The ancient Maya, who were noted for their mathematical and astronomical expertise, developed sophisticated cyclical calendars during their heyday of their civilisation in central America.
One of those, the Long Count calendar, began in 3114BC and is believed to end on the winter solstice of Dec 21, 2012 – although the precise date has been the subject of debate among Mayan scholars.
The expiration of the Long Count cycle has given birth to a burgeoning apocalyptic 2012 movement that holds that the culmination of the cycle will mark the end of the world.
Advocates of this doomsday scenario cite increased solar sunspot activity and polar realignments as indications that Earth is heading for catastrophe next year.
Some New Age groups take a less extreme approach, instead contending that the expiration of the Long Count cycle will correspond to a global “consciousness shift” and spiritual “rebirth” for mankind.
But the prophecies are news to the modern Maya of Guatemala and Mexico who use a different calendar system and are scornful of what they see as a sensational Western hijacking of their culture and traditions.
They believe that the end of the Long Count cycle – if it indeed does end in Dec 2012 – is simply the closure of one particular system of calendar measurement.
“There is no concept of apocalypse in the Mayan culture,” Jesus Gomez, head of the Guatemalan confederation of Mayan priests and spiritual guides, told The Daily Telegraph when the apocalyptic disaster blockbuster 2012 was released in cinemas.