MU professor debunks Mayan calendar apocalypse theories

Thursday, December 20, 2012 | 3:37 p.m. CST; updated 8:41 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 20, 2012

COLUMBIA — The Mayan long-count calendar has created a stir among those believing the world will end Friday. Most scholars of the Mayans have tried to assure folks that imminent apocalypse is just not so.

During a talk at the Columbia Public Library on Wednesday evening, Robert Smale, a MU professor of Latin American history, said that not even the Mayans believed the world would end this year. The Mayan calendar does not "run out," but starts from year zero and has no end, similar to the Gregorian calendar, he said. 

"I want to dispel any anxiety or tension you might have about the date of Dec. 21, 2012, feeling that the predicted end of the world is upon us," Smale said. "I can tell you definitively from the Mayan texts that we have, books that we have, inscriptions, that the Mayas never predicted an apocalypse, cataclysm, a last judgment or an end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012."

The Mayans and their predecessors, the Olmec, figured out the concept of zero hundreds of years before other parts of the world including the Mediterranean and Europe. But the confusion about the end of the world occurred because the same marker used to indicate zero also could be used for 13.

The Mayan long-count calendar has names for certain chunks of time. A baktun is a unit of time that represents close to 400 years. On Friday, there will have been 13 baktuns passed since the Mayan "year zero." The baktun is the largest chunk of time depicted on most long-count calendars, but there are also pictuns, or 20 baktuns.

Smale explained that the fear surrounding the end-of-the-world scenario started in the 1960s, before the great revolution in Mayan studies. Smale said Mayanist Michael Coe may be responsible for the hubbub surrounding the end of the world and that Coe "perhaps misspoke."

"This was before the advances in decipherment in classic Maya writing and inscriptions," Smale said. "He only speculated as to how the Mayan people might have envisioned the end of 13 baktuns."

Smale quoted Coe: "This, our present universe, would be annihilated when the great cycles of the long-count reached completion."

Since Coe made his claims, scholars have been able to decipher ancient Mayan glyphs and have found examples of Mayan calendars with the potential to extend into the future indefinitely.

"Coe's ideas have been thoroughly debunked by Mayanists," Smale said. "Most long-count inscriptions only go up to baktuns, but there are some that go higher."

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Michael Williams December 20, 2012 | 6:09 p.m.

Well, if that asteroid hiding behind the sun is gonna get here by midnight, it better get going. By my calculations, it has only 6 hours to travel 93,000,000 miles and will need a hefty 15,500,000 mph to arrive on time...a mere 2.3% of the speed of light.

Of course, if its TOA is 11:59 pm tomorrow night, it only has to travel at 3,100,000 mph.

Houston, we have a problem.

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.