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Anabel Ford: Will the World End on Dec. 21? What Do the Maya Really Say?

We are six days away from the prophesized end of the world, Dec. 21. What will happen on this day? According to the Maya calendar, it marks the start of the 13th Baktun, a 400-year time block akin to our century, and winter solstice. How this date in the calendar became associated with “the end” is a mystery in itself.

The Maya have always attracted attention, with soaring temples, captivating artistic style and writing. What has made this particular moment so remarkable? Is this just another Y2K? It is really hard to say.

Last week I spoke with local middle school students in Santa Barbara and asked why many associate 2012 with the Maya end of the world; most suggested it was scientists projecting this reading! As a scholar of the Maya, I know not a single colleague who would argue the 13th Baktun means the apocalypse. The Maya actually had calculations up to 20 Baktun so, by that token, more Baktunob (ob is the plural in Mayan) are anticipated.

There is little doubt that the accepted correlation of the end of the 12th Baktun cycle and the beginning of the 13th will occur on Dec. 21, but this was not a cause célèbre for the Maya. More significant would be the solstice, venerated and documented extensively, for example, at the stunning Maya city of Yaxchilan on the Usumacita River.

As a Maya archaeologist, what am I going to do about this supposed prophesy? I will be heading south to the Maya forest, to the site I recorded in 1983, El Pilar. I will be present as the 13th Baktun cycle will begin. I will watch the sun rise in the south of the site at Plaza Axcanan, I will celebrate the solstice midday in Plaza Copal with its astronomical orientation, and I will mark the nightfall looking west at the north of the site sitting on the bench vista at the H’mena acropolis.

I’ll let you know what happens!

Anabel Ford Ph.D. is the director of UC Santa Barbara’s MesoAmerican Research Center. Ford, UCSB’s resident expert on Maya archaeology, discovered the ancient Maya city-center El Pilar, which bridges Belize and Guatemala. By decoding the ancient landscape around El Pilar, she is creating a sustainable model in conservation and agriculture that can regenerate the threatened Maya forest. With investment and support, her model can assist environmental efforts worldwide. Click here for more information on El Pilar. Click here to read additional columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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