Two years ago archeologists stumbled on a carved stone staircase amidst the ruins of an abandoned Mayan city in the rainforest of Guatemala.
The inscription refers to a visit by a Mayan king in 696 AD. It also makes reference to the year 2012 – December 21, 2012, by one translation – which set off yet another wave of endtimes predictions. See my column on May 27, 2011, on one such prediction out of California that attracted national attention.
The inscription is based on what is called the "long count" Mayan calendar, one of several different length calendars the Maya used to record important events during its "Classic Period," from about 300 to 850 A.D.
The reference to Dec. 21, 2012, which marks the end of the current "long count," was immediately interpreted by some, especially by those with little real knowledge of the Maya, as a prediction of the endtimes.
Numerous attempts have been made by those who have actually studied the Maya to debunk the prediction. And a more recent discovery inscription provides different dates than initially reported, and even more importantly, makes clear that the end date for the "long count" had nothing to do with the endtimes.
Rather it is the equivalent of our Dec. 31, at which point we change our calendars and continue on our merry way.
Nevertheless the prediction persists, at least in some circles, and reports surface in the popular press from people who are taking it seriously and preparing in the usual survivalist manner, including a boost in survival shelters.
The idea actually was first floated even before the discovery by Daniel Pinchbeck in his book, 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, which was followed by the movie, 2012.
The theories as to how the world might end abound, as the Mayan inscription is mute on that point. One of the most popular is the prediction that a catastrophic collision between Earth and the planet Nibiru is going to occur.
The fact that NASA has repeatedly reported that no such planet exists, either by name or supposed location, does not seem to matter. Believers have countered that NASA (read the government) is only seeking to avoid widespread panic and that Nibiru is actually hidden by the sun.
Another theory, actually based on real possibilities but that has nothing to do with the Mayan prediction, is that Earth will collide with a comet.
One other prediction is that the Earth's magnetic poles will suddenly flip, thereby raising havoc. This would be caused by an unusual alignment of planets and the Milky Way, which will actually take place, in part anyway. But again, scientists insist the realignment will pose no danger to earth.
And so it goes, providing fodder, in my mind, for a wonderful Saturday Night Live skit.
Page 2 of 2 - So enjoy the merriment that surrounds such periodic outbreaks, and celebrate the Winter Solstice (a closer approximation for the date Dec. 21), if you lean in that direction.
If not, I wish everyone a wonderful holiday season.
Bryan Le Beau is an historian and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of Saint Mary.