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Lessons from the Maya prophecy – whether the world 'ends' or not (+video)

Instead of focusing on Maya predictions of the ‘end of the world,’ some are shifting attention to problems today that may have contributed to the Maya collapse – like environmental damage.

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Through a clearing in the jungle, visitors catch their first glimpse of the ancient Maya ruins of Yaxchilan in Mexico's southern Chiapas state. Stubborn vines have penetrated the walls of the Maya temple of the underworld. Bats hang in the cool vaulted ceiling and spiders scurry around the structure where ancient nobles once meditated and prayed to their gods.

Here, like across the Maya civilization, abandoned cities hidden in the rainforests of Mexico and Central America stand as reminders of the collapse of one of the most sophisticated cultures of its time – one that, a thousand years later, no scholar fully understands.

And if some Maya thinkers and their acolytes are correct, the same fate could be in store for Yaxchilan's nearest town, Frontera Corozal, the rest of Mexico, and even the entire globe: They believe the Mayas predicted that the world would end this December.

Most serious thinkers dismiss the prophecy as plain wrong, a meme that has spread around the globe – today there are more than 2,000 books on the subject – with the help of New Age thinkers, science fiction writers, and misguided academics.

Despite rigorous attempts at debunking the prophecy, including recent discoveries in an overgrown jungle in Guatemala that reveals the Mayas counted thousands of years into the future beyond the much talked about Dec. 21 "cut off date," a few are still on board with the apocalyptic forecast. Some 10 percent of people surveyed worldwide earlier this year say the Maya calendar could signify the world's end in 2012, according to a poll from Ipsos Global Public Affairs, conducted for Reuters.

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