The Internet has been abuzz with rumors that the world will end - or at least be transformed - on Friday, December 21, when a 5,125-year-old Mayan calendar comes to a close. But archeologists say the rumors are wrong: the ancient Mayans did not predict an apocalypse. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky went to the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology in Philadelphia, which decided to have a little fun with the rumors.
"So many of the objects in this gallery came from excavations carried out by our museum," said Loa Traxler, the exhibit's curator and an authority on Mayan civilization.
She says earthquakes, floods and other cataclysmic events can and do happen, but ...
"None of those things were predicted by the ancient Maya as pre-ordained occurrences for December 21," she said.
Traxler says the predictions are really the product of a modern-day preoccupation with the end times.
"Authors and bloggers today want to assert that there was ancient wisdom and ancient prophesies coming from the Maya people before the [Spanish] conquest, that tells us the end is nigh, that these dramatic and disastrous things are right on our doorstep. The Maya associated none of those things with these calendar cycles," she said.
She says they simply loved to assign meaning to numbers. "They developed a very sophisticated calendar system very much focused on giving context to their histories and biographies and their contemporary day events," she said.
Time was measured in bak'tuns, or cycles of about 400 years. The last bak'tun is now ending. But Traxler says the calendar simply starts anew.
"It's like the odometer in your car. The drums will all turn over one more time," she said.
The exhibit showcases more than 150 artifacts including a replica of a stela or pillar that recalls the last time the calendar turned over.
The correlation between the Mayan and Gregorian calendars can be seen on this display.
So do museum visitors believe the world will end?
"I think it's a possibility. I hope it's not going to come true," said one visitor.
But another said, "No. The calendar ends. This period ends. But the world is not going to end."
A recent survey
conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with the Religion News Service, found that two percent of Americans are dreading the Mayan apocalypse. The rest of us have until January 13th to see the exhibit.