The year 2012 will not bring the end of the world, a Mayan elder has insisted, despite claims that a Mayan calendar shows that time will “run out” on December 21 of that year.
Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the end of the world. “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff,” he said.
A significant time period for the Mayans does end on the date, and enthusiasts have found a series of astronomical alignments they say coincide in 2012, including one that happens roughly only once every 25,800 years.
But most archaeologists, astronomers and Mayans say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, internet doomsday rumours and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes “predictions” from Nostradamus and the Mayans and asks: “Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?”
Still, things are only likely to get worse for Mr Pixtun. Next month Hollywood’s “2012” opens in cinemas, featuring earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.
At Cornell University, Ann Martin, who runs the “Curious? Ask an Astronomer” website, 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,” Ms Martin said. “We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn’t live to see them grow up.”
Mr Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories spring from Western, not Mayan ideas.
But hysteria surrounding 2012 does have some grains of archaeological basis. One of them is Monument Six.
Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost did not survive; the site was largely paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.
The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation. However, erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.
Guillermo Bernal, an archaeologist at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, believes the eroded message is: “He will descend from the sky”.
But Mr Bernal also notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 – including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.
The Mayan civilization, based in modern day Mexico and Central America, reached its height from 300 AD to 900 AD and had a talent for astronomy
Its Long Count calendar begins in 3,114 BC, marking time in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec 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 Monument Six.”
But some say the Mayans 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 centre of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun’s lowest point in the horizon.
That will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright centre of galaxy sets.