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Determined to see the world end this year, it seems the whole planet is waiting with bated breath for December 21, the day the truth will – or will not – out, at long last. Why do we all give so much credit to a stretched-out Mayan prophecy heralding the end of a cycle?

The Mayan civilization is one of those ancient civilizations that have always been under scrutiny, since we are probably hoping it will provide us with answers to the existential questions mankind has been pondering since time immemorial.

While a portion of end-of-the-world tourists are converging on the French village of Bugarach – you never know – the rest of them are going back to the roots of the prophecy. Curious travelers are flocking to the most famous Mayan spots in Mexico, where the Mayan civilization first thrived and where they live on, carrying on their ancestors’ traditions and languages.


Picture: REUTERS/Jean-Philippe Arles

Margarita Ventura is an anthropologist at Merida City Hall, Mexico. She describes a resolutely festive and positive period: “We are celebrating the end of a cycle; it’s a little like the New Year or Christmas here. We look at today’s issues like climate change or wars, and we think a new cycle could allow some positive changes to happen.”

“The Consejo de los Ancianos Sacerdotes Maya (“The Council of Ancient Mayas”) is putting forward celebrations promoting the transmission and preservation of the Mayan culture, like traditional weddings for example. There are a lot of tourists here already, the place is going to be packed”, she adds.

The Consejo de los Ancianos Sacerdotes Maya does not view the event with the same benevolence: they are growing tired of the pre-conceived, apocalyptical angle of the Western world.

Don Valerio Canché Yah, president of the Association, explains: “The change of cycle clearly appears in the calendars, even if they have not been entirely deciphered. However, the meaning has been completely hijacked for economical reasons, especially by people seeking to make money. The Mayan people want to make the most of this cycle change to strive to bring peace and tranquility to humanity, and we are now represented as mere folklore. The whole of the Mayan civilization has to be taken into account, as one of the greatest civilization in History.”

Audio: Interview with Don Valerio Canché Yah (Spanish – 6’59”)

The ominous prediction comes from the crossed interpretations of several Mayan calendars that made it through the Conquistador era. According to those calendars, and the estimations of researchers, a “great Mayan cycle” lasts over 1,872,000 days, or approximately 5,000 years. This year, December 21 happens to mark the end of such a “great cycle”… And the beginning of a new one.

Researchers at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) have looked into the subject, and can confirm with certainty that the Mayas were more “astrologers than astronomers”. That is, they would rather gaze at stars than make predictions.

“They studied the repercussion the movements of planets could have on mankind,” Jean-Michel Hoppan, epigraphist, explains in the video created by the CNRS (link to video in French). Besides, other researchers have established that the end of the cycle would not happen for another 208 years. Christmas is quite safe this year, then.

American historian Jose Argüelles is a well-known figure amongst those who believe in the upcoming Apocalypse. In his book The Mayan factor: Path Beyond Technology, published in 1987, he was the first one to elaborate theories on the possibility of the world ending in 2012. At the heart of this seemingly thorough study, however, Argüelles elaborates on the theory that “galactic Mayas” would come back to Earth on that very day. A theory we cannot help but compare to that of self-declared messiah Raël or even the synopsis of the latest Ridley Scott blockbuster Prometheus.

With a media frenzy – jokingly – set on blurring the lines, the images illustrating the so-called Mayan thesis are plenty. Photos of Mayan temples are everywhere, along with the ubiquitous picture of a stone calendar, the “Sun Stone” (picture: El Comandante), which is actually… an Aztec calendar with no mention whatsoever of December 21, 2012.

(Picture: El Comandante)

Also read:

Call me the Apocalypse Correspondent!

NASA explains why the world won’t end

2012 phenomenon: top five end-of-the-world-themed video games

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