If ever a phenomenon was wrongly named, the Mayan Doomsday is it. You can't
blame the poor Maya for this half-baked casserole of New Age nonsense and
You've surely heard by now how a certain ancient Maya calendar expires Friday, and how, according to prophecy, the world will expire at the same time.
It's rubbish. Not garden-variety rubbish, but monumental rubbish. It doesn't come from an honest misunderstanding of ancient texts, but from fabrications and willful distortions by Internet fantasists and commercial cynics hawking survival kits left over from the millennium and minister Harold Camping's unfulfilled apocalypse of May 2011.
Who says? Well, all manner of scientists. The good people of NASA. Even the director of the observatory at the Vatican, a place quite accustomed to the coming and going of apocalyptic dates.
"It's not even worth discussing," the Rev. Jose Funes wrote in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, in a general debunking of the hysteria that has grown up around the Maya story.
Like most rumors, the Maya one was born of a truth and grew into something unrecognizable, but extensive and potent enough to give birth to survivalist movements and -- according to The New York Times -- downright hysteria. In a Russian women's prison, for instance, inmates experienced "collective mass psychosis" over the doomsday rumors and had to be calmed by a priest, the paper said.
The Maya civilization, you'll remember from your school days, grew up across portions of present-day Mexico and Central America, beginning around 2,000 B.C. and reaching its peak across the span of the third to eighth centuries A.D.
The Maya developed an extensive written language. They were also mathematicians and astronomers and created advanced calendars that reckoned time across eons.
That's where Dec. 21 comes in.
"The date that will come is the completion of a very large cycle in the Mayan calendar. Everyone agrees with that," said Loa Traxler of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, where an exhibit on the Maya Doomsday is scheduled to run until Jan. 13 -- well past the date when anyone is supposed to be able to enjoy it.
Indeed, the Mayan Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 B.C., before the Maya civilization even came to be. It marks epochs called Baktuns, periods of about 394 years. The 13th Baktun ends Dec. 21 -- or, said Traxler, the 23rd or 24th, depending on the reading of the calendar.
Traxler, who is curator of the exhibit -- "Maya 2012: The Lords of Time" -- said the end of the cycle has no more significance than your own desk calendar running out.
"They didn't see [the cycles] as points or predictors of destruction," she said. "They certainly didn't see them foretelling things for the 21st century and American culture. Yet many people over a couple of decades have been using this coming event as an equivalent to end of days. They associate it with it all manner of cataclysmic events in the natural world, devastating fire-and-brimstone events."
That's part of the problem with the whole story: Which apocalypse is the right one?
Do you hold with the Nibiru camp, which claims a dwarf planet called Nibiru -- or, sometimes, Planet X -- that has been hiding behind the sun will
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