The End of the World as We Know It: Albion Professors Dissect '12/21'

By Jake Weber

A Mayan 'Earth Lord' depicted on a clay incense burner used in religious observances. The pot was made and used around 1500 CE and was collected from a sacred cave in the Maya region in Mexico by Albion alumnus Marvin Vann, '40. The pot is part of Albion College's Vann collection of pre- and post-Columbian artifacts and ethnographic research.
A Mayan "Earth Lord'"depicted on a clay pot used in religious observances. Made and used around 1500 CE, the pot was collected from a sacred cave in the Maya region in Mexico by Albion alumnus Marvin Vann, '40. The pot is part of Albion College's Vann collection of artifacts and ethnographic research.

It's not a news flash, say Albion physics professor Nicolle Zellner and anthropology professor Brad Chase: the world will not end on December 21, 2012. The pair recently teamed up for a public presentation of how research and science make the case for December 22, this year and years to come.

Chase explained that December 21, 2012, is written in the Mayan Long Count calendar as According to Mayan mythology, on this date, a previous world without humans ended and our present world began with a calendar "reset." "This system allowed ancient Mayan kings to record their lives and deeds relative to the date of creation," said Chase, "similar to the way that our calendar situates events in relation to the birth of Christ.

"Mayan kings often launched wars and dedicated temples on symbolically important days, so it is sure that if there were Mayan kings using this calendar today, would be a politically as well as religiously important holiday," said Chase.

Despite what certainly would have been a Mayan excitement for the date, their sophisticated astronomers knew it wasn't the end. "The Maya gathered data over centuries and had a very detailed and accurate understanding of what was happening in the sky," said Chase.

Brad Chase
An archaeologist, Chase focuses research on the Indus civilization. He does fieldwork in India.

"Their records include predictions of eclipses and movements of the planet Venus far into the future, well beyond They certainly did not understand this date as the end of the world as it is described in so many dubious popular books and so-called 'documentaries' exploiting Americans’ anxieties about the future."


Joel Palka, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago who works with contemporary Maya people, presented with Chase and Zellner and opened by noting that living Maya no longer use the Long Count calendar and are quite amused and puzzled by outsiders’ fascination with it and the upcoming "end of the world."

Zellner, a lunar astronomer, discussed popular hypotheses for Earth's imminent destruction due to cosmic forces. First: could the Earth be hit by an object from space? "There's really not a lot of 'stuff' in our solar system," she said. "If anything was on a collision course with the Earth, we would definitely be able to see it by now."

Second, could the Earth's poles reverse and create forces that would cause the planet to explode? Zellner showed a chart that illustrated numerous times in geologic history when the Earth's poles did reverse. "There isn't a fixed pattern for this to happen," she admitted. "But pole reversal takes a few hundred years. It can happen, but not in the next six weeks."

A lunar astronomer, Zellner is currently at the Curtin University in Perth, Australia, analyzing lunar impact glasses with the support of NASA and the National Science Foundation.

Zellner lastly explained the apparent "phenomenon" of planetary alignment on December 21. "There is a visual alignment of the planets, but it's virtually no different on December 21 than any other day in December," she stated. Furthermore, planetary pinpoints of light may look "aligned" from Earth but it's a trick of depth perception, something like tourist photography that shows a child holding the Washington Monument in his hand. "These planets are not physically aligned in space," Zellner asserted.