John Henderson, professor of anthropology at Cornell University, debunks the myth that the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, and explains how the misconception originated.
“December 21, 2012 is the day on which one of the time periods that the ancient Maya kept track of will enter a new cycle. Because this period is very long — a little over 5,100 years — and because the beginning day of the current cycle was usually written as ‘0’ in the Maya Long Count calendar, people sometimes think that time began for the Maya in 3114 B.C. when the current cycle began and that it will end later this month, when that cycle ends.
“In fact, the Maya also tracked events and cycles long before 3114 B.C. and long after 2012. Like all Maya cycles, this one is continuous: Dec. 21 marks the completion of the current cycle, but it will also be the zero day of a new cycle that will run for another 5,000-plus years.
“Maya calendar specialists still keep track of time, but the Long Count went out of use after the European invasion of the Maya world in the 16th century; 2012 is an ancient Maya concept. The very few ancient texts that refer to Dec. 21, 2012 treat it as a calendar milestone, but do not contain prophecies of doom. To judge by a few ancient texts that describe events just before and after the last cycle ends in 3114 B.C., the ancient Maya probably would have advised us to be alert on the 21st to the possibility that the gods may decide to make it the occasion for another in a series of periodic improvements to their chief creations — people and the world we inhabit.”
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