December 21, 2012: The End is Nominal

by M-Gillies

El Tajin is an archaeological site near Veracruz, Mexico. Not far from the site a stele with Maya Long Count Calendar dates was found in 1986.

From doom preachers, semi-prophets and survivalists to skeptics, fence-sitters and the scientific community – never before have so many cultures, religions, scientists and governments anticipated a single day to determine whether life on Earth will continue on or come to an end. The countdown has begun. For some people it’s the end-times, the Time of Great Purification, the Quickening, the Apocalypse, Armageddon – whatever it’s to be called, the long-predicted Maya apocalypse is nigh. While some people have already begun their preparations of survival for the looming catastrophe of December 21, others have come to view it as one of the many, long anticipated doomsday scenarios that have been passed on for generations.

As the date approaches, many skeptics have come forward to denounce the December 21, 2012, doomsday, including NASA, saying that the various end-of-the-world scenarios that have been gripping the attention of the ya-Sayers isn’t going to happen the way rumors have claimed. From magnetic shifts, interstellar alignments and wayward planets, the space agency says that December 21 won’t be any different from any other day, other than the fact that it will be the winter solstice; a time of the year when the Earth’s orbit causes the sun to appear at its lowest point in the horizon.

The refute comes directly from the NASA website, saying the origins of the predicted 2012 end stem from the story given by Nancy Lieber, who, in 1997 came to public attention for her views regarding the comet Hale-Bopp. She claimed that Hale-Bopp was manufactured to distract people from the arrival of a large planetary object known as Planet X, which would destroy civilization upon its imminent impact with earth.

While initially predicted to collide with Earth on May 2003, the doomsday date was moved forward to December 21, 2012, and further linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Maya calendar.

So how did the Maya calendar get involved in the doomsday date of December 21, 2012? During the Classic Period of 250CE to 900CE, the Maya culture flourished in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and parts of Central America. It was during this time that they built temples and monuments, created numerous works of art and writings, continued their astronomical observations and built a network of cities – many of which lay buried under jungle growth for centuries.

After those centuries had passed, important discoveries were soon made from the Yucatan ruins – one in which was the Long Count calendar, which is reset to day 0 every 1,872,000 days for a period known as The Great Circle, with a reset date calculating to December 21, 2012.

La Mojarra Stela shows the Long Count date of or June 23, 156.

Essentially, the Maya Long Count Calendar is structured in 20 katun (unit of time) cycles. Where the Roman Calendar repeats every 18,980 days (equivalent to 52 solar years), the Maya katun contains, 144,000 days (equivalent to 394.26 tropical years). What this means is that current, the Maya Long Count Calendar is cycling through its 13th baktun, which will end on December 20, 2012. Meanwhile, on December 21, 2012, the 14th baktun will take affect, thus commencing the new cyclic Long Count Calendar.

As NASA explains it, “Just as the calendar you have on your kitchen wall does not cease to exist after December 21, the Maya calendar does not cease to exist on December 21, 2012. This date is the end of the Maya long-count period but then – just as your calendar begins again on January 1 – another long-count period begins for the Maya calendar.”

So did the Maya predict an apocalypse? Archaeologists, anthropologists and other experts all agree, they didn’t. In fact, these doomsday-inspired scenarios have been said to be the basis of Hollywood-inspired fiction about the Maya culture.

“The world has been marked by a peculiar interpretation given by Hollywood, without much knowledge about it (the culture),” Indigenous leader in Guatemala, Alvaro Pop said to News24. “In Maya culture, scholars never were prophets. That’s why there shouldn’t be interpretations based on supposed prophecies that don’t exist.”

In fact, with the number of books and websites linking the Maya to the doomsday prediction, combined with the recent release of the US blockbuster 2012, these mediums only act as a means of feeding into a representation that fuels misinterpretation, which makes these proposed  prophesies more speculation than predictions. This can be seen in the theories that have been floating around, such as the proposed high solar activity producing huge solar storm, or the magnetic pole reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, or Lieber’s proposed planet X collision, or how the sun will eclipse the galactic center in some cosmic grand alignment causing serious, devastating problems for the inhabitants of Earth.

However, the truth is, there has been no authentic scientific evidence to support the dire scenarios, leaving many of these prophesied doomsday scenarios to be merely speculative cautionary tales.

As Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory, in Los Angeles, and an expert on ancient astronomy, wrote in an article for the November issue of Sky & Telescope, “Most of what’s claimed for 2012 relies on wishful thinking, wild pseudoscientific folly, ignorance of astronomy and a level of paranoia worthy of Night of the Living Dead.”

With the build-up to December 21, 2012, en route, speculation of ancient prophecies is nothing more than just that. Most scientists would recommend global climate change, rogue asteroids or nuclear war as something to worry more about. With the growing strength of earthquakes, tsunamis, global warming, geological apocalypses would seem a better bet – and if there were to be a doomsday in the near future, it is highly unlikely that there would be a proposed date.

Sure, while the Maya excelled as astronomers and were known as keen stargazers and time-keepers – to the point that they were able to predict Venus’s position 500 years in the future – the Maya were never known for their apocalyptic predictions. In western civilization, these apocalyptic predictions often stem from the Christianity mythologies of the second-coming and the day of judgments. In fact, the Maya never believed in endings: their concept of time was circular, and just as the Long Calendar is coming to an end, a new Long Calendar will begin in what the Maya believed to be one of many ultimate spiritual awakenings of the world.

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