2012: The End of the World?

While many believers begin their countdowns in preparation for the end of the world, others are more skeptical of the so-called “Mayan Prophecy.”

The believers, who are convinced that the end of the Mayan “long count” calendar on Dec. 21, 2012, is the destined doomsday, think the Mayans had an innate ability to predict future events based on astrological phenomenon.

For the average Internet user, it’s almost impossible to find a reliable source that hasn’t been clouded by hype or false claims. Yet there are many scholars, scientists and astrologers out there who have done their homework on the subject, including UW-Whitewater associate Professor Dr. Jo Ellen Burkholder.

Burkholder, who is an archeologist specializing in the Andean culture, has visited the area of Mayan civilization in Mexico and Central America and has conversed with people on the front lines attempting to debunk yet another end of the world theory. One of them included Mayan hieroglyphs and calligraphy expert Dr. Mark Van Stone.

“He basically ‘wrote the book’ on the subject,” Burkholder said. “He can read Mayan glyphs and reproduce them. There are not many people like that.”

According to Burkholder, one of the reasons people misinterpret what the Mayans suggest about the end of the world is based on misreading glyphs.

“It took a very long time before we could read those Mayan glyphs and we could read them correctly,” Burkholder said. “There was some commonalities, but the scribes had different ways of writing things kind of like Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was a highly intricate system of writing.”

Burkholder said she was ready to meet Mayan people who could read glyphs that truly believed in the end of the world, but was only met with an unconcerned dismissal of the subject by all.

“Nobody who ought to be in the know seems to be taking any actions that would suggest that they really thought it was the end of the world,” Burkholder said.

This is the same opinion Burkholder said she has about the subject. Burkholder said she met many people who still uphold the Mayan culture today that weren’t the least bit concerned with the prophecy.

“There is a tendency to eroticize the Maya and make them into these mysterious, long-disappeared people who only left they’re magical writing,” Burkholder said. “They’re not long dead, missing, mysterious people. Their oral traditions persisted. They don’t think the world is going to end.”

Along with Burkholder, UW-Whitewater lecturer specializing in Latin American history Bert Kreitlow said he holds those same beliefs. Kreitlow finds that the most confusion comes with the misconception of the Mayan calendrical system. The Mayans had a number of different calendar cycles that were all different, but in a way interconnected. The calendar that will come to an end on Dec. 21, 2012, is the “long count” calendar, which some have said will match up with a solar eclipse on the equator of the galaxy.

“They’re making this argument that this can’t be a coincidence, that there must be some sort of cosmic connection,” Kreitlow said.

Yet Kreitlow is one of the many that say it is simply the end of the calendar cycle.

“If you consider anthropology a science, which we should, the proof or at least the argument points towards the fact that it’s not the end of the world,” Kreitlow said. “It’s nothing more than the end of a cycle.”

Many skeptics still steadfastly hold true to their faith in the theory, even though it is a predecessor of many other false end of the world claims.

“There’s been a lot of different religions and a lot of critics that have predicted the end of the world,” Burkholder said. “To date, they have all been wrong. Predicting the end of the world goes back to some of the world’s earliest civilizations. So far, we have a zero percent success rate on predictions of the end of the world, I see no reason why the Mayans should be any different.”

Kreitlow also claims that there is no Mayan evidence of a doomsday prediction and that the subject is often laughed at by professional anthropologists.

“You can dig me out of the ashes on Dec. 21 and prove me wrong, but yeah, I’m not convinced,” Kreitlow said.


During her trip to the Mayan civilization this summer, Burkholder spent five weeks visiting historical sites and studying Mayan language and culture alongside colleagues.

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