in 2012? Date spawns theories, film
By A. Pawlowski
Just as "Y2K" and its batch of predictions
about the year 2000 have become a distant memory,
here comes "Twenty-twelve."
Fueled by a crop of books, Web sites with countdown
clocks, and claims about ancient timekeepers,
interest is growing in what some see as the dawn
of a new era, and others as an expiration date
for Earth: December 21, 2012.
The date marks the end of a 5,126-year cycle
on the Long Count calendar developed by the Maya,
the ancient civilization known for its advanced
understanding of astronomy and for the great cities
it left behind in Mexico and Central America.
(Some scholars believe the cycle ends a bit later
-- on December 23, 2012.)
Speculation in some circles about whether the
Maya chose this particular time because they thought
something ominous would happen has sparked a number
of doomsday theories.
The hype also has mainstream Maya scholars shaking
There's going to be a whole generation of people
who, when they think of the Maya, think of 2012,
and to me that's just criminal," said David
Stuart, director of the Mesoamerica Center at
the University of Texas at Austin.
"There is no serious scholar who puts any
stock in the idea that the Maya said anything
meaningful about 2012."
But take the fact that December 21, 2012, coincides
with the winter solstice, add claims the Maya
picked the time period because it also marks an
alignment of the sun with the center of the Milky
Way galaxy, and you have the makings of an online
Type "2012" into an Internet search
engine and you'll find survival guides, survival
schools, predictions and "official stuff"
to wear, including T-shirts with slogans such
as "2012 The End" and "Doomsday
Theories about what might happen range from solar
storms triggering volcano eruptions to a polar
reversal that will make the Earth spin in the
If you think all of this would make a great sci-fi
disaster movie, Hollywood is already one step
"2012," a special-effects flick starring
John Cusack and directed by Roland Emmerich, of
"The Day After Tomorrow" fame, is scheduled
to be released this fall. The trailer shows a
monk running to a bell tower on a mountaintop
to sound the alarm as a huge wall of water washes
over what appear to be the peaks of the Himalayas.
'Promoting a hoax'
One barometer of the interest in 2012 may be
the "Ask an Astrobiologist" section
of NASA's Web site, where senior scientist David
Morrison answers questions from the public. On
a recent visit, more than half of the inquiries
on the most popular list were related to 2012.
"The purveyors of doom are promoting a hoax,"
Morrison wrote earlier this month in response
to a question from a person who expressed fear
about the date.
A scholar who has studied the Maya for 35 years
said there is nothing ominous about 2012, despite
the hype surrounding claims to the contrary.
"I think that the popular books... about
what the Maya say is going to happen are really
fabricated on the basis of very little evidence,"
said Anthony Aveni, a professor of astronomy,
anthropology and Native American studies at Colgate
Aveni and Stuart are both writing their own books
explaining the Mayan calendar and 2012, but Stuart
said he's pessimistic that people will be interested
in the real story when so many other books are
making sensational claims.
Dozens of titles about 2012 have been published
and more are scheduled to go on sale in the coming
months. Current offerings include "Apocalypse
2012," in which author Lawrence Joseph outlines
"terrible possibilities," such as the
potential for natural disaster.
But Joseph admits he doesn't think the world
is going to end.
"I do, however, believe that 2012 will prove
to be... a very dramatic and probably transformative
year," Joseph said.
The author acknowledged he's worried his book's
title might scare people, but said he wanted to
alert the public about possible dangers ahead.
He added that his publisher controls the book's
title, though he had no issue with the final choice.
"If it had been called 'Serious Threats
2012' or 'Profound Considerations for 2012,' it
would have never gotten published," Joseph
Another author said the doom and gloom approach
is a great misunderstanding of 2012.
"The trendy doomsday people... should be
treated for what they are: under-informed opportunists
and alarmists who will move onto other things
in 2013," said John Major Jenkins, whose
books include "Galactic Alignment" and
who describes himself as a self-taught independent
Jenkins said that cycle endings were all about
transformation and renewal -- not catastrophe
-- for the Maya. He also makes the case that the
period they chose coincides with an alignment
of the December solstice sun with the center of
the Milky Way, as viewed from Earth.
"Two thousand years ago the Maya believed
that the world would be going through a great
transformation when this alignment happened,"
But Aveni said there is no evidence that the
Maya cared about this concept of the Milky Way,
adding that the galactic center was not defined
until the 1950s.
"What you have here is a modern age influence
[and] modern concepts trying to garb the ancient
Maya in modern clothing, and it just doesn't wash
for me," Aveni said.
Meanwhile, he and other scholars are bracing
for growing interest as the date approaches.
"The whole year leading up to it is going
to be just crazy, I'm sorry to say," Stuart
"I just think it's sad, it really just frustrates
me. People are really misunderstanding this really
cool culture by focusing on this 2012 thing. It
means more about us than it does about the Maya."