We’re not doomed: Why the world won’t end this month
Part of a Mayan codex diagrams their concept of the world. Rumors of Earth’s demise on Dec. 21 stem from misinterpretations of Mayan codices and possibly from one textbook that suggested Mayans may have viewed the end of a calendar era as a world-ending event, New College of Florida professor Gabrielle Vail says.
When Gabrielle Vail tells people she studies ancient Mayan writings known as codices, their first question is nearly always the same:
“Is the world really going to end on Dec. 21?”
The apocalyptic prophecy based on the end of a Mayan era has become fodder for countless Internet theories and inspired the Hollywood blockbuster “2012.”
Believers of the “2012 phenomenon” depict ancient Mayan astronomers as sages privy to knowledge long since lost to modern science. They forecast cataclysmic events like the sun exploding or Earth succumbing to a black hole.
Well, not quite, according to Vail, a New College of Florida anthropology professor who has studied Mayan culture for 23 years.
In her lecture “The Destruction and Re-Creation of the World in Sacred Mayan Texts” at the South Florida Museum on Wednesday, Vail will address how the doomsday forecast arose.
Her conclusion: People’s biggest worry on Dec. 22 is likely to be last-minute Christmas shopping.
Rumors of Earth’s demise stem from misinterpretations of Mayan codices and possibly from one textbook that suggested Mayans may have viewed the end of a calendar era as a world-ending event, Vail said.
It’s a notion that is largely dismissed by most scholars who adhere to the view that Dec. 21 marks merely the end of the 13th baktun, a 144,000-day cycle roughly equivalent to 394 years. The cycle dates back to more than 3000 B.C.
“The Mayans have a very long view of time that goes way past this completion,” Vail said.
But in the Internet age, truth rarely troubles a good rumor.
Visitors have already started arriving at Bugarach, a tiny French village near the Pyrenees believed to be a safe refuge. Now, the mayor plans to close the village four days before the apparent doomsday.
The New York Times reported that panicked Russian citizens have been stockpiling candles and other survival supplies.
Both U.S. federal governments and NASA officials felt compelled to debunk the story with NASA launching a website to reassure people.
“It’s gotten way out of proportion,” Vail said. “People start taking mythology from many other cultures and you get the strangest things.”
Vail’s lecture, which she will co-present with Jeff Rodgers, director of Bishop Planetarium, will show how images from the codices reflected their study of constellations which the Mayans believed were deities whose appearance in the sky influenced their lives.
For example, one codex of a turtle with three hearthstones on its shell correlates to a constellation within Orion. The hearthstones mapped the stars Alnitak, Saiph and Rigel.
When making fires, Mayan women arranged hearthstones based on the constellation.
The presentation includes animation that illustrates how Mayans made sense of the night sky.
“We get a better sense of what was being thought of by the Mayans,” Rodgers said.