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CCSU archeologist: Mayans never said world would end in 2012

The Temple of Kukulkan, built by the Mayans in Chichen Itza.
The Temple of Kukulkan, built by the Mayans in Chichen Itza.
Photograph courtesy of Alaskan Dude on Flickr under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Worried about the Mayan prediction that the end of the world will happen around Christmas this year?

Dr. Ken Feder, professor of archeology at Central Connecticut State University, offers this advice: “Eat, drink and be merry on the twenty-first. And keep doing it on the twenty-second, the twenty-third, and the twenty-fourth.”

Feder is a prominent skeptical voice against pseudoarcheology, having argued against fanciful misinterpretations in his books, in newspaper articles, and on such shows as National Geographic's Is It Real? He gave a presentation on Oct. 9 titled "December 21 2012: The End of the World (As We Know It)?" to an audience of about 25 people gathered in a cramped classroom on the campus of the University of New Haven.

The event was organized by the Connecticut Drinking Skeptically Meetup group, a semi-formal organization of skeptics who get together on a regular basis for various activities.

Feder explained to the group that the popular notion about the world ending in 2012 began with Swiss fantasy writer Erich von Däniken, who invented the so-called “ancient astronaut” hypothesis, which posits that certain ancient civilizations needed help from aliens to build their momuments.

In his books, von Däniken wrote that the Mayans predicted the aliens would return in 2012. Though he never said the world would end, others picked up on the reference and tacked their own imaginary scenarios onto it, including the apocalypse.

Feder said that the entire premise of von Däniken's hypothesis smacked of ethnocentrism, pointing out that von Däniken did not feel the need to postulate alien assistance for ancient European achievements.

“The Greeks and Romans built their own structures, but Egyptians and Mayans could not possibly have done so?” he said.

Feder then launched into an overview of classical Mayan civilization and a detailed breakdown of the Mayan calendar. He dispelled the myth that their methods of date-keeping were more accurate than the modern Gregorian calendar – in fact, they had to add five extra days onto every year to make it work.

The Mayans, he said, indeed had a long-count calender that ends on Dec. 21. However, they had already run that calendar through four cycles without the world ending.

Feder said the current cycle could not be the last one, either.

“The Maya have already scheduled a festival honoring the ascension of (ancient Mayan king) Pacal to the throne. The day of the party – get out your party hats and put this on your day planner – is October 15, 4772.”

Although he continues to fight misconceptions about Mayan civilization, Feder said modern Mayans are benefitting right now from the tourist dollars flowing south.

“They can sell all the little trinkets and get hotel rooms filled, and there are going to be a lot of jobs,” he said. “Maybe for the Maya, that will make a real difference in their lives, and so they can look back on December twenty-first and say a good thing happened.”


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