. "Earthquakes would rock every continent, massive tsunamis would inundating coastal cities. It would be the ultimate planetary catastrophe."
The idea apparently originates with a 19th century Frenchman, Charles Etienne Brasseur the Bourbourg, a priest-turned-archaeologist who got it from his study of ancient Mayan and Aztec texts.
Scientists say that, at best, the poles might change location by one degree over a million years, with no sign that it would start in 2012.
While long discredited, the Bourbourg Brasseur proves one thing: Westerners have been trying for more than a century to pin on the Mayan doomsday scenarios. And while Fascinated by ancient lore, advocates seldom examine more recent experiences with apocalypse predictions.
"No one who's writing in now seems to remember that the last time we thought the world was going to end, it did not," says Martin, the astronomy webmaster. "There does not seem to be a lot of memory that things were fine the last time around."
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