2012 isn't the end of the world, Mayans insist
Condensed by Native Village

Mexico  Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly "running out" on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it's not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan Indian elder insists. "I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff."

It can only get worse for him. Hollywood's new film, "2012," features earthquakes, meteor showers and a tsunami dumping an aircraft carrier on the White House.

At Cornell University, Ann Martin runs the "Curious? Ask an Astronomer" web site. She  says people are scared.

"It's too bad that we're getting e-mails from fourth-graders who are saying that they're too young to die," Martin said. "We had a mother of two young children who was afraid she wouldn't live to see them grow up."

Chile Pixtun, a Guatemalan, says the doomsday theories are Western, not Mayan, ideas.  A significant time period for the Mayas does end on that date, and rare astronomical alignments do coincide in 2012.  But most scientists and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials.

Still, the Dec. 21, 2012 doomsday scenario does have grains of archaeological basis. One is Monument Six.

A stone tablet found at an Mexican ruin during highway construction in the 1960s is a clue. While the site was largely paved over and pieces of the tablet were looted, the few remaining parts refer to the time period of 2012. The inscription describes a 2012 event involving Bolon Yokte, a Mayan god associated with war and creation.

However, erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible. Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, "He will descend from the sky."  But he also adds that inscriptions at other Mayan sites reach far beyond 2012 -- including one reaching the year 4772.

"It's a special anniversary of creation," said David Stuart from the University of Texas at Austin. "The Maya never said the world is going to end, They never said anything bad would happen necessarily. They're just recording this future anniversary on Monument Six."

And anyway, Mayans in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries.  "If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea," said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. "That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."

The Mayan civilization had a talent for astronomy. Their Long Count calendar began in 3,114 B.C.  Time was marked in roughly 394-year periods known as Baktuns. Thirteen was an important, sacred number for the Mayas, and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.

But some say the Maya knew another secret involved in the contested prophecies: the Earth's axis wobbles, slightly changing the stars' alignments.  Once every 25,800 years, the sun lines up with the center of our Milky Way galaxy on a winter solstice, the sun's lowest point in the horizon. That will happen on Dec. 21, 2012, when the sun appears to rise in the same spot where the bright center of galaxy sets.

Author John Major Jenkins says the Maya were aware of the alignment and attached great importance to it. "If we want to honor and respect how the Maya think about this, then we would say that the Maya viewed 2012 as all cycle endings, as a time of transformation and renewal," he said.

With all the hype, people are worried about 2012 disasters the Mayas never dreamed of.

For instance, author Lawrence Joseph says explosive storms on the sun could knock out North America's power grid for years. Joseph says there's evidence the 2012 solar storm peak could be "a lulu."

Another warning comes from a History Channel program titled "Decoding the Past: Doomsday 2012: End of Days." The program says a galactic alignment or magnetic disturbance could trigger a "pole shift.  Earth's entire mantle would shift within days, or even hours, changing the position of the north and south poles and causing worldwide disaster. Earthquakes would rock every continent, Massive tsunamis would smother coastal cities. It would be the ultimate planetary catastrophe."

But no matter what one believes, Westerners have been trying for more than a century to pin doomsday scenarios on the Maya. And while fascinated by ancient lore, few have examined more recent predictions that didn't come true..

"No one who's writing in now seems to remember that the last time we thought the world was going to end, it didn't," says Martin. "There doesn't seem to be a lot of memory that things were fine the last time around."