Apocalypse in 2012? History, myth and science.
By Katherine Aitchison, on 21 December 2012
But how likely is this impending doom? And is that really what the Mayans were prophesising? These are the questions that were answered by Prof Elizabeth Graham of the UCL Institute of Archaeology and Dr Francisco Diego Quintana, UCL Department of Physics and Astronomy at a Lunch Hour Lecture on the 6th December.
Prof Graham is a Mayan archaeologist who talked about the accuracy of the ‘prophecy’ and the facts behind it. She began with a warning: some interpretations claim the end of the world will actually happen on the 23rd December so don’t get too excited when you wake up tomorrow – there’s still time for an apocalypse.
After attempting to explain the intricacies of the somewhat complicated Mayan calendar we got down to the business of the actual prophecy.
There are two monuments which appear to refer to 21/12/12, the most significant of these being a stone from Tortuguero in Mexico which was erected to mark the dedication of a building by a Mayan king.
A section of the monument gives a ‘long count’ forward from the date of the dedication which spans 13 ‘Baktuns’ forward in time (one Baktun is equivalent to around 400 years) and will be completed on “4 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in” which translates to the 21st December 2012.
The next part of the text has proved harder to decipher but appears to continue with “it will happen” and at some point mentions the name of a Mayan god “Bolon Yookte K’uh” who is often associated with the afterlife or underworld. This is the part of the inscription which has led many interpreters to believe that it prophesies the end of the world.
Professor Graham however believes a different interpretation; she says that the stone actually refers to the ending of the 13th Baktun and the ‘seating’ of the 14th. Meaning that the world will indeed continue beyond the 21st December.
A second monument known as ‘La Corona’ also appears to refer to 21/12/12 and has been used to support the predictions of an apocalypse. However, according to Professor Graham, there is an obvious explanation for this. The Mayans were unusually far-thinking in terms of time and would often refer to points far in the future, as well as dates in the long-distant past, in order to sandwich the important events of the present between two equally significant occurrences – usually changes in Baktun.
In fact the Mayans also refer to points far beyond 21/12/12 – up to 4000AD – so they probably didn’t foresee a sticky end for us just yet.
Dr Diego then took the floor to explain some of the phenomena that may or may not bring about the end of the world at the end of this week.
One of the main factors that suggest the end of the world is galactic alignment: on the 21st December 2012 our sun will be in the very centre of the galaxy which it is speculated could cause ‘major cosmic disruption’. However Dr Diego found this particularly easy to dismiss – the galactic alignment occurs every year on the 21st/22nd December so we’re probably not in any greater danger this year.
Other potential signs of doom include solar activity. Apparently the sun is behaving “quite strangely” this year, but it’s still unlikely that we will all be engulfed in a ball of flame anytime soon.
The likelihood of asteroid impact was also dismissed – although impacts do happen and it is quite likely to happen again, we have sophisticated systems to detect potential impacts and there have been no warnings of anything currently on its way.
Global volcanic eruption? Yellowstone Park in the USA is due to erupt at any time and will be devastating when it does but there is no evidence that it will blow soon.
So what WILL bring about the end of the world?
Well at some point the sun will run out of fuel and die and when it does it will destroy the entire solar system in a giant ball of flame. However the date on this is around 3-4,000 million years in the future. So once again, nothing for us to worry about just yet.
But to finish on a sobering note Dr Diego pointed out the real dangers our planet is facing at the moment: nuclear blasts and global warming. Man-made dangers that are within our power to control.
The end of our world is in our hands.