FAIRBANKS — If the world ends December 21, don’t blame the Mayans.
The much-discussed Mayan apocalypse, which is tentatively scheduled for Friday, apparently is not rooted in the tradition of the ancient civilization, according to a pair of experts on the region.
The bottom line? When Friday arrives, it won’t be Mayans who are waiting for the end times.
The ancient Mayans, who lived in present-day Mexico and Guatemala, created a roughly 5,125-year-long calendar that began at the point when they believed the universe began. The final date on that calendar is set for December 21 or December 23, depending on which expert is consulted.
That doesn’t mean the world is scheduled to end within the week, said Robin Shoaps, a linguistic anthropologist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Shoaps has spent nearly 20 years studying the Mayans and said the ancient calendar has been widely misunderstood.
Sort of like a modern wall calendar hitting December 31, the Mayans would start fresh once their long-count calendar comes to an end.
“The Mayan calendar is like an odometer,” Shoals said. “It’s just going to switch over.”
Shoaps said the origin of the “Mayan apocalypse” began about a century ago and gained momentum in the 1970s amid New Age beliefs connected to pyramids, space aliens and ancient prophecies.
She said Mayan reaction to their calendar ranges from amused to annoyed.
“They just think it’s another weird thing that Americans believe,” she said. “The more educated people are disgusted, because they see people making money off of this.”
Ray Ball, an assistant professor of history at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is an expert in the colonial empire the conquistadors created in Mexico. Ball said the idea of an end-of-days scenario sounds like a world view that would be embraced by those Catholic newcomers rather than the region’s indigenous people.
“These things are probably more germane to 16th century Catholicism than 16th century residents of the Yucatan,” she said.
Both Shoaps and Ball said there is an ongoing effort to promote the coming “apocalypse” by tourism agencies in Mexico and Guatemala, which has boosted its profile.
As for Shoaps, she doesn’t have any special plans for the big day. She’ll be spending December 21 driving to see her in-laws in Michigan.
“I don’t expect the world to end before I get there,” she said with a laugh.
Contact Fairbanks Daily News-Miner staff writer Jeff Richardson at 907-459-7518.