The ancient Mayans -- who developed a written language and
advanced calendars more than 11 centuries ago -- created one calendar that has
become a pop-culture phenomenon: Conspiracy theorists believe it predicts the
end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012.
Some of those who believe the end of the world is near are featured in a presentation, "2012: Prophecies of the Maya," which is showing Friday nights until Dec. 14 at the University of Maine's Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium.
"I was skeptical, and the more I learned the more I realized it's completely ridiculous," Alan Davenport, director of the Jordan Planetarium, said recently of the doomsday predictions. "There is no foundation in any form of real science behind this."
Even so, there are believers out there who are taking no chances and preparing for the worst, said Ralph McLeod, owner of Buyers Guns in Holden. The survivalists are called "doomsday preppers."
"I personally know people who believe every conspiracy theory that comes down the pike," McLeod said, surrounded by guns, ammo, swords and survival gear. "A while back they were talking about the rapture. Remember the Y2K hype?"
The Mayan empire, which reached its height between 300 A.D. and 900 A.D. in Central America, created an elaborate Long Count calendar that breaks down time into several cycles based on the movement of the moon and stars in the night sky, as well as other factors.
The 13th period, or Baktun, which is roughly 394 Mayan years, ends on Dec. 21, 2012.
"People see that and they go, 'Well, that must mean there are no other dates because it's the end of the world,'" McLeod said. "It's not really the end of the world, but everybody likes a theory -- a conspiracy -- or anything that is high drama, and there are people who will sign onto that regardless of what the real facts are."
There are a number of websites and blogs dedicated to Mayan history, doomsday theories and survival, some of which use the acronym TEOTWAWKI, which means "The End of the World as we Know it."
Nearly 22 percent of people surveyed in the U.S. and 15 percent worldwide believe the world will end during their lifetime, according to an international poll of 16,262 people in more than 20 countries done for Reuters and released in May.
People with lower levels of education or household incomes, and those under age 35, were more likely to believe in an apocalypse during their lifetime or in 2012, and about 10 percent said the end of the Mayan calendar could mean an armageddon will begin in December, according to the poll data, compiled for Reuters by Ipsos Global Public Affairs.
Young Mainers, including friends of his daughter, are believers, said Colby College associate professor Ben Fallaw, who has taught Latin American studies in Waterville since 2000.
People like to read, watch movies and television stories about the end of the world, he said, citing the movie "2012" and various History Channel programs about the Mayans as examples.
"For whatever reason, people enjoy that," Fallaw said. "The Mayans had a very advanced knowledge of languages, calendars and astronomy. They were highly accomplished."
Unanswered questions about the "very advanced" Maya -- who abandoned entire cities centuries ago that have since been engulfed by jungle vines --
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