Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Maya experts work to dispel fears of end times

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MEXICO CITY -- As the clock winds down to Dec. 21, experts on the Mayan calendar have been racing to convince people the Maya didn't predict an apocalypse at the end of this year.

Some experts are now saying the Maya may indeed have made prophecies, just not about the end of the world.

Archaeologists, anthropologists and other experts met Friday in Merida, Mexico, to discuss the Mayan Long Count calendar, which is made up of 394-year periods called baktuns.

Experts estimate the system starts counting at 3114 BC and will have run through 13 baktuns, or 5,125 years, around Dec. 21. Experts say 13 was a significant number for the Maya, and the end of that cycle would be a milestone -- but not an end.

Fears the calendar points to the end have circulated in recent years. People in that camp believe the Maya may have predicted astronomical disasters in 2012, ranging from explosive storms on the surface of the sun that could knock out power grids to a galactic alignment that could trigger a reversal in Earth's magnetic field.

Mexican government archaeologist Alfredo Barrera said the Maya did prophesize, but about more humdrum events, such as droughts or disease.

"The Mayas did make prophecies, but not in a fatalistic sense, but rather about events that, in their cyclical conception of history, could be repeated in the future," said Barrera, of the National Institute of Anthropology and History.

Experts stressed the ancient Maya, whose culture of writing, astronomy and temple complexes flourished from AD 300 to 900, were extremely interested in future events far beyond Dec. 21.

"There are many ancient Maya monuments that discuss events far into the future from now," Geoffrey Braswell, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, wrote in an email.

Braswell compared the Mayan calendar, with its system of cycles within cycles, to the synchronized wheels contained in old, analogue car odometers.

"The Maya long count system is like a car odometer," Braswell wrote. "My first car (odometer) only had six wheels, so it went up to 99,999.9 miles. That didn't mean the car would explode after reaching 100,000 miles."

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2012 A30

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