So last week was scheduled the end of the world according to the lost Mayan civilization. Their complicated methods of keeping time all came to a head as the Mayan Calendar got to the end of the 5125 year long count and started again from zero.
Of course, this event got loads of people around the world excited with all manner of apocalyptic predictions. As the decisive moment approached, the kind-of-ex-communist countries, Russia and China led the way in panic buying. For the Chinese, half of whom believed literally the film 2012, an ark of some kind was the purchase of choice. The Russians thought candles would see them through and bought up whole shed loads of them. In the West, meanwhile, the event came at the weekend and there were thousands of special End-of-the-World parties.
And in turn, all the scientists and other level-headed people queued up to talk down any chances of mega-disaster, to explain that it was just a calendar re-setting – just like our New Year’s Eve.
And pretty much all of them – ivory-tower professors, media reporters and survivalists, hiding behind stacks of dried food, alike – have missed the point: What exactly happened 5125 years ago that kicked the whole thing off?
Even in the Mayan heartlands – south-eastern Mexico and the Guatemalan highlands – the New Long Count was seen as a moment to celebrate the Mayan culture and reaffirm their identity. After hundreds of years of oppression the Mayans understandably want to look forward so there wasn’t much talk about the long forgotten past.
So then what happened? August 11th 3115 BCE. Well, no one knows do they? And, as the earliest evidence for this calendar, found so far, of course, is an inscription on a stone in Chiapas that says the equivalent of 36 BCE – it could well be that the people who came up with this calendar weren’t too sure either.
I don’t know; I just thought, with the amount of web pages being published about it, frenzied consumerism and all, someone may have wondered what happened back then the last time there was a Mayan End of the World. Could be somehow relevant, no?
So let me introduce you to the Holocene Impact Working Group – a bunch of scientists working tirelessly to ascertain whether there were any asteroid or comet collision events during the last 12,000 years that may have, you know, altered the course of human history. I was idly reading one of their member’s papers (The Archaeology and Anthropology of Quaternary Period Cosmic Impact by W. Bruce Masse) when something made me sit up. Outside were the sounds of laughter coming from my friends who were constructing a kind of Amazonian shamanic shrine, around which we’d perform some made-up generic ritual as the Mayan New Long Count drew close. Just for fun. Inside I had just read the words, “The group claims an impact event off the coasts of Australia and Madagascar around 3000 BCE created an underwater feature it calls Burckle Crater.” 3000 BCE, huh? Isn’t that, like, closely related to 3115 BCE? I frowned and read further: Masse was hypothesizing that it was this event spawned the hundreds of creation myths around the world that involve flooding and darkness, falling stars and so on. One of those was from the Popul Vuh, what we understand to be the Mayan holy book, where it says the “sky was in suspense, and the earth was submerged in the water”. Such stories are generally brushed aside by historians who might say that it’s all a metaphor for the political power struggles of the time, or some such rubbish. Fanatics believe them outright along with the gods that are postulated, while scientists rightly affirm that such fantasy is impossible. So, why then did all those flood myths, and the start of the Mayan calendar happen just when they did?
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the end of the world I fear. It is the lack of interest in wanting to understand all the previous ends of worlds. There – didn’t even mention Noah.