By now you must have caught up with the prediction that, according to the ancient Mayan calendar, the world will end on December 21, 2012.
The Maya, a civilization with a deep fondness for calendars, liked to anchor their historic events in “cosmic time”. They were extraordinarily skilled astronomers who were able to accurately predict the movements of the galaxy for centuries in advance.
According to their calendar – a detailed list of astronomical events that occurs over 13 cycles of 144,000 days – December 21, 2012, marks the end of the 13th and final “B’ak’tun,” or “end” cycle.
Translations of the messages in the calendar by devotees of New Age religions have come up with this quote: “This is the destruction of the world. This then is its end.”
How could the world end?
Ideas abound – including a polar planetary shift, a shift of the Earth’s magnetic poles where “north becomes south” ; an increase of Earth’s gravity which would attract more comets and asteroids to hit Earth; a series of solar flares and other astronomical phenomenon ; a collision with another planet or that the Earth will be swallowed up by a black hole that opens up in the galaxy.
The Mayan calendar has fascinated since the Spanish explorers way back in the 1550s collected a detailed history from the Maya and a sacred book they titled the “Popol Vuh.”
This states that at the end of the calendar “there will occur a blackness (or spectacle), and the god of the nine will come down to the (Earth).”
However there are plenty of academics around to debunk the doomsayers. Including one Professor Christian Wells, associate professor of anthropology at the University of South Carolina, who studies Maya culture and says the message has been taken out of context.
“The Mayan Doomsday prophecy, I think, is actually a narrative about sustainability,” Wells said in a lecture this past week.
“The Maya were great astronomers and knew exactly where they were in relation to larger cycles and trends in the environment and the universe. That’s what sustainability is all about — knowing your place in the world.”
“We have reason to be worried about climate change and the fiscal cliff that’s coming up,” Wells said. The biggest threat to the earth in 2012 is “the human race itself,”, he added.
And, not so fast, say a couple of US archaeologists who say they’ve discovered the oldest-known version of the ancient Maya calendar adorning a lavishly painted wall in the ruins of a city deep in the Guatemalan rainforest.
The hieroglyphs, painted in black and red, along with a colorful mural of a king and his mysterious attendants seem to have been a sort of handy reference chart for court scribes — the astronomers and mathematicians in A.D. 800.
Contrary to popular myth, this calendar isn’t a countdown to the end of the world in less than two weeks time, in fact, quite the opposite, they say.
Archaeologist David Stuart of the University of Texas, who worked to decipher the glyphs, says: “The Mayan calendar is going to keep going for billions, trillions, octillions of years into the future. Numbers we can’t even wrap our heads around.”
Anthony Aveni, professor of astronomy and anthropology at Colgate University said, “It’s like the odometer of a car, with the Maya calendar rolling over from the 120,000s to 130,000.”
That means the calendar will merely click over and begin again. (Makes sense.)
So, how do you like your apocalypse predictions – historical, religious or scientific?
There are lots of lists of Doomsday predictions that didn’t come true.
We like this Top Ten from the Global Post for its rich mine of links and references.
1. Mount Vesuvius buries Pompeii (79 A.D.)
The infamous Italian volcano has erupted more than 50 times over its hundreds of thousands of years of activity, but no eruption was more earth-shattering than the one that engulfed Pompeii in the year 79, History.com reported.
The deluge of volcanic ash “shrouded the city in a darkness … like the black of closed and unlighted rooms,” according to one witness, echoing the predictions of Roman philosopher Seneca that the Earth would go up in smoke, according to National Geographic.
2. Plagues and Fires (1666)
According to the Bible’s Book of Revelation, the number 666 is described as the “mark of the beast” — which put Christian Europeans into a tizzy as the year 1666 approached, according to Time Magazine. The 1599 plague that ravaged Europe didn’t help matters much.
Then, on Sept. 2, 1666, a fire started in a London bakery, destroying more than 13,000 buildings and tens of thousands of homes over the course of three days, Time reported. However, the disastrous fire claimed only 10 lives: the work of the Devil, perhaps, but not exactly Earth-ending material.
3. Halley’s Comet cuts it close (1910)
The arrival of Halley’s Comet, named after British astronomer Edmond Halley, wows the Earth every 75 years or so. However, 1910’s arrival of the brilliant star caused more panic than excitement, National Geographic reported, as many speculated that the comet’s tail contained a gas “that would impregnate the atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet,” according to French astronomer Camille Flammarion.
In fact, the 1910 comet came especially close to the Earth, whose orbit carried the comet’s 24-million-mile-long tail for six hours on May 19, Wired reported. A close call, but the planet stayed intact.
4. Jehovah’s Witnesses prophesy Christ’s Kingdom (1914)
Founded in the 1870s, the Christian offshoot long predicted that 1914 would be the year Christ’s kingdom came to earth, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The group’s central doctrine was the foundation for their “door-to-door warnings that a bloody end of the world is imminent,” wrote the Times’ John Dart, though 1914 came and went without Christ’s arrival.
5. Pat Robertson’s prediction (1982)
TV Evangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson is known for saying some far-out things, Ranker.com reported, but his 1980 announcement on his Christian Broadcast Network show “The 700 Club” may have taken the cake.
“I guarantee by the end of 1982 there is going to be a judgment on this world,” Robertson had said, predicting Armageddon followed by seven “nightmare years” of suffering, according to Ranker.
After misjudging that apocalypse, Robertson revived his Doomsday prophesies: In 2006, the evangelist said God had warned him of large storms and tsunamis, USA Today reported, and in 2008 predicted “worldwide violence” and a stock-market crash by 2010, according to Fox News.
Not the Apocalypse, but hey, not too far off.
6. Heaven’s Gate Hale-Bopp Suicide (1997)
Heaven’s Gate, a cult founded by Marshall Applewhite, believed that the earth was going to be ‘wiped clean’ by aliens, and that a UFO riding the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet would transport their souls to the next life, the Daily Mail reported.
Their Doomsday predictions turned tragic when 39 members of the sect committed mass suicide on March 26, 1997, in an upscale mansion in San Diego, California. It was one of the worst mass suicides in United States’ history, according to the North County Times.
7. “The True Way” Taiwanese cult (March 31, 1998)
Hon-Ming Chen established his “True Way” cult in Taiwan, blending beliefs from Buddhism and Taoism with UFO conspiracy theories, according to UGO News.
Chen believed that God would appear on American cable television on the morning of March 31, 1998. He relocated his cult to Garland, Texas — because the town’s name sounded like “God Land” to them — to wait for the Rapture to happen, Ranker reported.
When God did not appear on TV as he had predicted, Chen offered to let his disciples crucify him, which they declined, according to UGO News. Many members of the “True Way” disbanded, several returning to Taiwan because of visa issues, according to Ranker.
8. Y2K Scare (January 1, 2000)
In 1984, a computer-trade column warned that a computer calculation error on Jan. 1, 2000 would lead to mass chaos and send machines and technology worldwide grinding to a halt as they reached 00 due to their use of two digits for years (i.e. 98, 99, 00), National Geographic reported.
“People traded off the natural fears some people have of technology,” Tech Republic wrote. “Mix that in with religious fear and fervor of those who were expecting the Second Coming 2,000 years after Christ’s birth (even though Jesus was probably born in 2 BC), and there was just more hype to cash in on.”
Worldwide, people prepared for apocalyptic scenarios and rushed to buy computer software and hardware that would reportedly fix the problem.
The acronym TEOTWAWKI (or The End of the World as We Know It) circulated on Y2K prep websites, and conspiracy theories abounded, but in the end, we all made it into the new millennium unscathed.
9. The Large Hadron Collider’s Big Bang (2009)
Scientists at the CERN in Geneva built a particle accelerator that would allow them to study the world’s smallest known particles, according to the organization’s announcement. Their plan to have subatomic particles called “hadrons” collide led some critics to believe the experiment would cause a black hole that would ultimately destroy the earth, the Telegraph reported.
The concerns came to a head when a group of independent scientists tried to sue the CERN in 2008 to put a stop to the Hadron Collider tests, according to the Telegraph.
However, the experiment went forward, creating temperatures a million times hotter than the center of the Sun (which hadn’t been reached since the first billionths of a second following the Big Bang).
No significant chunks of the earth were harmed.
10. The Rapture (May 21, 2011)
Radio preacher Harold Camping was the latest figure to predict Judgment Day, which he was expecting on May 21, 2011 based on his application of numerology to readings of the Bible, according to National Geographic.
The 89-year-old retired civil engineer had broadcast his doomsday warning around the world, even dispatching his disciples to spread the word. Though millions waited with bated breath (and news organizations and comedians scoffed), Jesus did not come to collect the faithful as Camping had said.
So, all in all, the message is, you can’t get out of Christmas shopping that easily!
And here’s a voice of sanity that you can pass on to your unhinged friends: