Written by Micheal Stratford
It’s known as the 2012 “phenomenon”, and there are hundreds of websites, crazed tweets and emails, along with nearly a million random comments (averaging around two hundred per website), all about it. We’re going to die, all of us, they tell us, and the cataclysm is coming December 21, 2012. And just in case you’ve been on Mars for a decade, or simply don’t want to plow through all those sites, here’s a very quick recap of the prediction, the reasoning behind it and the probability of it happening.
One caveat—it won’t be that quick, since there’s quite a bit to cover, hence this is a two-parter.
The scientific community, in brief, finds the prediction ridiculous, the reasoning flawed and the probability of occurrence non-existent. So why is the idea so popular, so widespread and so ingrained in our national mind-set, so much so that John Cusack’s biggest movie hit to date is 2012 (playing endlessly on TBS and TNT channels), a grand tableau of the disaster?
It starts with the Mayans, who created their own calendar, like the Gregorian bean-counters and Sumerian rune-readers. The popular interpretation of this calendar has been that the 12/21/2012 date marks the end of an era.
Two camps have arisen about this. One side says it will be positive, uplifting, like the Second Coming, which will renew the tired earth and end all that global warming; the other predicts dire catastrophes in the form of worldwide earthquakes, floods and upheavals that will leave the earth devastated. We’ll wish we had global warming afterwards.
Neither camp has a great deal of relevant research to back up its claims; evidence, scientific or otherwise, for the phenomenon is nil. But the Mayan calendar does end on December 21, 2012, said end-date coming at the close of a 5125-year cycle representing the arc of the Mesoamerican “Long Count” calendar. So people naturally wonder if the Mayans were on to something.
If they were, they kept it to themselves; no extant Mayan accounts speak of an end-of-the-world catastrophe, and nothing has been found in any archeological dig of Mayan civilization, whether it be a stone tablet or a wall decoration, that comes near a depiction of a civilization’s end. The closest thing the Mayans created to such science-fiction was the bas-relief stone depiction of a god with flames shooting out his rear end (in the 70s, this was claimed to be a picture of alien astronauts revered by the ignorant savages).
The truth seems to rest in the Mayan methods of keeping time; before the Europeans descended on the South American provinces with their lust for gold and their Gregorian updates, the time periods in Mayan history were measured in eras.
A b’aktun, for example, is a standard Mayan measurement of time that spans 144,000 days (over 394 years); it is broken down into twenty katun cycles of 7200 days apiece.
The Mayans reverenced world ages, not time-pieces, and their measurements were created for the divisions that they came up with (and many of their texts, deciphered and understandable, are still extant). It’s unlikely that they saw the end of the world as a single date; they would have been much more likely to consider it as an age, if they considered it at all.
In other words, it’s probably not going to happen, at least not based on the Mayan calendar, which regarded its times as the spans of the gods, not the minutes and hours—and days—of mortal man.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped the theorists from going a bit crazy over it. The second half of this article deals with them—and modern science’s reaction to them.
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