No, the end of the world is not nigh
Will the world end this Friday? There’s no reason to think so, especially if you follow Mayan calendars.
The much-hyped alleged Mayan apocalypse traces its roots to how the ancient Mesoamerican people counted time. They had many ways of doing that, explained USC anthropologist G. Alexander Moore, an expert on Mayan civilization and mythology.
Time after time
“The so-called ‘end of the calendar’ is only the end of a particular count in a particular calendar — known as the ‘long-count calendar,’ ” Moore said.
Reaching the end of that count — on Dec. 21 of this year — has no more cosmic significance than your car’s odometer turning over from 999,999 to 000,000.
“It’s not predicting any apocalypse,” he said. “There’s no prediction of anything associated with this calendar.”
The famous Maya codices associated with prophecies of doom date back from just before the Spanish conquest, starting in 1519. By then, though, the long-count calendar was completely unknown to the Maya. It disappeared around 900 A.D. with the collapse of classic Maya culture and its dynastic kings, who’d used the calendar to carve their genealogies in stone.
The long-count calendar was only rediscovered a millennium later, when 19th century archaeologists deciphered it from stone carvings.
Today’s apocalyptic predictions tell us much more about Western civilization than anything about Mayan civilization, Moore said. “The doomsayers are just harping on various millenarian Western traditions having to do with the hankering for the second coming.”
In this case, adherents of New Age spirituality invested an ancient people with knowledge of scientific mysteries they couldn’t possibly have possessed.
“The Mayans were accurate astronomers and very accurate mathematicians,” Moore said. “They had the zero. But they had no algebra, no calculus and no particle physics. They knew nothing about electricity or magnetism. They knew nothing about galaxies.
“Their astronomy was accurate, thanks to careful observation over many centuries. But you cannot read too much into it,” he added. “The notion that they knew when the polar fields would be reversed is absolute nonsense because they weren’t aware of those things.”
Don’t quit your day job
The Maya themselves won’t be losing any sleep on Dec. 20, Moore said. While no “hands-in-the-dirt” archaeologist, he’s done extensive fieldwork in a Mayan community of the Guatemalan highlands.
“You are never going to find a Maya who will say [the apocalypse] is going to happen,” said Moore, noting that nearly all are Catholics.
We shouldn’t worry either.
“Rest assured,” he said, “you can go to bed and sleep soundly, or stay up all night if you want. But you’ll still be here in the morning.”