For the past several decades, Dec. 21, 2012, has been known as “doomsday” by many, with preppers hoarding food and some even building shelters just in case what they believe will happen comes to pass.
The theories on how the world could end include volcanic eruptions across the globe, earthquakes shaking the earth, comets or asteroids plummeting toward the planet and the earth’s magnetic poles shifting.
Dr. Gary Van Valen, an associate professor of Latin American history at UWG, said the believers have based their prophecies on “something real,” but it just hasn’t been interpreted correctly.
“I think it’s all kinds of reaching for answers,” Van Valen said. “Those things could happen any day. Don’t worry. I think people are confusing the Maya prophecies with this date and calling it the end of the world.”
The theory is based on the calendar of the people of the ancient Mayan civilization found in Central America in the first millennium, which featured a unit of time known as a baktun, Van Valen said. Today, the 13th (a significant number in Maya culture) baktun will be completed, causing many to believe that the Maya prophesied today would be the last day of earth.
“It’s a belief created by people in our culture, not Maya’s,” the professor said. “It’s a new-age interpretation starting sometime in the 1970s. There are Maya stone monuments with the date etched on them, but none of them mention anything about a disaster or ‘doomsday.’”
NASA has called it “just another day,” saying the calendar’s ending is just the end of a cycle and beginning of a new one.
“It’s just like on Dec. 31, our calendar comes to an end, but a new calendar for the next year begins on Jan. 1,” an article on NASA’s website reads.
Van Valen used another analogy — the end of the calendar is like the odometer of a car rolling over back to zero.
“Just because your odometer resets doesn’t mean the car can’t be driven anymore,” the professor said. “It’s the just the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.”
Van Valen explained that Mayans used three different calendars, with one known as the long-count calendar, upon which the doomsday theory was based.
This calendar, which was used only by people who needed to think about time in large amounts like kings and other leaders, featured the baktun unit, the 13th of which ends today. Each baktun lasts almost 400 years, Van Valen said. The 13 baktuns have represented about 5,125 years, with the Maya calendar started in 3114 BC.
“The calendar is supposed to run out, or so the believers presume,” the professor said. “But it’s not really going to run out — the cycle is just running out. They think there’s no more time left.”
Van Valen said the date would have been considered significant for the Mayans, but there is no evidence to suggest they believed the world would end today.
“At least in the past few years there has been a resurgence in interest about these civilizations,” he said. “I just feel like people will live their normal lives [today] and then wake up on Dec. 22 and stop caring about the Maya culture.”