The question above was asked of Colgate University professor Dr. Anthony Aveni, one of the pioneers in the field of archaeoastronomy (the study of the astronomy and related beliefs of ancient cultures), when he was talking to a Maya friend in the course of his research.
Dr. Aveni’s March 20th lecture The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012 summarized his attempts to debunk the predictions concerning the year 2012–specifically, the solstice date of December 21, 2012. Many prophesies call for world-altering events based on the purported significance of this date in the Maya calendar.
The topic is of intense interest, as evidenced by the 44 million Google hits and over three thousand books and articles that Dr. Aveni reported finding. In fact, it was a letter written from a young boy who was frightened about the upcoming disaster and asking Dr. Aveni’s advice that motivated him to start spreading the debunking message.
The prophecies concerning 2012 vary from, in Dr. Aveni’s words, “blow-up” to “bliss-out”, with pundits uttering phrases such as:
- a “hyperspatial breakthrough” (cleanse the colon with clay to prepare)
- “secret thoughts on suppressed dimensions embedded in Maya 2012 …”
- “…most opportune time to reconnect with the heliotropic octaves in the solar activated electromagnetic field that will lead to an updating of the [life] radio-genetic process.”
Dr. Aveni went through the evidence and proved using science that such claims are not accurate.
To the Maya, December 21 2012 was significant, but not on a world-altering scale. Dr. Aveni briefly explained Maya timekeeping and presented the main sources of evidence for their beliefs: carved monuments and codices. According to those sources, December 21 2012 was the end of the great calendar cycle known as the Long Count, which started in 3114 BC. So the Maya likely would have reflected and had a celebration, as many Westerners do at the New Year. And then the cycle would have started over again.
Aveni also examined why some people get caught up in these revealed truths. American religion, especially some more esoteric branches, is one of the major sources of this fascination. Conspiracy theories contribute. In stressful or end-of-century times, common beliefs often emerge: that we will receive knowledge which is secretly encoded astronomically and which comes from afar (often through aliens), and that there will be a polar shift from decay to rejuvenation.
The lively talk often had the audience amused at some of the more far-fetched prophecies, yet underlying the laughter was the distress that that same monster of unreason has already penetrated our gates–in fact, it never really left.
Aveni concluded, “Even in the Maya heyday, they were not us. But we seek knowledge from their god[s], not from ourselves. Maybe something good will come out of this  hubbub: it might cause us to attempt to solve our own problems. Maybe we ought to replace our telescopes with mirrors.”
Listen to an audio recording of Dr. Stewart’s lecture, The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012. The Maya Lecture Series was presented during the exhibition of Maya: Secrets of their Ancient World, closing April 9, 2012.