2012: Mayans, NASA and the end of the world

conkersIn about 20 days, our world will end. We know this because a very long time ago, a Mayan person carved it into some rock. The carving abruptly stops, leaving us with the ultimate cliffhanger, gasping, “Is that it?”.

But perhaps this carver chap (I’m assuming it was a bloke) simply got bored/died of an infected mossie bite/put down his favourite chisel and was buggered if he could find it again. The Mayans – undoubtedly ancient and amazing – were still only humans after all.

NASA doesn’t want us to worry. The spectacular Mayan end to 2012 involves the galactic equivalent of a game of conkers that we lose very badly, and America’s finest inter-stellar dudes are desperate for us all to calm the heck down and get a grip. In a statement posted on NASA’s website in November, and since paraphrased all over the world, they insist: “Just as your desk calendar ends on Dec. 31 and the world keeps going on, the same goes for the Mayan calendar. Just because you run out of pages doesn’t mean life as we know it will cease to exist.” In one news story in the UK’s Daily Mail NASA actually blames doomsday theories for over-anxiety in children.

There is a frustrated scientist screaming, “Pull yourselves together, Goddammit!” from between all those lines. He’s clearly annoyed with us all for thinking that people who lived a few thousand years ago had more knowledge about our here and now than we do. Surely they couldn’t possibly have known more than us; sensible, intelligent folk of 2012, and him; with his gigantic telescope.

What the Mayans lacked in technology, they made up for in TV-and-light-pollution free time, to lie back and look at the sky. They developed theories about how it all worked – some of which turned out to closely match ours. But lots didn’t. Many of our space questions are now answered in photos sent back by incredible little robots whizzing through the vacuum. As with any ancient civilisation faced with a knowledge gap, Mayans tended to fill theirs up with very imaginative bollocks. And it seems – for all our gadgetry and know-how – we share this trait. Because the date of the Mayan apocalypse has, actually, already been and gone. What we’re all stressing over right now is, End of the World, draft two.

NASA again: “The story started with claims that Nibiru, a supposed planet discovered by the Sumerians, is headed toward Earth. This catastrophe was initially predicted for May 2003, but when nothing happened the doomsday date was moved forward to December 2012 and linked to the end of one of the cycles in the ancient Mayan calendar at the winter solstice in 2012 – hence the predicted doomsday date of Dec. 21, 2012.”

Right. So while it starts to look as if the ancients didn’t, in fact, know what they were on about, us 21st Century-ites – who really should know better –  definitely made things worse.

We look back through time and interpret ancient carvings we find as mystic Mayan wisdom. But it’s the passage of time that’s injected these stones with enigma and the wisdom is patchy at best. To the Mayans these stone tablets weren’t mystical; they represented scientific fact, interlinked with religious gap-fillers, which to them were just as logical. Mayan theories and philosophies were their best way of explaining our still largely unexplainable world. We don’t know whether they had to adjust their scientific views as much as we continue to adjust ours, but they probably did at some point. We have but one version of their Earth manifesto to go on because it’s the only one they left behind. The one with the cliffhanger.

Or so we thought. Until another calendar was found in Guatemala that predates the famous one by 600 years. This one, while projecting similarly fascinating phases of our solar system and tying them in with certain long-forgotten deities’ moods, in order to calculate the best years for crops, makes no mention of the end of the world. I wonder where Mr Carver-man would have taken the story after our obliteration, if only he’d picked up his chisel again.

I think I’m going to start making plans for the January sales.

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About Sally Nursten

Writer. Mother. Lover of life and all its twisty-turny ways.
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