The Mayan Apocalypse has been canceled due to a clerical error.
Avoiding the long-prophesied Democratic Apocalypse, scheduled for today, may be impossible (cue weeping and gnashing of teeth). But we no longer have to worry about the Mayan Apocalypse of 2012, which turns out to have been the result of a counting mistake.
Kind of like the 2000 presidential election, you might say. Actually, according to a chapter in a new textbook, Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World, scholars have simply misunderstood the Mayan calendars, which makes the problem more like Christine O’Donnell’s grasp of the U.S. Constitution.
Long story short, the method used for converting dates from the surviving Mayan documents to the Gregorian calendar may be off by 50 years. Or 100 years. Or possibly infinity. This not only means the Mayan prophecy of world destruction isn’t scheduled for 2012, but also that dates in Mayan history are probably off, too.
Pardon me if I gloat a little right here. New Age doomsayers have been taking the Mayan Apocalypse to the bank for several years now. Few things please me more than seeing frauds, opportunists or screwballs exposed as being, you know, just plain wrong.
Gerardo Aldana, a University of California professor and author of the relevant textbook chapter, says so few scholars “know the astronomy, the epigraphy, and the archeology” of the Maya that most people — even scholars– can’t understand the problems in reconciling Mayan and Western calendar systems.
As a result, “they buy things they otherwise wouldn’t.” I’m pretty sure Prof. Aldana means scientific theories, but he could also be talking about New Age books, Hollywood disaster movies and ridiculous “documentaries” on the Discovery Channel.
Not to get too technical, but at issue is something called the “GMT Constant,” named for the initials of the first three scholars to work on the Mayan language and calendar. It’s a formula for converting dates from the Mayan system to our Gregorian calendar.
A later linguist and anthropologist named Floyd Lounsbury, relying on the Dresden Codex Venus Table, one of the few pre-Columbian Mayan books still in existence, claimed to confirm the reliability of the GMT Constant.”
Aldana sys Lounsbury’s work is faulty.
Of course, none of this addresses another problem with the Mayan Apocalypse as it has been repackaged for sale to gullible American New Agers: It’s a prime example of cultural colonialism and appropriation.
According to a 2009 story in the London Telegraph, modern Maya in Mexico and Guatamala are not happy about this “distortioin” of their traditions. Indeed, the very notion of “apocalypse” is a Western idea.
“There is no concept of apocalypse in the Mayan culture,” says Jesus Gomez, head of the Guatemalan confederation of Mayan priests and spiritual guides. Cirilo Perez, a prominent “day counter,” or Mayan wise man, criticized the exploitation of Mayan culture by outsiders.
“This has all become business but there is no desire to understand,” he said.