Back in the day, before laptops, the internet and social network related procrastination, there seemed little going on in the world. If people weren’t fighting over their Gods, they were fighting over land or women or unnecessarily harsh critiques of cave drawings; people it seems just weren’t that bright back in the time that’s known as the past. Well, except for the Romans, the Egyptians and the Maya, who just might well have been one of the most advanced civilisations who ever made triangular-shaped buildings. Then they disappeared and the mystery of the Maya began.

Who were the Maya?

Between 200 BC and 900 BC the Maya occupied southern Mexico and central North America. Kings and queens ruled vast empires, temples adorned with shiny materials and made predictions about the future of the world. They also had the only fully developed written language of the  pre-Columbian Americas (Chris was a wizz with the aul ink and feather pen) some of which is still spoken today.

They also were the first people to understand what zero is and also built giant pyramids, just because they could. Then they died out. Sort of.

What happened?

If you’re heading on holidays to Cancun for instance, you can still spot the ruins of this once great culture that numbered in the millions. You’ll have to peer at it through a pretty dense rainforest that has grown up around it over the years.  The explanation for the collapse of the society is thus: over the last hundred or so years of the classic period of Maya civilisation – not to be confused with their more commercial later period – the Maya stopped building their fabulous pyramids and their cities began to go into a decline, although the odd area did flourish for some time to come. Theories put forward behind this include: climate change, deforestation and drought, among about 88 odd others. Archaeologists love a good historical mystery.

The mystery of the Maya predictions?

Besides their curious decline, the Maya are also well-known for their love of predictions, including their most fabled one: the end of the world on December 21, 2012. The thing about this is, any sane rational person who does a bit of research will quickly realise that this is definitely going to happen. It’s all there, the very clearly stated prediction, the huge number of previously accurate predictions and the perfectly normal people who choose to believe in them.

Well, except for the part about the prediction… and most of the other stuff.

The Maya actually made no prediction other than that one particular cycle would end, which doesn’t actually mean anything other than that cycle will end.

It might mean the end of the world but given that they didn’t see their own demise coming it seems pretty unlikely they could predict ours. Also the Maya conception of time was circular, they weren’t a big believer in endings and their predictions included things that would happen long after 2012.

Geoffrey Braswell, an anthropologist at the University of California at San Diego elaborated further in an email to the Associated Press: “The ancient Maya clearly believed things would happen far into the future from now. ‘The king of Palenque, K’inich Hanaab Pakal, believed he would return to the Earth a couple of thousand years from now in the future, wrote Braswell. “Moreover, other monuments discuss events even before the creation in 3114 BC.”

So really we should just get back to focusing on important things like football and Justin Bieber.

Of course, if we’re wrong, it doesn’t really matter as we’ll all be dead anyway. And on that fatalistic note there’s only one thing left to say, investigate the mystery of Maya yourself by booking your holiday to Cancun now (well, before December 2012 anyway, just in case) and go visit some of the ruins of one of the world’s most successful races who managed to both communicate and exist without either the internet or Willy Nelson.

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