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Vail Valley Voices: End of the world?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as “the department of theological science concerned with the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s a pretty safe bet that someone, somewhere and sometime has engaged you in conversation about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012. So just for fun, I thought we might examine a few aspects of this impending calamity, and what better place to begin than with the Mayan civilization?

Mayan society dates back two centuries before Christ. At its peak, the civilization extended through what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and parts of Honduras. From A.D. 300 to 900, the Mayans built towering temples and pyramids and created elaborate astronomical maps, calendars and very sophisticated mathematical systems.

Then, around A.D. 900, the civilization began its decline. Much conjecture surrounds the reasons for the civilization’s demise.

One theory is the society was victimized by a 200-year drought. Others believe over-farming eventually caught up with the Mayans. Whatever the reason, this very advanced civilization disappeared, leaving the controversy we hear so much about today.

The Mayan calendar used a 394-year cycle known as a baktun, and many people believe the calendar predicted that the world would end after the “13th baktun,” which occurs about the time Vail Resorts will celebrate its 50th anniversary in December.

In the early 1960s a stone tablet recovered in Mexico made oblique reference to a god of war descending from the sky at the end of the 13th baktun. That artifact was the genesis behind the widespread theories about the end of the world that abound today.

But prognosticators have been predicting the end of the world forever, so why is this particular belief so persistent? Interest in the Mayan calendar dates back about 50 years, when various New Age authors predicted that Dec. 21, 2012, would usher in a new era of cosmic peace and understanding.

But fringe historians chose to see this date as Armageddon and soon began to publish books linking the 13th baktun with everything from Nostradamus to the lost city of Atlantis.

In their book “The Mayan Prophecies,” published in 1996, Maurice Cotterell and Adrian Gilbert claimed to have found evidence that the Mayans had predicted that solar activity would reverse the Earth’s magnetic field in 2012, destroying civilization and wiping out the human race. This idea spawned hundreds of books and tens of thousands of websites, all devoted to advancing notions about the end of the world.

However, what these fringe authors always seem to leave out of their predictions is that the Earth has reversed its polarity many times over the eons.

Nevertheless, when north becomes south there will be consequences. For one, modern technology will be disrupted because even today solar storms damage satellites, cause power outages and interrupt radio communications. So these types of negative influences would surely increase if the Earth’s magnetic field reversed.

Additionally, such a shift of the magnetic field would likely disorient all those species that rely on geomagnetism for navigation – turtles, salmon, monarch butterflies, certain species of pigeons. There is no scientific consensus on how those creatures would cope, but I suspect most would manage better than drivers with automobile navigation systems.

Unfortunately for the doomsayers, many of the disaster scenarios associated with geomagnetic pole reversals are pure fantasy, and we need look no further than the geologic record for proof.

The last magnetic pole reversal occurred sometime during the Stone Age. There was no worldwide shifting of continents or an increase in other planetwide disasters like earthquakes or tsunamis. Besides, pole reversals occur over thousands of years. The only place they occur instantly is on Hollywood studio sets.

Meanwhile, those who believe the world will end this year have come up with various scenarios for global catastrophe, like the eruption of a super-volcano (perhaps the one under Yellowstone?), as well as the usual suspects mentioned above.

The most creative theory I’ve heard predicts that a rogue planet currently hidden behind the sun will emerge and collide with the Earth.

On a more optimistic note, the greatest impact of the 13th baktun will likely be a positive one. Mexico’s tourism industry anticipates a doomsday bonanza. Fifty-two million visitors are expected to visit Mexico this year – more than twice the usual number – and those visitors will bring dollars!

Personally, I think I there’s a better chance of finding a mermaid looking for seashells in Gore Creek than the world ending on Dec. 21. But one never knows, so just to be safe I’ll be rubbing the crystal a weirdo cousin gave me 20 years ago in the hopes of an 18-inch powder day on Dec. 20!

Quote of the day: “Nobody can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending” – Maria Robinson

Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes regularly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at bmazz68@

comcast.net.


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