ST. PAUL, Minn. - University of Saint Thomas English Professor Dr. Lon Otto looks down on the Paul Granlund sculpture "Constellation Earth" from his campus office every day; however, he's not expecting the actual earth to go away anytime soon, despite fears of a Mayan apocalypse on Dec. 21.
"I am saying every serious scholar of the ancient Maya will say 'No, there was never a sense that this would be the end of everything,'" said Otto. "I think it is not really very scary. It certainly has no solid roots in anything really to do with the ancient Maya. There is a complicated series of misinterpretations and exaggerations and appropriations that went on over the last 10-20 years that accounts for the idea of it."
Otto has been a Maya "buff" as long as he can remember.
"The Maya loved mathematics. They adored keeping time. They kept time in a lot of different ways. They used it rhetorically," he said.
Otto said a "minor" Mayan archaeological site some years ago was the origin of the end-of-the-world "prophecy."
He said the Maya wrote in a "glyph" language using pictures rather than words. The images on the excavation wall were misread by a researcher, who later retracted his claim; however, the suspicion lingered about some cataclysm.
Otto said the dedication was simply taking note of the past and of the future "as a way of emphasizing the importance of the dedication of this event."
The ancient Maya, in fact, used three calendars. One was a "sacred" calendar to keep track of religious events. A second calendar was "secular" and more closely resembles the 365 day solar calendar used today, minus the leap years, which the Maya never used. The third is the "long count" calendar, which is the one that had sent some people into an end-of-the-world tizzy.
The assumption by scholars now is that the Maya simply expected that they would begin another cycle of life at the end of the long count calendar, like a car odometer rolling back to zero after running past its mileage spaces.
Still, Otto knows that some people will delight in the thought of the world ending on 12/21/12.
"I think that there is a pleasure that we take as a culture in the idea of disaster," he said.
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