Thursday, December 20, 2012
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Faulseit disputes Mayan calendar end-of-the-world theory

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[December 20, 2012]  Have you heard the news that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012? This rumor has been making the rounds of even mainline publications. Where did it originate and why? The Illinois State Museum in Springfield invited Mayan scholar Dr. Ronald Faulseit to give the Paul F. Mickey Science Series lecture on Dec. 12 to address this issue.

Faulseit is a visiting scholar at Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a specialty in the political decay of ancient civilizations, focusing on the Mayan culture. He is coordinating a conference for March 2013 at SIUC to address this subject. Faulseit received his Ph.D. from Tulane University.

The Mayan civilization existed in southern Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras from 200 A.D. until approximately 800 A.D., the so-called ascendency of this culture. The following 200 years, until 1000 A.D., saw a rapid decline in the political structure of the Mayans. The people of the Mayan culture still exist in this area and still have a distinct language and customs.

During the ascendancy of the Mayan culture, this sophisticated society had a written language based on hieroglyphics, complex architecture and a system of numbers. They also were keen observers of the heavens, developing an extensive knowledge of astronomy.

The current concern in some quarters for the end of the world on Dec. 21, our solstice, comes from the Mayan calendar and their knowledge of the heavens. Except, this interpretation of the calendar is not true. Yes, the Mayan calendar ends on or near Dec. 21, but so have previous editions. It just starts over.

In fact, a recent archeological dig in the old area where the Mayans lived uncovered an unknown tomb of a ruler from that era. One of the objects unearthed was a tablet referring to a significant event that the Mayans say will occur in the year 4772. Faulseit's comment was: "Why would they predict the event in 4772, when their calendar predicts the end of the world in 2012? The answer is they wouldn't."

Faulseit, after showing the false interpretation of the Mayan calendar, attributed the predictions to junk science, written by nonscientists such as John Major Jenkins and the ever-popular Erich von Daniken. These are writers of popular pseudoscience books with no background in the area about which they write. Why they are popular is anyone's guess. There is absolutely nothing in the Mayan calendar that predicts the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012.

Faulseit's lecture was about the rise and decline of the Mayan political culture, but before launching into this area, he addressed other prophecies about the end of the world. While he destroyed all of these predictions, he did say that this is now a serious subject for historians, astronomers and political scientists because of the wide acceptance of junk science, especially among younger teens.

He stated that "the scientific community needs to do a better job to destroy these ridiculous notions of the end of the earth, because there is such a widespread belief in them by segments of the population." He referenced some of the questions on the Ask an Astronomer website from concerned parents and others who are frantic about these end-of-time predictions. One person asked when she should put her pets down because she did not want them to suffer when the end comes. Faulseit challenged the scientific community to address these concerns in an approachable and respectful manner.

The next prophecy Faulseit addressed was the prediction of an alignment of planets with earth that says this phenomena on Dec. 21 will pull the earth apart. He presented an astronomical chart for Dec. 21 that showed there is no alignment of the planets with earth. Further, he stated that the earth's moon and the sun have the most impact on the earth gravitationally, rather than any of the seven other planets. (Poor Pluto has been evicted from the planetary society.) When the moon and sun align with the earth, a phenomenon that happens often, the tides on earth increase by about 3 feet. Venus, the closest planet to the earth, has a gravitational effect on the earth that is almost unmeasurable, well less than a tenth of an inch. If all of the planets were in perfect alignment with the earth, the effect would be negligible, let alone capable of pulling the earth apart.

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The next earth-shattering event that is now popular in the junk science world is the switching of the polarity of the earth's magnetic poles. There is some truth to this, in that the earth's magnetic poles do switch polarity from time to time. It has happened before, but it is hardly an overnight phenomena. It is not as if the polarity of the earth's magnetic poles is going to change from Dec. 20 to the next day. It takes about 3,000 years for this to happen, and the result is not the destruction of the earth. It has happened before and will happen again. At most, you might have to buy a new compass to find your way around.

Lurid covers of some books show a flaming planet hurtling toward earth, the terrifying Planet X, with earth in the bull's-eye of its sights, highlighting the next in the earth destruction predictions. Destruction will rain down on earth when this juggernaut impacts our planet. Except, there is no Planet X. Conspiracy theorists hold that the government is keeping this a secret to avoid panic in the populace. Faulseit pointed out that if a planet was on a collision course with earth that would end on Dec. 21, it would outshine the moon and would be clearly visible during the day, matching the sun in the sky. It is not there, and this is not going to happen.

Finally, the sunspot theory of earth's destruction has reared its head yet again. Junk science says that sunspot activity will increase to such an extent as to destroy the earth this year. While sunspot activity is increasing this year, this astronomical event goes in 11-year cycles, and the current level is only half of what it was in the 1950s. It is just not a big deal, unless you are a solar astronomer. It has happened before and will happen again. Here again, we can wad up this end of times junk science and deposit it in the trash, where it and all of the others belong.

Real science is much more fascinating and useful -- well worth studying. Our universe is a sublime neighborhood in which to live.

After destroying all of these junk science predictions, Faulseit went on to discuss his extensive on-site experience in the Mayan environment. Their knowledge of science, architecture in the form of magnificent pyramids, and language are truly amazing, given that this era existed well over a thousand years ago.

On a lighter note, Faulseit suggested not putting off sending Christmas cards and gift shopping this year because of all the earth destruction predictions. Dec. 22 will come along just as always, perhaps bringing with it the prediction of a white Christmas.

The Illinois State Museum programs and activities can be accessed on the museum website, The Paul F. Mickey Lecture series is a monthly event.


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