Student - December 13, 2012

'According to the Maya there was always a fresh start'

Time's up on 21 December: the end of the world according to the Maya calendar.

Mexican Icken Hernandez and Eugenio Ruiz, both working towars their MSc in Food Technology
Is there any point revising for an exam? Aren't we better off partying our way to doomsday? We asked two students from the region where the Maya come from: Mexicans Icken Hernandez and Eugenio Ruiz, both doing an MSc in Food Technology.
What do you think about all the fuss about the end of the world predicted in the Mayan calendar?
Eugenio: 'We joke about it: yes, it will all be over soon. But of course it doesn't make sense.'
Icken: 'It is nonsense. Absolute nonsense. The Mayan calendar doesn't have any endings, just new beginnings. What some people see as a prediction of an end is just the start of a new cycle. About 500 stones with Maya inscriptions have been found, which make predictions. Only one of them says anything about 2012. But the Maya did not try to predict the end of the world with their calculations; in fact they aimed to show that everything goes on - that was their point. Modern cultures always look for an end but that is not how the ancient Maya thought.'
Doesn't anyone in Mexico believe it?
Icken: 'No, except perhaps a few ill-informed individuals. If you take a guided tour of the ancients Maya temples you will hear exactly the same thing; the world will not end.'
Eugenio: 'The modern-day Maya, of whom there are about 6 million worldwide, will go to a temple on 21 December. That has nothing to do with the end of the world, though. It has to do with the change of seasons. You go to an ancient Maya temple, you stare at the sun and you renew your energy. But you do that on 21 March as well.'
So how come there are people in the west who really are convinced the end of the world is nigh?
Icken: 'It is a result of the kind of publicity it's had. The papers and magazines write about it and there are documentaries on Discovery.'
Eugenio: 'In the nineteen seventies, the New Age movement got hold of the idea. They play on people's anxieties. People need something to believe in, a conviction to hold onto. People who share a belief that the world is about to end feel a bond between them.'
What if the New Age followers turned out to be right? How would you spend your last days?
Eugenio: 'I wouldn't do any more exams. And now I am in Europe anyway, I would travel and spend all my grant. Enjoy life.'
Icken: 'I would go back to Mexico with some friends. Relax on the beach.'
Eugenio: 'Maybe we should go to an ancient Maya city, then. To be in the right place at the end.'
The May calendar
The Maya culture was an ancient civilization on the border between Mexico and Central America, which flourished in the period when Europe was in the Middle Ages. The Maya developed their own script and are known for their art, architecture, mathematics and astronomy. They believed that the cosmos consisted of nine underworlds, all of which had to be gone through in the course of evolution. Evolution would be complete after the last cycle of the 'Long Calendar', which in terms of our calendar ends on 21 December 2012. According to an inscription on a stone found at an archaeological site in Tortuguero, southern Mexico (see picture), the god Bolon Yokte K'uh will descend to the earth on that date. What the consequences of that will be, nobody knows (yet). (Text: Emma Diermont)