I worry that, especially as the Millennium edges nearer, pseudo-science and superstition will seem year by year more tempting, the siren song of unreason more sonorous and attractive. Where have we heard it before? Whenever our ethnic and national prejudices are aroused, in times of scarcity, during challenges to national self-esteem or nerve, when we agonize about our diminished cosmic place and purpose, or when fanaticism is bubbling up around us—then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir.” – Carl Sagan
I, along with several other websites, received an email this week with details on a new series being developed for the History Channel called Seekers 2012. Here’s what the email said:
I am working on a documentary series for the History Channel focusing on the Mayan prediction that 2012 will be the END OF DAYS. We will be taking an academic approach to the mysterious prophecies set out by the Mayans and other cultures. We are looking for two investigators/researchers to host the series. Ideally our investigative team will be comprised of a man and a woman between the ages of 26 and 55, who are scientists, investigators and adventurers.
We are looking for people with advanced degrees (Anthropology, Ethnology, Mesoamerican studies etc. with an interest in 2012) who are open, curious and rigorous. Because this is a television series these investigators must also be articulate, passionate, knowledgeable and comfortable in front of an audience and a camera.
In each episode our Hosts will scour the globe investigating these “End of Days” prophesies and other unexplained phenomena from history and the world. These Hosts will share their questions, investigative techniques, knowledge and gut instincts with the audience, as they seek answers to some of the world’s oldest and most ominous predictions.
If you or anybody you know may be interested, please feel free to pass this email along or contact me directly. More information as well as an application can be found at our website: Seekers 2012
Thanks so much and I look forward to hearing from you.
I groaned; deep and guttural, my head hit the desk. I hadn’t groaned as hard in months, not since I’d received an offer to host a series called Aliens Did It. Once again, pseudoscientific beliefs were attempting to get their foot in the door of public entertainment under the guise of “scientific investigation”. I raised my head and cracked my knuckles. This time it was personal. This time it was trying to slip its slimy paws around archaeology. Well I wasn’t about to stand for it.
I explored the Seekers 2012 website where the show’s creators claim:
“There are predictions in nearly every culture that the world will end in 2012.”
Stop the bus. Nearly every culture? Care to name them? The truth is you would be hard pressed to find ANY reference to a 2012 apocalypse outside New Age beliefs. My question is: how can you create an investigative series when the very core concept of your show is false?
Wow, I could stop right here. But, while we’re on the topic, I’d like to go in to a bit more detail on two aspects of this subject; The Maya Calendar and the idea of an apocalypse; two completely unrelated things that have become bed buddies thanks to New Age nut jobs. I think a large part of the problem is the public’s misunderstanding of information, so here is the Cliff’s notes version of what one should know.
The 2012 date itself comes from the Maya, a Pre-Columbian civilization who occupied portions of Mesoamerica from 2000 BC to the 16th century AD. The Long Count Calendar is just one of several methods the Maya used to count time. The calendar marks time in (roughly) 394 year periods known as b’ak’tuns. Thirteen was a sacred number for the Maya and the thirteenth b’ak’tun ends around December 21, 2012. But the Maya don’t see this as THE end, conversely they saw this as a time of celebration. We have similar events in our own culture; namely New Years. Yes, the thirteenth b’ak’tun is the final one in the Long Count Calendar, so what happens after that? Easy, the cycle resets and the Long Count begins again. Hardly cause to worry.
Next up is the idea of an apocalypse. The end of everything; it’s pretty scary, isn’t it? That’s probably why it’s been picked by Hollywood and exploited to no end. What better antagonist than the complete destruction of everything? What most people fail to understand is that the idea of the apocalypse is an inherently Western idea, with its origins chiefly tied to Abrahamic religions. The Maya didn’t hold the belief of an apocalypse or an end to everything. In this case, the idea has been swapped cross culturally (and rather unfairly) from the West and ascribed to the Maya.
It is important to consider who is presenting the argument for 2012. Certainly not scientists, scholars, historians or anyone with half a brain. No instead you get people like this website proprietor who gladly lists all the celebrity believers of the 2012 nonsense. Celebrities: always a source of solid scientific information. New Age mystics have predicted apocalypses before. Off of the top of my head, I recall three: Comets Kohoutek in 1973 and Hale-Bopp in 1997 and more recently Y2K. Those events have come and gone and the world is still here, why should 2012 be any different? This time, it isn’t worldwide computer failure threatening mankind. Proponents of the 2012 nonsense like to point to earthquakes, floods and cosmic occurrences such as solar flares, sunspots, planetary collisions, and switching poles as having ties to this date. The real truth? Sure, some of these could happen. Some of them will happen, just like your gold fish will die someday. Given enough time (thousands to millions of year), there is the potential that all of these could happen. But there is no evidence that the Maya predicted any of them, or even had the slightest interest in such events.
The Maya possessed some pretty stellar knowledge, especially when it came to astronomy and timekeeping. But their science, in no way shape or form could ever rival what we’ve established as a whole over the last hundred years. Do you really think they could accurately predict any of these with a higher degree of accuracy than we can today?
To summarize, 2012 is a fine example of misrepresenting archaeology to suit an agenda, namely that of New Age charlatans. Taking the Maya Long Count Calendar, removing its meaning and affixing to it that of an entirely different culture is not only a misrepresentation of Maya history, it is essentially a gross perversion of beliefs. It’d be the equivalent of saying the pyramids were built to predict that Wal Mart will build a new store in San Antonio in 2046. We should be happy that archaeology has brought us the discovery of the Maya Long Count calender. We should be awestruck that the Maya were such keen observers of time to create such a thing as the Long Count Calendar. But we should not be so quick to demean the Maya and the calendar’s creation by ascribing it with bogus meaning.
Shows like Seekers 2012 are damaging to public understanding. The widespread popularity of the 2012 nonsense has proven that we live in a time when people will believe anything without question. Is the best response to this to feed them more pseudoscience? Or would we do better to show them a guiding hand; to teach them to think critically and ask questions rather than believe without question? To encourage people to say, “where is the evidence?”
Do me a favor producers of Seekers 2012, stop peddling pseudoscience. Stop trying to make a dime off of people’s paranoia. Stop promoting that misunderstanding. Stop misconstruing history and stop fucking with archaeology.
Kurt Thomas Hunt